Research for a truly sustainable economy
Climate change, decreasing biodiversity and a reliance on fossil resources are putting the world in peril. Could a switch to using natural resources, more renewably, be the answer?
The European bioeconomy is currently worth €2.3 trillion and employs nearly 19 million people. 75% of the income comes from food, beverages, agriculture, forestry, fisheries combined. 25% is generated by the Bio-based industries which operate, for example, biorefineries (like an oil refinery but converting natural resources rather than crude oil). The potential for growth in this sector is enormous as the world seeks to replace fossil resources with bio-based resources.
Ireland’s National Policy Statement on the Bioeconomy, published in March 2018, recognises that the Bioeconomy is crucial for decarbonisation and sustainability, while also important for rural and regional development and employment in Ireland.
At BiOrbic Bioeconomy SFI Research Centre, researchers, food producers and industry are working together to create valuable and sustainable bio-based products and services from natural resources. Research projects at the Centre include mining dairy and other agri-foodwaste for new chemicals, converting CO2 to pharmaceuticals, diversifying grazing crops to improve soil quality and testing biorefineries to generate chemicals, energy and products from crops and Agri-food waste.
This Centre brings together more than 100 researchers from University College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin, Teagasc, NUI Galway and the University of Limerick, as well as 10 industry partners. “We are focusing on fundamental research and applied research that cover topics from chemistry, engineering, and biotechnology to social science, policy development, and how society can be invested in this more sustainable way of producing the food and materials we need,” explains Professor Kevin O’Connor, Director of BiOrbic Bioeconomy SFI Research Centre.
The focus in the early stages of the Bioeconomy has been on industrial development, but BiOrbic sees the primary producer as a crucial stakeholder to enabling the Bioeconomy. “It’s where the supply chain starts, and if you don’t actively include the farmer, forester and mariner you will not develop a sustainable inclusive Bioeconomy,” says Professor O’Connor. The Bioeconomy needs to tackle the ‘elephant in the room’ of greenhouse-gas emissions and the urgent need to protect and promote biodiversity. “We need to connect nature and food production and place biodiversity at the heart of what we do,” he explains. For the Bioeconomy to work at scale, farmers and other primary producers, food producers, industry and consumers need to be an integral part of it, and BiOrbic Bioeconomy SFI Research Centre is working closely with stakeholders to make sustainability a cornerstone.
An easy-to-clean membrane to capture high-value products from biomass waste
Prof Yurii Gun'ko, Trinity College Dublin