Scotland leads in building the bioeconomy

Scotland leads in building the bioeconomy
22 March 2018

Viewpoint: Scotland leads in building the bioeconomy

Jamie Pitcairn, Ricardo Energy & Environment client manager for Scotland

In its legislative programme for 2017, the Scottish Government communicated a very clear intention to set the country on a course towards a resource-efficient and sustainable economy. A key goal is the development of a circular economy, and a crucial aspect of this in which Scotland is uniquely placed to prosper from is the so-called ‘bioeconomy’. The bioeconomy comprises those parts of the economy that use renewable biological resources from land and sea – such as crops, forests, fish, animals and micro-organisms – to produce food, materials and energy.

Fortunately, Scotland has an incredibly rich and diverse set of bioresources as a consequence of its geography, its large coast and forests, its economy – which has an enormous food and drink sector – and a diverse agricultural sector producing crop residues and animal wastes.

Realizing the economic value of these bioresources is vital. To help Scotland capitalize on this opportunity, Ricardo was commissioned by Zero Waste Scotland to establish the scale and shape of a potential bioeconomy market by quantifying and mapping bioresources – non-fossil biogenic resources which can be used by humans for multiple purposes, to produce food, substantial products, and/or energy carriers – across Scotland. This bioresource mapping report builds on the outcomes of an earlier study, I led – The Beer, Whisky and Fish circular economy sector study which highlighted the need to better understand the volume and geographic arisings of by-products in Scotland.

This was the first time bioresources have been quantified to this level anywhere in the UK, and possibly even in the world – making it an innovative and forward-thinking piece of work. Delivering this study has provided me with a unique and fascinating insight into the previously ‘hidden’ bioresources that flow through Scotland, and the results have helped shine a light on many missed opportunities which could provide real economic value to Scotland.

It is clear to me that the findings confirm that the bioeconomy will contribute to the Scottish Government’s political agenda by supporting sustainable economic growth. Firstly, the innovative bioeconomy could be an important source of new jobs – especially at the local and regional level, and importantly in rural and coastal areas – and there are big opportunities for the growth of new markets: for example, in bio-fuels, food and bio-based products.

Secondly, Scotland and the rest of the UK need to diversify their sources of energy, and the bioeconomy can support breakthroughs in low-carbon technologies with co-ordinated research. Replacing fossil raw materials with biological resources is an indispensable component of a forward-looking climate change policy.

Finally, a strengthened industrial base with innovative bio-based and food industries will contribute to creating a circular, resource-efficient economy. The food and drink industry is already the largest manufacturing sector in Scotland. The importance of this sector in Scotland is further evidenced by Scotland Food and Drink’s recently launched ‘Ambition 2030’ which aims to grow the food and drink
sector in Scotland to £30 million by 2030.

Now that we have this valuable information, the challenge is how we capitalize upon it?

In the study I recommended the adoption of a whole system strategic approach which takes account of the demand and the supply of bioresources. Fundamental to this approach is that stakeholders from both sides are proactively engaged – working with industry to understand the potential to substitute raw  material inputs into their processes, and working with suppliers who have available or potentially available bioresources. If successful, this collaborative approach will lead to the development of new circular business models and greatly increase the value attributed to Scotland’s bioresources.

Watch a webinar about this project online

This viewpoint was taken from Ricardo Quarterly Q1 2018 - see full selection of articles