The Bioeconomy

We all know time is running out to respond to a world that is getting dangerously hotter. In fact, the number of extremely hot days every year when the temperature reaches 50C has doubled since the 1980s*.

To ensure that we leave a habitable world for future generations, it is imperative in our fight against climate change that we accelerate the deployment of viable solutions, such as those embodied in the bioeconomy and bioenergy.

At BEES, we envision transitioning to a vibrant, diverse, renewable, sustainable, circular bio-world ... one where life goes on.

It’s eye-catching, closely arranged array of plumes fan out into an impressive collage of dazzling complementary colours, that signal persuasive cohesion and resolve when confronted by danger. Just as the bioeconomy provides a broad pallet of robust and flexible solutions to face our own adversary, the rising effects of climate change.

Each of the peacock’s plumes is a single strand that sits closely into an overlapping pattern, where it is the sum of all the parts that achieves such spectacular results.

And the cherry on the cake ? The peacock is admired the world over for being resplendent and beautiful … as is the vision and promise of the bioeconomy.

*Source : a global BBC analysis - https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-58494641

Carbon : recalibrating the carbon dial

Central to Bio360 Expo is the question of carbon.

The consequences of rising atmospheric CO2 levels and the effects of global warming are a stark reminder of what happens when we neglect to heed the wisdom of our forebearers.

« Observe due measure; moderation is best in all things » Greek poet Hesiod (c. 700 bc)

Following on then, carbon in the right measure is good for us (18% of each of us is pure carbon and plants are almost half carbon).

Carbon found in the form of atmospheric CO2 has historically also been good for us too. Applying the same notion of anthropologically motivated “moderation”, atmospheric CO2 has done a good job for millennia of capturing and preventing the sun’s energy from escaping from the atmosphere, thereby enabling a climate conducive to the life forms we are familiar with today. Without it in fact, Earth’s oceans would be frozen solid.
Atmospheric CO2 unmoderated however, is bad for us and also for many of the other life forms that like us, occupy the biosphere … and equally the hydro-, atmo,- and geospheres.

So, how to recalibrate ? How to reset the carbon dial ? We can’t just push it back to pre-industrial revolution levels.
There are other approaches … it’s up to us to adopt them.

Making good use of the Carbon we need, avoiding the Carbon we don’t need and correcting the atmospheric Carbon overdose

Looking at this in temperature speak, being a more tangible expression of increases in atmospheric CO2 concentration, the IPCC has identified 1,5°C as the temperature increase threshold to not exceed, in order to avoid irreversible climate change with life-changing consequences.

And to remain within this limit, we need a multi-pronged approach.

Firstly, we need to significantly reduce our CO2 emissions to remain under the IPCC 1,5°C temperature. This means a strong focus on energy efficiency and a quantum shift to low-carbon renewable energy in order to radically bring down the rate of CO2 emission levels and moving onwards to net-zero emissions by 2050.

Secondly, we need to capture and recycle renewable carbon in the value chains of the bioeconomy to serve a wide range of human purposes using only carbon recovered or recycled from non-fossil sources, ie leaving the geosphere carbon exactly where it is, underground. Renewable carbon then spans carbon derived from biomass, from CO2 capture and utilization and from the recycling of currently existing and circulating carbon derived materials and products.

As such, renewable carbon is a fundament of the bioeconomy being, as it is, a central building block for biomaterials and products. Its distinguishing characteristic of being non geo-sphere sourced (ie non-fossil) means that the renewable carbon cycle is a unequivocal expression of the circular economy in action.

Thirdly, we need to drawdown atmospheric carbon to safe levels, which means we need to capture and sequester gigatonnes of “excedent” CO2 that lurks in the atmosphere.

BioEnergy Carbon Capture and Utilisation (BECCU)

Carbon capture and utilisation involves CO2 capture from fossil point sources (between now and phase-out), biogenic point sources and direct air capture (DAC) and is an area of fast evolving innovation.

Industrial processes, energy generating processes and DAC are the principal capture access points for CO2 which can then be diverted or extracted from the atmosphere and transformed into a range of useful everyday products such as for agriculture, chemicals, construction materials, synthetic fuels.

