The Role of Biotechnology in the Circular Bioeconomy

#BiotechVoice | Spain leads an effort harnessing biotechnology to transform waste into valuable resources and supporting large-scale research and innovation projects.

Andrés Pascual, Director of Innovation at AINIA, has written this insightful article shedding light on the pivotal role of biotechnology in driving the circular economy forward. If you are eager to know more about MixMatters and the importance of biotechnology, you can’t miss it!

The bioeconomy is a more sustainable economic and social model where biotechnology-based innovation plays an indispensable role. In a circular bioeconomy, biological resources are renewable, sustainably managed, recovered, and reused to the extent possible. Implementing such a model requires new forms of collaboration and value chains. This is due to the nature of the bioeconomy, where various actors from different sectors such as agri-food, paper and cardboard, textiles, wood and furniture, chemicals, plastics, cosmetics, the environment, etc., need to work together, although they are often not accustomed to doing so.

The bioeconomy is crucial for decarbonizing our society and creating sustainable carbon cycles. This opportunity is currently underutilized and could be developed using various renewable biological resources, including alternative biomasses, algae, microorganisms, biological waste, CO2, among others. Raw materials for food production are considered a priority in addressing sustainability challenges in this sector. Additionally, with a cascading approach, they can provide society with new biomaterials or bio-based chemicals.

The bioeconomy enables a truly circular and carbon-neutral economy by ensuring that renewable carbon remains in the cycle throughout the product’s life, ready to be recycled or returned to the soil. Circular bioeconomy is constantly innovating to manufacture and recycle biological-based products more efficiently, thereby driving the green economy in the European Union.

In this context, biotechnology emerges as one of the most powerful drivers to boost innovation in the circular bioeconomy, and Spain is at the forefront of this approach. Biotechnology is being leveraged to transform agri-food organic waste into new high-value bioproducts. Fermentation, enzymatic processes, synthetic biology, genetic engineering, and genomic editing are revolutionizing the way we design organisms and processes for the sustainable production of food, materials such as bioplastics, carboxylic acids, and many chemicals, as well as second-generation biofuels. Biotechnology plays a crucial role in biorefinery approaches, converting biomass into various efficient bio-based products, similar to how oil and gas are transformed in traditional refineries.

Spain holds a leadership position in circular bioeconomy research and innovation projects in Europe, particularly in programs like Horizon Europe and the public-private partnership Circular BioEconomy Joint Undertaking. AINIA has been actively driving several major European biorefinery projects, such as the completed URBIOFIN project, demonstrating the viability of new value chains from the organic fraction of urban waste. The ongoing CHEERS project, in collaboration with Mahou San Miguel, aims to demonstrate a biorefinery using by-products from beer and CO2. The recently initiated MIX MATTERS project will showcase a system for utilizing surplus fruit from wholesale markets and agri-food industries.

Lastly, we are committed to entrepreneurship and open innovation in the circular bioeconomy. AINIA and MAPAN have just launched the StartBEC program, primarily aiming to provide technological support to Spanish bioeconomy startups and new value chains. This program offers startups the opportunity to leverage biotechnology and innovation to bring innovative, high-value bio-based products to the market, contributing to the circular economy.

In summary, the bioeconomy and biotechnology are intertwined in a shared pursuit of a more sustainable economy. Collaboration and innovation are essential to unlock the full potential of a circular bioeconomy. Spain leads this effort by harnessing biotechnology to transform waste into valuable resources and supporting large-scale research and innovation projects such as CHEERS and MIXMATTER. Furthermore, the commitment to entrepreneurship and open innovation is reflected in the StartBEC program, driving technological advancements for bioeconomy startups and creating new opportunities in the circular economy. The bioeconomy and biotechnology play a fundamental role in the journey towards a more sustainable society with a lower carbon footprint.

The project is supported by the Circular Bio-based Europe Joint Undertaking (CBE JU) and its members – Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC).