An investment of one euro in 2010 will generate a return of 10 euro in 2025. An investment of 35,000 euro into research and development over the same time frame will create one full-time job. This is the tremendous growth potential offered by the bioeconomy in the European Union, according to estimates by the European Commission made public in 2012 upon the launch of its strategy “Innovating for Sustainable Growth: A Bioeconomy for Europe.”
From such perspective, the recipe for economic growth in the next few decades seems obvious: invest in the bioeconomy. But, for a European Union still in the grip of the most severe economic-financial crisis in history and a policy of austerity that leaves little room for manoeuvre, the primary issue is finding the money to invest – within a defined strategy that is eco-friendly and avoids needless waste, wherever possible.
So, there’s really only one simple question: Where is the money? The answer, however, is not so simple, because to understand how to finance the bioeconomy one must wade into a sea of programs, funds, and public-private partnerships.
Let us proceed in order, then. First, there is the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme, which puts more than 70 billion euro on the table for research and innovation from 2014-2020. Another 80-100 billion euro will be invested in infrastructure, logistics, and the so-called drivers of innovation through the European Regional Development Fund. Yet another 70 billion euro from the European Social Fund will be devoted to investments in innovation and social integration, employment services, ongoing education, and entrepreneurial development. More than 100 billion euro will be made available for rural areas from the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development, and for marine and aquatic investment from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. Finally, 66 billion will be available for environmental initiatives and the creation of trans-European transportation networks. Overall, approximately 400 billion euro.
These structural funds are joined by the “Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking,” a public-private partnership that from 2014-2020 forecasts an investment in the biobased manufacturing sector of roughly 3.7 billion euro. Of these, 975 million will be made available by the EU, out of Horizon 2020 funds, while the BIC (the Bio-Based Industries Consortium of related businesses) will contribute 2.73 million euro.
Having said that, in this initial phase the partnership is currently funding ten programmes: seven in the research stage, two in demo, and one flagship project. The latter is called First2Run, coordinated by Novamont, the only company so far to have been allocated funds. Last June, the BIC assigned the project, a collaboration with four businesses and one university, some 17 million euro in block grants.
The project is designed to demonstrate the technological, economic, and environmental sustainability of a highly innovative integrated bio-refinery, in which low-input oilseed cultures (like thistle) cultivated in arid and/or marginal zones are used for the extraction of vegetable oils to be converted through chemical processes into bio-monomers (principally pelargonic and azelaic acids) and esters for the creation of bioproducts including biolubricants, cosmetics, plasticisers and bioplastics. The by-products of the manufacturing process will be used in the production of animal feed, other value-added chemicals, and energy from scraps to maximize the sustainability of the value chain.
Standardisation, certification, and dissemination of the results will be key parts of the project, along with a study of the social impact of the products derived from renewable resources. The project supports the redevelopment of existing industrial plants and to date has received investments from private partners totalling more than 300 million euro.
The Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking was formed by its partners to create jobs, particularly in rural areas, offering European citizens new, sustainable and locally-made products. Biobased industries will increase the competitiveness of EU countries through re-industrialization and sustainable growth, with the generation of new value chains through the interconnectivity of various sectors.
Growth and Sustainability at the Heart of the Juncker Plan
Economic growth, environmental sustainability, and job creation are precisely the same objectives declared by the President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, upon his inauguration. To achieve these ambitious goals the Commission presented its Investment Plan for Europe in Strasbourg on 26 November 2014. The so-called Juncker Plan is articulated in three directions: 1) the establishment of a European Fund for Strategic Investment (EFSI); 2) the creation of a reserve of viable projects and a program to support direct investment of funds where they are most needed; 3) the drafting of a program to make Europe more attractive to investors and remove regulatory bottlenecks.
The EFSI will be endowed with 21 billion euro: 16 guaranteed by the EU budget and 5 by the European Investment Bank (EIB). Based on conservative estimates drawn from historical experience, it is forecast that the Fund will unlock investments with a leverage effect equal to 15 times its initial endowment: at least 315 billion euro in 2015-2017. The basic concept is that the initial impulse provided by the Fund will mobilize the liquidity that is already present in the financial system but not currently being used for investment because of the uncertain economic climate.
In addition to the resources created by the EFSI, 20-35 billion euro in investment could be injected into the real economy by maximizing the leverage of structural funds and European investments from 2014-2020.
