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EU’s bioeconomy worth €2.1 trillion, new study suggests

Nova-Institute, a German environmental consultancy, has evaluated the extent of the contribution made by the continent's bioeconomy and claims that the sector employs around 18m people and its turnover is worth €2.1 trillion.

The bioeconomy comprises those parts of the economy that use renewable biological resources from land and sea – such as crops, forests, fish, animals and micro-organisms – to produce food, materials and energy.

Nova-Institute used Eurostat, the EU's official statistics agency, as its main source of data to analyse all sectors of the bioeconomy. According to Nova-Institute, some sectors, such as the forest-based industry, are fully bio-based and thus fully accounted to the bioeconomy. For other sectors such as the chemical industry, the bio-based shares were estimated and included in the data.

The EU's bioeconomy turnover was worth €2.1 trillion in 2013.

According to Nova-Institute, roughly half of the turnover is accounted for by the food and beverages sector, almost a quarter is created by the primary sectors, agriculture and forestry.

The other quarter is created by the so-called bio-based industries, such as chemicals and plastics, pharmaceuticals, paper and paper products, forest-based industries, textile sector, biofuels and bioenergy.

The bioeconomy employs 18.3 million people in total, the consultancy said. The primary biomass production, mainly agriculture plus forestry and fishery, generates strong employment (58%) but low turnover (21%).

According to the consultancy, the data shows clear differences between groups of Member States. For example, the Eastern European countries Poland, Romania and Bulgaria apparently are stronger in less value added sectors of the bio-based economy that generate a lot of employment.

In comparison, Western and Northern European countries generate much higher turnover compared to the employment generated. The countries with the highest ratio between turnover and employment are Ireland, Finland and Belgium.

Biofuels and bioenergy

Nova-Institute's managing director, Michael Carus, said: "Of particular interest are the often underrated bio-based industries, such as chemicals and plastics, pharmaceuticals, paper and paper products, forest-based industries, textile sector, biofuels and bioenergy.

"This sector shows considerable turnover of €600bn and 3.2 million employees in 2013 for EU-28."

According to Nova-Institute, the data show an overall slight increase in the bio-based share of the chemical industry in the EU-28 from 5% in 2008 to 6% in 2013. The raw materials used by the chemical industry are about 50% organic (fossil and bio-based) and about 50% inorganic (minerals, metals).

Only taking the organic part into account, the overall bio-based share increased from 10% in 2008 to 12% in 2013. Denmark stands out as the one Member State with the highest bio-based share in the chemical industry in 2013, which is mainly due to the high production of enzymes. Latvia and Sweden follow primarily due to a large production volume of charcoal and tall oil.

The analysis was generated by nova-Institute on behalf of the EU's Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC) and will be updated annually.

With regard to investments, the last annual survey from the end of 2014 showed that BIC members intended to invest €1.1bn during 2014 to 2015 in bio-based industries – mainly demo and flagship projects, of which more than €820 million were private investments.

Private investments in the amount of more than €2.1bn are in the pipelines of those same BIC members for the time between 2014 and 2020. Most of the short-term investments will take place in the lignocellulosic and forestry based value chains.