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All countries in the world whether developed or developing are gearing up for adapting knowledge based bioeconomy, which relies upon biological processes and renewable resources to obtain food, energy and chemicals. Hopeful visionaries have already started to talk about a ‘carbohydrate economy’ replacing the old ‘hydrocarbon economy’. However, “making biomass an effective feedstock is not a cheap process. Bioeconomy can be strategically shaped by coordinated, integrated approach in research and programme implementation. Bioeconomy to be successful will need contributions from various emerging technology platforms and support from the existing fields of science. It is hoped that bioeconomy will fulfill the increasing and changing societal needs in every respect.

What is Bioeconomy?

Bioeconomy refers to all economic activity derived from scientific and research activity focused on biotechnology. The bioeconomy encompasses the production of renewable biological resources and their conversion into food, feed, bio-based products and bioenergy via innovative and efficient technologies provided by Industrial Biotechnology. The term is widely used by regional development agencies, international organizations, and biotechnology companies. It is closely linked to the evolution of the biotechnology industry. The ability to study, understand and manipulate genetic material has been possible due to scientific breakthroughs and technological progress.

The term was first defined by Juan Enriquez and Rodrigo Martinez, Life Sciences Chief Strategist at IDEO at the Genomics Seminar in the 1997 AAAS meeting. An excerpt of this paper was published in Science Magazine.

Knowledge based Bioeconomy has been defined in a broader way as – Production paradigms that rely on biological processes and, as with natural ecosystems, use natural inputs, expend minimum amounts of energy and do not produce waste as all materials discarded by one process are inputs for another process and are re-used in the ecosystem (European Commission, 2010b). This definition explicitly considers recycling within the production process itself, not only the output.

Advances in biotechnology-related fields such as genomics, genetic engineering, chemical engineering and cell technology are transforming the industrial and environmental process and management landscape. Emerging technologies such as synthetic biology, proteomics, and information technologies, includ­ing bioinformatics and computa­tional biology, have the potential to create a vibrant bioeconomy.

Although scientific advances in biotechnology appear to be concentrated in a smaller number of industrialized countries, there are various factors that would allow for the wider participation of developing countries in the new bioeconomy. Factors considered useful are inclusion of developing countries’ products in globalization pattern, availability of biotechnology research techniques to developing countries and effective international technology partnership between developed and developing countries. Wider participation of all countries (developed and developing) will make harmonization of regulatory practices easier.

Bioeconomy is expected to also contribute to the development of rural and coastal area.

 European Bioeconomy

Over the coming decades, Europe wants to ensure a safe, healthy and prosperous environment for current and future generations. It is believed that bioeconomy has the potential to deliver global food security, ensure nutrition and health, create bio-based products and fuels and overall contribute to sustainable development. White paper on “Bioeconomy” sets vision 2030 along with policy recommendations. It is based on the collaboration expected from 9 different technology platforms which cover the realization of bioeconomy. Key areas are –

  1. Investment in appropriate areas and multidisciplinary fields
  2. Encouraging innovations that can lead to commercializations
  3. Making entrepreneurship in bioeconomy as desirable career option
  4. Providing skilled workforce through secondary and tertiary education in fields of bioeconomy
  5. Innovation friendly regulatory network
  6. Effective communication between Public and R & D projects to get societal appreciation of research

Today, the European bioeconomy is already worth more than €2 trillion annually and employs over 22 million people (approximately 9% of total European workforce), often in rural or coastal areas and in Small and Medium Sized Enterprises (SMEs). The ultimate aim of the bioeconomy is to help keep Europe competitive, innovative and prosperous by providing sustainable, smart and inclusive economic growth and jobs, and by meeting the needs of a growing population whilst protecting our environment and resources. It is a shift from hydrocarbon based economy to carbohydrate based economy.

It is believed by some experts that the potential of farmers and SMEs to contribute to innovation must be fully recognized. The importance of local knowledge enhancing local capabilities, while also accommodating diversity and complexity should be recognized. Therefore the bio-economy concept should have a much broader scope than the dominant one in European Commission innovation policy. Socio-economic research is needed to inform strategies, pathways and stakeholder cooperation towards sustainability goals.

