“The bioeconomy is a cornerstone of the necessary green transition. Now we need new knowledge to ensure that this development is sustainable,” says Arvid Hallén, Director General of the Research Council. “This will require intensified, long-term research with close collaboration across disciplines and sectors as well as the widespread involvement of industry.”
Traditional and new industries alike
The implementation of the bioeconomy entails full utilisation of all biological raw materials. Bioresources are to be recycled in a circuit system, rather than follow the track of the conventional value chain from raw materials to waste.
The field encompasses existing bio-based production as well as new opportunities spanning current production streams. Enabling technologies such as biotechnology will help to drive innovation and new commercial activity related to the bioeconomy.
“On the one hand,” continues Mr Hallén, “further development of the bioeconomy is about raising efficiency in and optimising the traditional bio-based industries such as food production. On the other hand, it’s about opening up promising new areas for knowledge and industry through cooperation across disciplines and sectors, and across industries and value chains.”
Norway in an excellent position
Norway is fortunate in that it has abundant access to a wide range of bioresources, both on land and at sea.
“But we have to do more to take advantage of our resources, and we need to do it in an even smarter way,” says Vidar Skagestad, Director of the Research Council’s Department for Land-based Bioresources and Environmental Research. “Among other things, we need to figure out how to draw more upon the synergy between biology and technology to open up potential new business areas.”
In keeping with Research Council’s main strategy
The Research Council’s main strategy emphasises research for innovation and sustainability. There are two key dimensions for developing the bioeconomy in Norway.
“Increasing the use of bioresources requires large tracts of land or ocean area,” explains Mr Skagestad, “so we need more knowledge about conflicting interests that may arise between the different uses of bioresources, such as using crops for food vs industrial, non-food purposes. We also need a better understanding of potential conflicts between increased harvesting of bioresources and protecting the environment. We need to find the right balance to ensure that development is sustainable over time.”
Cooperation across Research Council programmes
A new, government-initiated national bioeconomy strategy is planned to be presented before the summer. The Research Council has provided input during various phases of the strategy process. These efforts have made it clear that there is a need for greater coordination among the relevant Research Council programmes.
A number of programmes and funding instruments at the Research Council are targeted towards the bioeconomy, and work to promote integrated development of the field. The Large-scale Programme on Aquaculture Research (HAVBRUK2), Research Programme on Sustainable Innovation in Food and Bio-based Industries (BIONÆR), Large-scale Programme for Energy Research (ENERGIX) and Research Programme on Biotechnology for Innovation (BIOTEK2021) are currently cooperating on bioeconomy-related calls for proposals in 2016. Calls for the application deadline of 7 September will allow relevant researcher projects to incorporate topics extending across the scopes of these four programmes.
In practice, this means that while grant applications are to be submitted to the programme appropriate to the research question, the Research Council will allow projects containing elements from thematic areas under one of the other programmes to receive co-funding from that programme.
“This way applicants can focus on preparing a single, high-quality grant application,” adds Mr Skagestad, “without having to worry that the project may have elements that belong elsewhere under other programmes.”
The Research Council has now launched a webpage specifically focused on the bioeconomy (in Norwegian), where interested parties can follow developments.