Carbon Sequestration

Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR) involves the removal of atmospheric CO2 and it’s long-term sequestration. Negative Emission Technologies (NETs) provide the methods and pathways to achieve and can be assigned to the following general categories:

  • Afforestation, reforestation, and forestry management
  • Biosequestration
  • Agricultural practices
  • Wetland restoration
  • Bioenergy with carbon capture & storage
  • Biochar
  • Enhanced weathering
  • Direct air capture
  • Ocean fertilization

There are some notable examples of Bioenergy with carbon capture & storage (BECCS) in practice although careful attention needs to be paid to the scale / sustainability balance.

Biochar is a fast gaining acceptance and interest as a local, technologically proven, cost-effective and broadly replicable route to sequestering large accumulated volumes of CO2.

Biobased: the circular economy in action
A central tenet of the bioeconomy is to produce products in a circular and sustainable way from biomass which would otherwise have been produced from fossil derivatives. The bioeconomy therefore offers a route, known as biobased products, to substitute and displace fossil derivatives from our day-to-day existence.

Just some of the areas where biobased products define the way for the displacement of fossil derivates include biochemicals, bionutrients, bioplastics, bioenergy, bionutriceuticals and biopharmaceuticals, biomaterials, biodetergents, biocosmetics, biolubricants, biopesticides, biofertilisers, biocoatings and biopaints, biostimulants and biocatalysts etc…

The engine room for the bioeconomy is the biorefinery which fits synergistically into the agricultural, forestry and waste recovery landscapes taking in a mix of biomass feedstocks which are converted into a plethora of useful biobased products.

Much innovation is coming out of the bioeconomy in terms of process development and imagined applications - often demand driven - however in order to realise its full potential and in order to make a significant and lasting impact, a co-ordinated effort from policy makers, regulators, institutions, land, fisheries and aquaculture owners and managers, industry, finance and public opinion will be needed.

Bioenergy: sustainable benefit to the environment and to society
Bioenergy offers multiple pathways to generate renewable energy in the form of power, heat, gas and liquid biofuels from a large spectrum of biomass feedstocks.

Heat and Power
Combustion of solid biofuels for industry and municipalities generates power and heating/cooling via district heating & cooling networks. It not only contributes to the replacement of fossil fuels and the reduction of CO2 emissions but also to the local economy in terms of job creation and retained wealth, energy security and improved forestry management.

Renewable Green Gas
Renewable Green gas can be produced via a number of different pathways depending on the feedstock (humid or dry) which determines the choice of process technology (biological or thermochemical) which then leads in turn to different compositions of gaseous outputs (biogas or syngas), consumable directly for heat and power or if further upgraded, injectable into the gas grid as biomethane or usable as bioNGV, a clean fuel for transport.

Common to these different pathways is a value chain starting from agriculture, forestry or from range of different bio-waste streams that are then processed to generate a higher value than traditional or alternative uses, not only in terms of the derived energetic output but also in terms of environmental benefits (fossil fuel displacement, CO2 emissions savings, valuable bi-products) the creation of local employment, increased rural incomes and increased diversification of income etc.

Biological : Anaerobic Digestion to biogas and biomethane
The anaerobic digestion of a large range of organic wastes (livestock effluent, agricultural and agro-alimentary waste streams, biowastes etc) produces biogas containing around 55-65% methane, 35-45% CO2, and small quantities of other gases. Digestate recovery also offers a number of routes to add and generate further value to the process.

Thermique: Thermal : Pyrolysis, Pyrogasification, Hydrothermal gasification to syngas / biomethane
Thermal treatment of an extensive range of both solid and liquid bio-wastes from agriculture, forestry, industry and household waste (eg srf - solid recovered fuel) today are creating new pathways to extract green gas from otherwise undervalued or discarded waste streams which in turn can be utilised in a gaseous form or via further processing (eg Fischer-Tropsch), converted into a liquid biofuel.

Liquid Biofuels
Bioethanol and biodiesel from agricultural crops and waste streams for replacing petrol and diesel in internal combustion engines, primarily for transport but also for smaller scale power generation, have been part of the energy mix now for many years.