Last June, the EU Commission signed an agreement with the European Bank for the investments to establish and govern the Fund, confirming in its guidelines for national contributions that national promotional banks (NPBs) will serve as platforms for investment and co-financing, which will be excluded from deficit calculations as a one-time exception. To date, nine countries have decided to set up an NPB: Italy, France, Germany, Poland, Great Britain, Spain, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, and Slovakia. It was also confirmed that financing through the EFSI will not be considered state aid, while the co-financing activities of member states will undergo assessment, albeit through a fast-track process that aims to complete everything within six weeks. The European Parliament has been entrusted with oversight and supervision, along with the European Court of Auditors (ECA).
But how will all of this affect the bioeconomy? According to John Bell, the European Commission’s director of the Bioeconomy Directorate, “the EFSI fund is also available for investments in the bioeconomy, and thus provides for substantial opportunities in addition to the funding available for the Bioeconomy via Horizon 2020.” Bell adds that, “as part of the investment plan also an ambitious roadmap will be implemented to make Europe more attractive for investment and remove regulatory bottlenecks.”
Brussels’ challenge is to maintain legislative simplicity, not doing more than is strictly necessary to achieve its political objectives, and to avoid superimposing several different levels of regulation.
To surpass this challenge it has come up with REFIT (the Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme), which works to define a clear, stable, and predictable regulatory framework for workers, businesses, and citizens. Just as representatives of European industry have repeatedly requested. Under REFIT, the Commission will review its entire legislative corpus on a rolling basis to identify regulatory burdens, conflicts, and inefficiencies, as well as the appropriate corrective measures. Some of the sectors of interest in the bioeconomy that have already undertaken REFIT protocols include waste legislation and food safety.
A Simpler and More Logical Regulatory Framework is Needed
The European strategy entails financing for the bioeconomy on one side, and on the other the creation of a simple, stable, and predictable regulatory framework to attract those investments that experts say have recently been flowing toward the United States, India, and China.
It is in this context that the Bioeconomy Investment Summit convened by the European Commission is set to take place in Brussels from 9-10 November.
“This will be an opportunity to set out a high-level agenda for further investment in the bioeconomy,” Bell argues. “The aim of the event is to create political momentum and consensus in the Commission and where possible in member states for the necessary policy and regulatory decisions that will encourage investment in innovation in the bioeconomy.” Which in turn should help to better realise the potential of the bioeconomy to create new jobs and economic growth, including in rural and coastal areas.
European Commission: The Horizon 2020 Programme www.horizon2020news.it.
Public Private Partnership: “Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking” www.bbi-europe.eu.
Video “The Juncker Plan for Investment in Europe: What is the EFSI?,” tinyurl.com/njnkmas.
The Bioeconomy Investment Summit will be held in Brussels on November: tinyurl.com/q9tgpvp.
Interview with Josko Bobanovic, Sofinnova Partners
The Bioeconomy is the Future Driving Horse of the EU Economy
“If the bioeconomy is not recognised as the future driving horse of the EU economy, then we risk decisions that could impede its growth. On our micro-scale that probably results in a situation where we continue developing new start-ups based on technologies coming out of EU, but industrialise them elsewhere, which needless to say would represent a major loss for the EU economy in the long run.” To say it – in this interview with Renewable Matter – is Josko Bobanovic, partner of the Sofinnova Green Seed Fund dedicated to seed activities in renewable chemistry and bio-energy. Sofinnova Partners is an indipendent venture capital firm based in Paris.
With Bobanovic we talk about the investments in the bioeconomy, the role of the venture capital in supporting the growth of new companies, the European policies to develop the sector.
Why can investing in the bioeconomy companies be profitable today?
“At Sofinnova, we look at investments exclusively through the profitability lens with the clear understanding that all new technologies follow certain paths to profitability. Today, the bioeconomy companies front an unprecedented opportunity on the business front thanks to the innovation they are bringing to the market. Customers are looking for new performances, improved materials and solutions and a lot of these have been made possible by recent bioeconomy solutions, notably through advances in biotechnology but also through ability to produce using different, often cheaper and price-stable, raw materials. Similarly, petrochemical processes have been optimized and every single cent of margin has been already squeezed. All of a sudden, the bioeconomy opens the door to new processes with higher margins or profitability on a smaller scale, thus making them extremely attractive when compared to existing solutions. One of the clear examples in our investment portfolio is BioAmber (NYSE:BIOA), leading producer of bio-based succinic acid, that thanks to its fermentation technology opened up a whole suite of new applications for the succinic acid due to its favourable economics.”