 Bioeconomy of USA

The bioeconomy has emerged as an Obama Administration priority because of its tremendous potential for growth as well as the many other societal benefits it offers. U.S. revenues from industrial biotechnology—fuels, materials, chemicals, and industrial enzymes derived from genetically modified systems—were approximately $100 billion. The growth of today’s U.S. bioeconomy is due in large part to the development of three foundational technologies: genetic engineering, DNA sequencing, and automated high-throughput manipulations of biomolecules. A number of impor­tant new technologies and innovative combinations of new and existing technologies are emerging. Tomorrow’s bioeconomy relies on the expansion of emerging technologies such as synthetic biology, proteomics, and bioinformatics, as well as new technologies as yet unimagined. On September 16, 2011, President Obama announced that his Administration would release a National Bioeconomy Blueprint as part of his commitment to supporting scientific discovery and technological breakthroughs to ensure sustainable economic growth, improve the health of the population, and move toward a clean energy future. The National Bioeconomy Blueprint describes five strategic objectives for a bioeconomy with the potential to generate economic growth and address societal needs.

  1. Support R&D investments to provide the foundation for the future U.S. bioeconomy.
  2. Facilitate the transition of bioinventions from research lab to market, including an increased focus on translational and regulatory sciences.
  3. Develop and reform regulations to reduce barriers, increase the speed and predictability of regulatory processes, and reduce costs while protecting human and environmental health.
  4. Update training programs and align academic institution incentives with student training for national workforce needs.
  5. Identify and support opportunities for the development of public-private partnerships and precompetitive collaborations—where competitors pool resources, knowledge, and expertise to learn from successes and failures.


In 2003, the US Department of Energy (DoE) spent $125 million on biomass utilisation research, and the Department of Agriculture (USDA) contributed a further $259 million. In addition, the DoE is spending nearly $100 million in support of bio-refinery demonstration projects.

 Bioeconomy Initiatives in other countries

Japan is strong in industrial biotechnology with bio-industry having turnover of $15 billion in 2003, 26% being in chemical sector. However, Japan does not have strong agricultural base to convert biomass to fuel and chemicals and thus economically viable bio-refineries will be difficult. This may tend to focus growth in bio-processing in Japan towards higher-value, niche sectors rather than bulk chemicals and bio-fuels.

Brazil implements bioeconomy in the form of biofuels use. Alcohol is used to the extent of 25% in automobile fuels since 2003. Flexible-fuel cars were launched since 2003 and their sale is marginally more. A new law was developed in 2005 on biodiesel production. It establishes minimum percentage for blending biodiesel to diesel fuels from 2% in 2008 to 5% in 2013. An important part of this programme is the development of family agriculture into biodiesel production process, as well as environmental preservation.

China has very few initiatives in the field of industrial biotechnology. There are some efforts in the direction of biofuels. China expects biofuels to meet 15% of its transportation energy needs by 2020. The laws are designed to encourage investment in the development of biomass technologies in China by creating certainty in the Chinese energy market. The new law are intended to provide long term, coordinated and coherent approach to energy policy and provide a sustainable financial source for biomass energy projects.

Since 2007 the bio-economy industry has steadily increased. It started at $78 billion. For 2011 is valued at $87.3 billion. This translates to a growth of 12% in bioeconomy over the last 4 years. Other countries are eagerly looking to build what Canadian biotechnology has achieved and is continuing to build. Emerging economies throughout South America, Asia and Eastern Europe are rapidly seeking to catch up to the established bio-economy success of Canada.

A selected group of researchers, professionals, policy makers and business people related to fields like biotechnology, biofuels, biodiversity, ecoservices, sustainable agriculture and other subjects, which contribute to Bioeconomy concept are going to provide consultation to Latin America and Caribbean Bio-Economy in partnership with Europe” (ALCUE-KBBE).

Australia and New Zealand are cooperating in various fields of research and commercialization of research too.

Bioeconomy Initiatives in India

Since Biotechnology is the important driver for bioeconomy, growth of biotechnology sector is important in country’s assessment in area of bioeconomy. India’s “National Biotechnology Development Strategy” of 2007 is indicator of approach to future bioeconomy. It would work through translating life sciences knowledge into socially relevant, ecofriendly and competitive products. It believes that Public-Private partnership is key element in implementation. Indian Biotech sector is today at $ 7.5 Bn and has the potential to generate growth and employment in different sectors whilst addressing the grave challenges of food security, healthcare needs, energy scarcity and environmental degradation. The Indian biotechnology sector grew 21.5% in 2011-12 in the midst of an economic slowdown. With focused strategic intent, this industry can chalk up a CAGR of 30% to cross $100 billion in revenues by 2025.

During the 12th Plan the activities under National Bioresource Development Board would continue. The thrust would be on value added products from Biomass and Bioresource. With the rich Biomass and Bioresource reserve, the main emphasis is to move towards a Biobased economy to achieve this programmes need to be supported for both basic and translational research. This could be in four major categories:-

  • Biofuel-Energy Biosciences
  • Bioindustrial products
  • Bioprospecting for bioproducts
  • Secondary Agriculture

The Characterization and Inventorization of Resources and Capacity Building from school level are important components which would strengthen and add value to the development of technologies for a sustainable Bioeconomy.

