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Ruka, Finland, September 13, 2018 (Press Release) – The first World Bioeconomy Forum held in the resort town of Ruka in northern Finland, started on a perfect note this week. Waldemar Kütt, head of the EU’s Bioeconomy strategy, revealed to the gathered delegates that the budget for research into food and natural resources – the European bioeconomy cluster – will double for the period 2021-27 to Euro 10 billion.
“This large increase is recognition that we are in an economy that is becoming more and more dependent on biological resources to produce food, energy and material in a way that protects the environment and also reduces greenhouse gases”, said Kütt.
The news from the EU Commission made for a healthy start to the forum which dealt with the complete bioeconomy supply chain, from planting forests and crops to final products. The forum program included speakers from several governments throughout Europe, the EU, technology suppliers, major pulp, paper and textile producers and end users, including Swedish giant Ikea. Delegates came from countries all over the world including all across Europe, India, China, Australia, Indonesia, and the US.
The bioeconomy sector has been gaining momentum since September 2005 with 50 countries and regions around the world now having a bioeconomy strategy or related document in place. One of the latest countries to reveal its bioeconomy strategy is Latvia, with the sector being worth Euro 3.8 billion and providing employment to over 150,000 people. Overall the bioeconomy is worth Euro 2,300 billion in the EU alone, employing 22 million people. The Latvia case might also serve as an excellent model for other EU members in the north and central eastern European areas.
The world’s forests are seen as one of the key answers in the fight to alleviate climate change, and there was some positive news revealed at the forum. Professor Eduardo Rojas Briales from University of Valencia, Spain, informed the audience that deforestation was reducing, and forest area was increasing globally. “According to our latest figures there are 11% more forests in the world and forest landscapes are gaining momentum,” Briales said. “Wood is the most abundant and affordable raw material, and consistent research has shown that the most productive forests are locally managed by local communities.”
Lauri Hetemäki from the European Forest Institute said, “Biodiversity and the bioeconomy are married together, you don’t have one without the other. This is especially true in a world in which forests have to adapt to climate change.”
The production of textiles is attracting significant interest as a bioeconomy sector as production globally reaches 100 million tonnes a year with a rise of another 50 million tonnes per year expected by 2030. Michael Carus, founder and managing director of Nova-Institute said, “What a lot of consumers don’t realize that that up to 60% of all clothing is derived from fossil fuels and in terms of micro-plastics are the highest polluter on the planet. There is a huge potential for manufacturers in this sector to source raw material using cellulosic fibers which biodegrade easily.”
The circular economy was also a prominent topic at the forum with the emphasis on utilizing waste streams across the whole value chain. Pulp and paper technology supplier Andritz specializes in designing and supplying pulp and paper mills along with equipment that turns waste streams into viable products. Kari Tuominen, President and CEO of Andritz Oy, said, “There are a lot of real opportunities at pulp mills now to turn side and waste streams into valuable bio products such as methanol, sulfuric acid, lignin and biogas, bringing extra revenue at the same time as finding an effective way of dealing with waste.”
Finnish Minister Kai Mykkänen stressed during his address to delegates that the available biomass capacity in Finland has doubled during the last decades. Also Minister Jari Leppä conveyed his greetings emphasizing important economic value that new innovations in bioeconomy will bring along.
“The bioeconomy community needs to develop a clear, visible corporate identity. Therefore, more global platforms are needed to share views and change views, and to learn mutually about practices, good and bad,” said Jukka Kantola, Chairman of the Advisory Board for the event. “The results of the discussion proved in many ways that this engagement is necessary.”