What are the most important investments made by Sofinnova in the bioeconomy companies in the last two/ three years?
“Always difficult question to answer – like asking parents which child they prefer, but let me bring up one example that in our view has potential to dramatically change the face of the entire bioeconomy.
“Comet Biorefining is a Canadian company producing high-quality glucose from ligno-cellulosic biomass (wood, agricultural waste, etc.) that has demonstrated its process at 10 t/day scale and is currently preparing to build its first commercial-scale facility. Sugars, notably glucose, represent a key raw material for most fermentation-based processes. Today these sugars are obtained from food sources such as corn or sugar cane. It has been generally established that early phases of the bioeconomy development will be based on edible sugars, but its growth is predicted thanks to access to cheap ligno-cellulosic sugars in order to address ‘food vs. fuel debate’, but more importantly to eliminate high volatility of commodity pricing. Comet offers a solution based on standard equipment that is economically viable at modest plant size (40 kt/year), therefore lower CapEx, while producing high quality sugars below $250/t. Once proven on a commercial scale, in our view, this technology enables a whole downstream fermentation industry to switch away from food-based sugars, thus fullfilling the true bioeconomy dream.”
What are the parameters that you consider a priority when you decide to invest in a company?
“Venture capitalists invest in people. We look for true entrepreneurs willing to move mountains to build their dream company. We often say that poor team will destroy a great technology, but a great team will make a mediocre technology a success. Their ambition is always built around highly differentiated and well protected technologies that can be built to industrial scale with reasonable capital investment and are addressing large markets.”
How do your choices affect the political environment?
“The political environment does not drive our choices – we always base our decisions on economics that exclude any direct government intervention (e.g. subsidy). A clear example of the danger is solar industry in the past few years. That being said certain elements of the political environment clearly help our companies reach commercial scale more rapidly. These may include grants, loans or loan guarantees, tax incentives, regulatory decisions or mandates. In some parts of the world, there is a clear competition between different levels of government (national, regional and municipal) to promote conditions favourable for bioeconomy build out and these are taken very seriously by our portfolio companies when choosing where to industrialise their technologies.”
As an investor, how do you consider the austerity policy pursued by the European Union? Could it have negative effects on the development of the bioeconomy?
“We are globally interested in growing economies – how this growth gets realised and what kind of policies or macroeconomic measures lead to it is clearly beyond the scope of our expertise. By the same token, we recognize that single currency is a new experiment and that we are collectively learning to work with it. In the short-term, we look for the recognition that different sectors of the economy – notably the bioeconomy – do not have the same long-term potential, and once that realization has been made, appropriate policies in any kind of economic environment will follow. Consequently, if the bioeconomy is not recognised as the future driving horse of the EU economy, then we risk decisions that could impede its growth. On our micro-scale that probably results in a situation where we continue developing new start-ups based on technologies coming out of EU, but industrialise them elsewhere, which, needless to say, would represent a major loss for the EU economy in the long run.”
Next 9-10th November, in Brussels, the European Commission will organize the Bioeconomy Investment Summit. Could you tell us three points that you would like to bring to the attention of the summit to promote the development of investments in the bieconomy?
“Globally, the EU is in a privileged position to have the largest population base in a common market with very clear affinity for a biobased economy while building on equally attractive agricultural, forestry and industrial potential. Through various programs, the Commission has historically done a decent job in supporting innovative research and its pre-commercialisation. On a broader scale, what we find lacking is the ability to accelerate industrial scale up of various technologies through non-dilutive financial support that will, alongside our strong commitment, help see the companies through this financing gap. In a way, the EU has an infinite balance sheet and should use it strategically to diversify risk in scaling up technologies that represent the future for the continent. Second, one of the key mechanisms for promoting the growth of the bioeconomy is through investment in venture capital funds that specialise in the field and ideally we would see many more emerge in Europe in the coming years. Third, there is a need for incentive mechanisms for large companies looking to take the expansion risk into the bioeconomy and team up with start-ups bringing new technologies to the market. At the meeting, Sofinova will be represented by Denis Lucquin, our president, who will participate in the discussion on how the EU mechanisms can promote further investment in the bioeconomy.”