Examples of “Bioeconomy Trends”:

  1. Reducing dependency on fossil resources
  2. Encouraging production of biomass based fuels and chemicals
  3. New value chains in agriculture, forestry and aquaculture
  4. In the field of Health, Broad Spectrum Anti-Virals are being searched: Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Lincoln Laboratory reported in 2011 creation of a broad-spectrum antiviral technology that selectively kills any virus-infected cell but does not harm uninfected cells.
    1. In the field of Health, Improving Predictions of Vaccine and Drug Toxicity and Efficacy: NIH, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have launched a col­laborative research initiative to develop a “chip” that reproduces human physiological responses to drugs and vaccines.Designed to engage academic, industry, and government scientists, this five-year, $140 million effort aims to develop tech­nologies that quickly provide molecular signals of toxicology and efficacy.The goal is to accelerate drug discovery and development while decreasing the testing of drugs and vaccines in animals.
    2. Diesel from CO2: Through photosynthesis, plants, algae, and some bacteria use the energy of sunlight to convert CO2 into a variety of organic compounds needed for growth and survival. A Massachusetts-based company re-engineered photosynthetic organisms to synthesize, from sunlight and CO2, molecules that form the chemical basis of diesel fuel.
    3. Designing Biological Systems for Next-Generation Biomanufacturing: Synthetic biology is enabling scientists to rapidly design organisms that can be used in the production of renewable chemicals, biofuels, renewable specialty and fine chemicals, food ingredients, and health-care prod-ucts.Bioacrylic acid heralds the advent of synthetic-biology-enabled manufacturing: acrylic acid ingredients are used to make adhesives stronger, paints more durable, and diapers more absorbent, and today petro-leum-based acrylic is an $8 billion global market.
    4. Allergen-Free Peanuts: Researchers at a number of institutions in the United States have made inroads towards eliminating or inactivating allergenic proteins in peanuts. If successful, these approaches could lead to significant health benefits for Americans and economic opportunities for the peanut industry.
    5. Biodegradable Plastics from Biomass: Bioeconomy plans to include a biobased industries sector in which some oil-derived plastics and chemicals are replaced by new or equivalent products derived, at least partially, from biomass. Biodegradable and biobased plastics as substitutes for petroplastics may be part of the solution in the struggle with climate change. A major commercial “polylactic acid” bioplastic is already made today from cellulose. However, the ability to replace petroleum-based plastics with this bioproduct is constrained by the limited availability of the specific cellulosic source material. To address this limitation, USDA scientists discovered a bacterium that can ferment a broader range of cellulosic biomass materials into polylactic acid, enabling commercial production on a much larger scale With an estimated $375 billion market for chemical, plastic, and rubber products based on petroleum, this represents a substantial bioeconomy opportunity. According to one recent forecast the worldwide production capacity of bioplastics will increase from around 1.2 million tonnes in 2011 to 5.8 million tonnes in 2016. Biobased plastics will have a central role for the biorefineries of the future if they have to be economically viable in production of biofuels and chemicals.
    6. Biosensor Pollution Monitoring: In 2011, a team at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science reported creation of a portable biosensor that could detect marine pollutants, including oil, much faster and more cheaply than current technologies. If deployed near oil facilities, such sensors could provide early warning of spills and leaks and track dispersal patterns in real time.
    7. Biorefinery:  Biorefineries will be at the centre of the bioeconomy and will contribute to the principles of a “zero waste” society. The concept of biorefineries is analogous to that of petrochemical refinery processes, which produce a wide range of products and fuels from fossil resources. Biorefineries also aim to produce multiple bio-based products and fuels instead using biomass as a carbon source and bio-based processes. The biorefinery concept can be integrated in a wide range of environments, ranging from small-scale plants using agricultural residues in remote rural areas to large plants using waste from surrounding industries and municipalities in a symbiotic manner. In principle, biorefneries are different from oil refineries in their ability to use wider range of renewable raw materials. Many industries, including food processing and pulp and paper, are already transforming biomass to produce products (food, food additive, paper, etc.) with energy as a byproduct In general, these production units do not implement modern biotechnology.
    8. Biofuels: Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Department of Energy’s (DOE) Biomass Program committed in April 2011 up to $30 million over three to four years to support R&D in advanced biofuels, bioenergy, and high-value biobased products.In addition, in September 2011, USDA’s Agricultural and Food Research Initiative committed more than $136 million to develop regional Coordinated Agricultural Projects for bio­energy systems through partnerships between academia, gov­ernment, and industry.The projects funded through these initia­tives will help create a diverse group of sources for alternative renewable fuels and biobased products.Advanced biofuels produced from these projects are targeted to reduce lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions and to play an important role in diversifying America’s energy portfolio.
    9. Expanding the Versatility of Biofuel Energy Solutions:    In 2010 the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) developed and deployed “Electrofuels,” a first-of-kind biofuels technology program to encourage development of new bio­logical routes to fuels that bypass the limits of both current and various advanced approaches to biofuels. ARPA-E invested $45 million across 13 innovative projects that target the development of unexplored, unapplied microbiology for biofuel production. The Electrofuels program relies on “chemolithoautotrophic” microbes, which can use inorganic carbon as their sole carbon source and are capable of growth and production in the complete absence of either sunlight or organic food sources.   The Electrofuels program represents the first concerted effort to investigate the potential of chemolithoautotrophy as a platform for biofuel production.
    10. Converting Carbon Dioxide to Liquid Fuels: Plants Engineered to Replace Oil (PETRO) is a ~$30M pro­gram launched recently by ARPA-E.Current agriculture-based biofuels are limited by the small amount of energy captured by photosynthesis and inefficient conversion of plant mass into fuel.The PETRO program aims to create plants that capture more energy from sunlight and convert that energy directly into fuels by optimizing processes of energy capture and conversion to develop robust, farm-ready crops that deliver more energy per acre with less processing prior to delivery to retailers.If successful, PETRO will create biofuels from domestic sources such as tobacco and pine trees for half their current cost.
    11. Improving of Biofuel and Bioenergy Crops: In August, 2011, under the USDA-DOE Plant Feedstock Genomics for Bioenergy Program, $12.2 million was awarded for research to improve special crops for biofuels by increasing their yield, quality, and ability to adapt to extreme environments.Relying on modern genomics to develop novel breeding strategies, researchers focused on switchgrass, poplar trees, sorghum, miscanthus, and energy cane, among other promising plants with potential for growth on marginal lands that are poorly suited for food crops.Potential benefits of this research range from decreasing oil consumption to increasing options for American farmers, while adding new jobs and driving wealth creation in rural America.

