The international context
On February 13th 2012 the European Commission launched the strategy “Innovating for sustainable Growth: a Bioeconomy for Europe” (COM(2012) 60 final) dedicated to Bioeconomy, defined as an economy founded on biological resources from land and sea, as well as from waste – which function as fuel for industrial and energy production and for the manufacture of food and feed – and involving the use of production processes based on bioproducts for a sustainable industrial sector.
The economic weight of this sector is estimated by the EU with a turnover of about 2,000 billion euro and over 22 million employers, accounting for 9% of the total employment in the EU market economy. Furthermore, it is estimated that every euro invested in bioeconomy research and innovation, with appropriate national and European support policies, will lead to an added value of ten euros in the biobased field within 2025.
The document, which is currently being reviewed by the European Commission itself, is structured around three main lines:
- Investments in research, innovation and skills for bioeconomy
- Market and competitiveness development in the bioeconomy fields
- A closer coordination of policies and greater involvement of stakeholders
The Italian scenario
The SPRING Cluster joined in January 2016 the national working group on Bioeconomy together with other stakeholders. This tool was created by the Italian Presidency of the Council of Ministers within the wider topic of “Food, health and quality of life”, which had been identified as a national priority technology trajectory toward a National Strategy of Smart Specialization, with the following objectives:
- Setting up a strategic plan to direct the expressions of interest useful to identify actions and areas in this topic and the corresponding technology trajectories for development;
- Identifying a platform, tools and public and private financial resources, available first at national level;
- Acting in conjunction with regional initiatives and resources.
The SPRING Cluster was then identified as one of the crucial players in the drawing-up of the Italian Strategy on Bioeconomy, and as such was called by the Ministry for Education, University and Research to participate in the drafting of the document since the beginning, believing that this tool represents a major opportunity for Italy to strengthen its competitiveness and its role in promoting sustainable growth in Europe and the Mediterranean.
Thanks to the joint work carried out together with important institutional stakeholders – the Ministry for Economic Development, the Ministry for Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policy, the Ministry for Education, University and Research, and the Ministry of the Environment and Protection of Land and Sea of Italy – and the involvement of other national actors such as the Agency for Territorial Cohesion, the Conference of the Regions and the National AgriFood Technological Cluster, after a period of public consultation the document was officially presented on April 20th 2017 at the headquarters of the National Council for Research (CNR) in Rome.
The Strategy represents a platform on which to work jointly, involving institutions, public research and industrial research entities and the Italian Regions all at the same time, so as to be able to implement national and local policies that could permit to fully grasp the growth opportunities offered by the bioeconomy not only in terms of research and innovation but also, and above all, in terms of shared culture.
Objectives of the Cluster
The Cluster actions on the short, medium and long term focus on four main pillars:
- the use of renewable resources as raw materials, through the determination of the local most appropriated species, such as scraps or dedicated crops, to be used in biorefinery processes; the identification and use of marginal and/or contaminated lands; the promotion of the cascade use of biomass and the construction of new agro-industrial value chains;
- the creation of biorefineries integrated in the local areas to obtain high value-added products (biochemicals, biomaterials); the development and optimization of innovative technologies and efficient processes through activities of Research & Development and scale-up aimed to foster the construction of pilot plants and flagships; the reconversion of decommissioned industrial areas;
- the development of new biobased products (partially or totally obtained from renewable resources), with low environmental impact and benefits under the social and economic point of view;
- the implementation of specific actions in support of R&D activities, in order to contribute to the growth of investments in innovative technologies and in pilot plants and to stimulate bioeconomy at a national and regional level.