COWI, nova Institute, Utrecht University – Carbon economy: Research and innovation policy in the area of bio-based products and services (2021)

This study is executed by a consortium constellated by COWA A/S, nova Institute and Utrecht University. The main aim of this study was to develop a study to explore the nature and scale of the challenge of moving towards a low carbon economy. The study investigated the role of research and innovation in addressing this challenge at a global, European, national, regional, and urban level.

The bioeconomy, including the bio-based sector represents a vital source of innovation that can help to mitigate socio-economic impacts associated with environmental investments. Innovation in the bioeconomy is an efficient method of reducing resource use while simultaneously generating value in waste that would otherwise be lying in a landfill.

The report summarises several work packages related to the topic. Key findings are summarised below:

Work package 1: Status Quo – Understanding the Carbon Economy
This work package provides comprehensive data on the (global) carbon cycle. It is noticeable that recycling still makes a tiny portion of overall C-supply with a heavy reliance on fossil fuels. It is found that 41% of fossil carbon resources are used in the transport sector and a quarter of fossil carbon is demanded by the industrial sector.

Work package 2: Future scenarios
The main aim of WP2 was to visualise future scenarios for 2050 for the use of carbon in a low carbon economy. In Figure 3 and 4, the carbon demand for energetic resources by different sectors for 2018 and 2050.

Work package 3: Regulatory Analysis and Assessment of Innovative Technologies
The regulatory analysis undertaken in WP3 is dedicated to the identification of regulatory drivers and obstacles for the production of bio-based products from urban bio-based sources (biowaste and wastewater sludge).

Work package 4: Case studies
WP4 is made up of ten case studies of regions and cities within the EU in order to provide a local perspective at the current state of bio-waste and wastewater sludge valorisation rates.

Work package 5: Communication activities
The transformation towards a low carbon economy requires manifold actions on several levels. This work package describes a mixture of communication tools

Main conclusions of the study
Based on the different work packages, it is defined that one of the barriers to upscaling the bioeconomy was the perception or lack of understanding of the potential and economic benefits that can come from investing in or upscaling the bioeconomy. By employing a wide variety of well-designed economic instruments such as environmental taxation or tax-exemption for bio-based products, the EU can enable member states to promote circular bioeconomy activities.