Will Cellulose to Fuel be Sustainable?

A company called Mascoma, has patented a technology called “Consolidated Bioprocessing” (CBP) in which “genetically modified yeast and bacteria convert cellulosic biomass into high-value end-products in a single step that combines hydrolysis and fermentation.” In 2011 ethanol producer Valero Energy offered $50 million to build a refinery that would use Mascoma’s CBP process to turn wood into ethanol. The plant, in the US state of Michigan, is expected to initially produce 20 million gallons of ethanol and eventually expand production up to 80 million gallons per year.

According to the environmental assessment of the Mascoma plant, the plant’s mid-range production, 40 million gallons of ethanol a year, would require 71,000 acres of timber annually (roughly one acre of forest to produce 563 gallons of ethanol). The US is looking for 16 billion gallons of cellulosic biofuel by 2022. At 563 gallons per acre, that would require 28,419,182 acres of forest per year – an area of the entire state of New York, to be eaten by synthetic bugs and burned up as fuel. Can we call it as ‘sustainable’? In addition to this liquid transport fuels, are rapidly expanding plans to burn biomass for electricity.

The cellulosic biofuels will require transforming “low-value” forest and agricultural “wastes” such as straw, leaves and branches into high-value feedstocks, and by growing biomass for chemical and energy companies on “marginal” lands. For land-based people in the global South, no lands are “marginal”, and for the complex dynamics of forests and agro-ecosystems, what industry considers as “wastes” are important components of the soil’s ability to recycle nutrients, promote biodiversity, and sequester CO2.

The innovation of using synthetic microbes to break down cellulose makes all biomass potential fodder for fuel production. There will be huge demands for water, fertilizer, and cheap labor; and it will put the entire terrestrial biosphere up for grabs as a fuel source.

While Mascoma is preparing for cellulose to alcohol as bioeconomy efforts another company ArborGen, is genetically engineering trees to grow with less lignin – the woody stuff that makes trees stand up – in order to be more easily converted into sugar for “drop-in biofuels”. Through their work sequencing the genomes of eucalyptus, pine, and poplar, ArborGen is tied to the US Department of Energy’s National Laboratories and to the Joint Bioenergy Institute, to develop the next generation of biofuels.

Such approaches of bioeconomy via cellulosic biofuels are expected to wreak havoc on the planet’s remaining biodiversity. There are no national or international regulations to protect biodiversity and livelihoods from the potential damage by synthetic biology and biomass energy. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity has started to look at these issues, but failed to implement a halt at its recent negotiations in October 2012.


Industrial Biorefinery

Industrial Biorefinery


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