Scepticism over the UK bioeconomy strategy

Article by Amanda Jasi

INDUSTRY has expressed mixed reactions towards the recently-released UK Bioeconomy Strategy. The strategy outlines how the UK might boost growth in the bioeconomy sector and become a global leader in developing bio-based solutions.

Growing the Bioeconomy was jointly compiled by a consortium made up of government, industry and the research community. According to the Bioeconomy Strategy “the bioeconomy represents the economic potential of harnessing the power of bioscience, using renewable biological resources to replace fossil resources in innovative products, processes and services.”

The strategy reports that the bioeconomy contributes an estimated £220bn (US$275.8) to the UK’s economy, and supports approximately 5.2m jobs. It expresses a “vision” in which the UK is a global leader in bio-based solutions and the bioeconomy is doubled in worth.  

Though some industrial experts have been positive about the intention to increase focus towards bio-based solutions there is some scepticism with regards to whether the bioeconomy can reach the strategy goals without further policy support. The released strategy contains little in the way of policy and some experts warn that more policy is required in order to drive the scale of change required to reach goals.

The strategy

The bioeconomy strategy outlines a range of opportunities available to the UK which could be exploited in order to boost national productivity and help address key global challenges in areas such as food, materials, and energy production.

The strategy sets out four main goals which it attempts to reflect with actions:

  1. to capitalise on the UK’s “world-class” research, development, and innovation base to grow the bioeconomy;
  2. to maximise the potential of bioeconomy assets to increase productivity from existing renewable biological resources;
  3. to support industry in order to ensure that the strategy is able to deliver benefits for the UK; and
  4. to create the right conditions in national and international market to allow innovative bio-based products and services to thrive.

The strategy contains actions for change which could facilitate the growth of the UK bioeconomy. The strategy claims that following its release the strategy consortium will develop an appropriate delivery mechanism in order to realise the actions it set out. To allow this continued coordination will be required across government, industry, academia and the research community. To facilitate this coordination a lead coordinator has been assigned to each of the high-level actions, though cooperation is anticipated across organisations to deliver on commitments. The groups are broadly categorised as government, UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), and industry.

The strategy states that a key step in realising the actions set forth is to establish a governance group which would include representatives from government, industry, and the research community to support, monitor, and evaluate the delivery of the strategy and related activities. The governance group would then set out further details on the delivery of strategic actions required to support the development of technology platforms and provide regulatory framework to support the growth of the bioeconomy.

Richard Harrington, parliamentary undersecretary of state and minister of business and industry, said: “A strong and vibrant bioeconomy harnesses the power of bioscience and biotechnology, transforming the way we address challenges in food, chemicals, materials, energy and fuel production, health and the environment. The potential benefits are significant, as we develop low carbon bio-based products and processes that will improve our daily lives.

He added: “This strategy sows the seeds to grow a world-class bioeconomy, building on the UK’s strengths to develop solutions that are economically and environmentally sustainable.”

Opinions on the bioeconomy strategy

There were positive reactions to the strategy. For example, Bioenergy Insight reported that Andy Koss, CEO of Drax Power, said: “The government’s new bioeconomy strategy recognises the importance of the sector in delivering jobs and clean growth.”

Mark Sommerfield, policy manager at the Renewable Energy Association also responded to the government’s ambitions for the bioeconomy.

He said: “The Bioeconomy Strategy makes clear that utilising our bio-resources efficiently and sustainably is central to both decarbonisation and a vibrant future economy. One that delivers regional growth, greater productivity and thousands of jobs based around innovative technologies, many of which are being delivered today by the bioenergy sector.

“Central to this is utilising the UK’s supply of bioenergy feedstocks to deliver a complete range of renewable energy products that will decarbonise the UK’s heat, power and transport requirements.

“Government must now act on these ambitions. Today’s strategy highlights the need for effective policies to make better use of our food waste, our residual waste streams and other sources of sustainable biomass to create a complete range of renewable energy products.”

Some experts are frustrated that a document that has been so long in the making contains little in the way of policy and funding.

Charlotte Morton, chief executive of the Anaerobic Digestion & Bioresources Association (ADBA), said: “While it is encouraging to see ministers recognising the huge value that the bioeconomy can deliver to the UK, it’s disappointing that this strategy, which has been two years in the making, contains no new policies or funding that will help to actually achieve the important aims that the strategy sets out.”

She added that the “Bioeconomy Strategy sets out all of the correct principles for creating a thriving UK bioeconomy with AD playing a central role – what we need now is a clear action plan from government to deliver this.”

Pat Jennings told Business Green that the report is “very much a work in progress” and is “light on deliverables and milestones.”

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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