Interview with Dirk Carrez, Biobased Industries Consortium
Access to Finance is a Critical Issue
“Access to finance is a critical issue. In the past, not many dedicated funds existed. Today a variety of different funds can be accessed including the European Investment Bank (EIB), Horizon 2020, the BBI JU, European Structural and Investment Funds, private banks, without forgetting the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) or the so-called Juncker Investment Plan. Access and effectiveness remain an issue. Synergies are being sought between different EU funds, but the reality is that the funding scene is overly fragmented with different procedures across institutions, regions, organisations making the whole application experience very lengthy and complex.” It is what Dirk Carrez, Executive Director of the Biobased Industries Consortium, says in this interview with Renewable Matter.
With Carrez we talk about the Biobased industries Joint Undertaking and the EU plans to finance the bioeconomy.
What is exactly the Biobased industries Joint Undertaking? And why is it important to support the European bioeconomy?
“The Bio-based Industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) is the legal entity established in 2014 to administer and manage the €3.7 billion public-private partnership on Bio-based Industries. The European Commission and multi-sector industry group, the Bio-based Industries Consortium, joined forces to de-risk an emerging sector and effectively deploy Europe’s bioeconomy through annual calls for proposals and ensuing research and innovation projects, including demonstration and first-of-a-kind production plants. The BBI JU is a relatively new instrument at the European level. Until recently, much of the research and development funded by Europe was deployed in other regions of the world. European Framework Programmes, and especially the new Horizon 2020 programme, went some way in tackling this with an enhanced focus on innovation. JUs like the BBI are thus going further in the innovation and deployment chain. The BBI will not stop at the research or pilot phase, but will continue with demonstration projects, the creation of small scale production plants, which can then be used to explore elements such as proof-of-concept, sustainability and competitiveness. Even so-called ‘flagship projects’ will be integrated, which will see funding for new innovative first-of-a-kind production plants in Europe. Of course, this funding will be made available for the innovative aspects of such plants, and not the entire infrastructure. While this approach already exists in many other parts of the world, it is entirely new in Europe. The BBI is about using Europe’s biomass and wastes to make high value products and bring them to market. Advanced biorefineries and innovative technologies are at the heart of this process, converting renewable resources into sustainable bio-based chemicals, materials and fuels, allowing the EU to reduce its dependence on finite fossil resources. It is important to support such an initiative at European level because it de-risks an emerging sector and creates the framework conditions required to leverage Europe’s renewable resources, innovative technologies and industrial know-how. So Europe has finally developed a tool that can be used to keep deployment within its borders.”
In this context, what is the role of the Biobased industries Consortium?
“The Bio-based Industries Consortium (BIC) is the private partner in the Public-Private Partnership on Bio-based Industries. BIC supports the BBI JU with a contribution of €2.7 billion, of which €975 million is used to support research and innovation activities, and another €1.7 is provided in the form of additional activities, such as investments in infrastructure. BIC is made of a unique mix of sectors including agriculture, agro-food, biotechnology/technology providers, forestry/pulp and paper, chemicals, energy and end-users. BIC was established in 2012 to collectively represent the private sector in the BBI. To date, BIC has close to 80 full industrial members (large, SMEs, SME clusters) and about 150 associate members (RTOs, universities, associations, technology platforms). One of BIC’s fundamental roles is to lead the development of the annual BBI JU’s Work Programmes, all in partnership with the European Commission. BIC is also increasingly involved in advocacy activities aimed at creating a favourable policy and financing environment for bio-based industries. Mainstreaming the concept of ‘bioeconomy’ is essential for investments and public acceptance, and BIC is therefore constantly looking for new partnership opportunities to promote the benefits of the bioeconomy across EU member states, regions, sectors, investors and consumers.”
What projects have been awarded the first funds? And what are your plans for the future?
“The BBI JU has approved in June 2015 the funding of 10 projects totalling €120 million as result of the first call launched in July 2014. Seven funded research projects will tackle specific value chain challenges such as sustainability, technology and competitiveness. Two demonstration projects will demonstrate the technological and economic viability of biorefinery systems and processes for making chemicals from wood, and for making high value products for detergents, personal care, paints and coatings and composites from sugar beet pulp. Finally, the industrial scale flagship project will make use of cardoon, an under-utilised oil crop grown on arid and marginal lands, to extract vegetable oils to be further converted into bio-based products (bio-lubricants, cosmetics, bio-plastics). By- and co-products from the process will also be valorised for energy, feed for animals and added value chemical production.
