While there is much disagreement on the most appropriate methods and pathways to use, the bioeconomy could represent a vital tool in the urgent need to reduce reliance on fossil fuels.
The Role of Bioeconomy in the Future Energy Scenario: A State-of-the-Art Review. Image Credit: Parilov/Shutterstock.com
A new review paper presented in the Sustainability journal looks at key questions around the current issues, debates, and trends surrounding the development of a sustainable bioeconomy.
The paper’s primary aim is to discuss whether an economy based on biomass would be more sustainably sound than existing economies, particularly when taking into account that this economy would need to be boosted while developing a robust recycling system. It also aims to analyze the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on these scenarios.
Use of energy by sector in 2019. Image credit: Perišić, M et al., Sustainability
As well as the semi-systematic review itself, the paper’s conclusions were further validated via the distribution of a questionnaire and responses from 51 experts in the field.
The bioeconomy can be understood as a global social movement looking to help mitigate climate change through enormous investments in research, education, and technology. Much of this work is focussed on the promotion and development of renewable energy sources, primarily from biomass - the use of organic material (such as living plants and waste) to generate energy.
The ‘bioeconomy’ was initially conceptualized in 1971 as an economic model which centralizes the finite nature of natural resources within a sound framework.
This concept has been revised and refreshed a number of times since its initial development, with a significant amount of interdisciplinary research looking at means of integrating the various industrial sectors working with bio-based products.
Despite a growing shift towards renewable energy sources, an increase in energy demands has still led to total carbon emissions from the electricity sector being substantially amplified over the past 3 years.
Via their review, the authors determined that it is vital that the relationship between the bioeconomy and wider sustainability measures be considered, and that the bioeconomy would require very specific principles to be maintained if it is to effectively contribute to a more sustainable future.
The review suggested that a robust framework for a sustainable bioeconomy would need to factor in a range of social, economic, and ecological perspectives; utilizing these as inputs for wider themes of scientific advancement, regulation, and societal impact.
Relationship between adopted documents and GDP per capita in 2020 for European countries. Image credit: Perišić, M et al., Sustainability
It was noted that this framework is still in its infancy, however, and there is significant work to be done in terms of developing an internationally viable and agreeable set of criteria by which to implement and manage a sustainable bioeconomy. These criteria should incorporate equitable trade of biomass between regions, the efficient management of land and the centralization of those regions’ social wellbeing.
It was also noted that the implementation of the bioeconomy may place considerable strain on the globe’s already overstretch agricultural systems.
It would be impossible to expand regions for cultivating biogenic raw materials without further damaging vital ecosystems and natural habitats, so improving agricultural efficiency would therefore be essential if there was to be any chance of repurposing some of these areas for the production of biomass for fuel.
There is limited reliable information on the availability and distribution of biogenic raw materials, so it was not possible to evaluate to what degree fossil fuels could be substituted with biogenic raw materials.
Despite this, the authors proposed that in order to improve yields of biogenic raw materials whilst simultaneously improving environmental outcomes, it would be necessary to implement either a high-tech, intensive centralized agricultural approach or a more distributed agri-environmental strategy which sees a move to more sustainable knowledge-based agriculture with local farmers at its core.
The authors also highlighted that the use of biomass for energy should be the exception rather than the rule, and this should only be implemented in specific circumstances; for example, for decentralized heat and electricity supply in sparsely populated rural areas and in applications where there are no viable routes to using solar and wind energy.
Furthermore, it was stipulated that combustion should only be an option for biogenic products at the very end of their life cycles.
The review concluded with a range of pertinent points and factors which should ideally be in place to make the implementation of the bioeconomy viable. For example, it was noted that relevant regulatory frameworks should be consistent with other strategies and national laws.
Global increase of world energy demand. Image credit: Perišić, M et al., Sustainability
A number of questions arose which would warrant further exploration, such as how a balance should be struck between the use of land for food and biomass, how the protection of natural habitats and spaces can be maintained and how these concepts and strategies will continue to evolve as countries shift from industrialized societies to a more knowledge-based economy.
Overall, the paper aimed to take stock of the current developments in this area and prompt a discussion. As such, the authors have also highlighted a number of areas for further research such as the definition and conceptualization of investment models, political scenarios, and the bioeconomy’s potential impact on global and local geopolitical relations.
Perišić, Martina, Ernest Barceló, Katarina Dimic-Misic, Monireh Imani, and Vesna Spasojević Brkić. 2022. "The Role of Bioeconomy in the Future Energy Scenario: A State-of-the-Art Review" Sustainability 14, no. 1: 560. https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/14/1/560