“This first round of BBI projects sees a leverage effect of €70 million in private investments for €50 million of EU public money. And this is only the beginning. In May 2015, the BBI JU has launched a €100 million Call for Proposal dedicated to ‘flagships’ focusing on lignocellulosic feedstock, valorisation of cellulose and innovative processes for sugar recovery and conversion from Municipal Solid Waste. On 25th August, the second part of the 2015 call was officially published, now with a focus on research and demonstration actions. The budget allocated for this call is €106 million: €28 million for Research and Innovation Actions, €12 million for Innovative and efficient biorefinery technologies, €64 million will be allocated for Demonstration Actions, and €2 million for Coordination and Support Actions.”
In the European Union, there are different funds to support the bioeconomy. How can we reconcile all in order to avoid waste of money and significantly support the bioeconomy?
“Access to finance is a critical issue. In the past, not many dedicated funds existed. Today a variety of different funds can be accessed including the European Investment Bank (EIB), Horizon 2020, the BBI JU, European Structural and Investment Funds, private banks, without forgetting the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) or the so-called ‘Juncker Investment Plan.’
“Access and effectiveness remain an issue. Synergies are being sought between different EU funds, but the reality is that the funding scene is overly fragmented with different procedures across institutions, regions, organisations making the whole application experience very lengthy and complex. The situation in the USA, for instance, is much simpler, often leading to a competitive advantage over Europe. It will therefore be critical for the EU, governments, regions and other funding organisations to put these theoretical synergies into practice to make investing in Europe a seamless process.”
As far as you’re concerned, how important is the support to the demand for biobased products through a system of green public procurement? Could the US Biopreferred Programme be a real model for Europe?
“I think the market is certainly a significant challenge. Today, there is an important market within the bioeconomy for biofuels, which has been created and stimulated by policy incentives. However, the policy is not stable and has recently been subject to a major policy u-turn for first generation biofuels. Many companies that have launched investments now face having to halt production because it is unclear how things are going to progress. From this, it is clear that whether this direction will be either with our without policy incentives, stability is the key to attracting investment, and that is the same for all bio-based products.
Supporting the demand for bio-based products through public procurement can certainly be a positive driver. However, copying the US Biopreferred Programme at EU level will – in my opinion – not have the same impact as in the USA, as every European member state or region has its own procurement system. So we have to analyse which system could be a good incentive to support the demand for bio-based products in Europe. Such an analysis is taking place today within an Expert Group on Biobased Products, coordinated by the European Commission’s DG GROW. This should hopefully result in a good model for the EU.”
How do you consider the austerity policy pursued by the European Union? Could it have negative effects on the development of the bioeconomy?
“For now, I don’t expect negative effects. First of all, the budget of the BBI JU is not affected at all, and in addition the new Investment Plan should provide additional opportunities for those companies that want to invest in innovation or production facilities in the bio-based area. Today, several of our members are discussing with the European Investment Bank to obtain loans or guarantees for future investments. This means that there is a willingness from our industry to invest in the European bioeconomy, and this should be seen as a very positive signal.”
The European Commission will organize next November 9-10 in Brussels the Bioeconomy Investment Summit. Could you tell us three points that you would like to bring to the attention of the summit to promote the development of the bioeconomy?
“My first point is the fragmentation of public funding and the complex and lengthy procedures, as already mentioned above.
“My second point is about regions. More EU regions need to start thinking about the opportunities they have concerning their feedstock such as waste, agricultural crops or forestry. Europe’s regions should explore how they can use regional development funds and other finances to attract investments, and how they can develop new products and new markets, and as such, create new jobs.
“Finally, it is important to involve more the ‘unconventional’ stakeholders. Good examples are industrial sectors that are not so familiar with the bio-based area today, such as the food industry. There are plenty of opportunities to convert their waste into useful bio-based (non-food) products. Cities and municipalities are another good example. They can co-invest in innovative facilities to convert their municipal waste into high added-value products. In all these cases, new value chains and partnerships have to be explored and set up.”