A forest bioeconomy is in the making, but more purposeful action is required


Moving towards a green circular bioeconomy is no longer an option but an obligation to help people and the plant tackle global challenges, stretching from climate change to pandemics. Thus, the so-called Bio Revolution is on the making and is expected to have a direct global annual impact on the economy of 3.5 billion euros, with more than 400 applications scientifically feasible today.

In this context forest bioeconomy has a key role to play. A forest bioeconomy is based on the production and transformation of wood, so that the entire renewable resource is used. It is also a source of direct and indirect employment in the whole value chain. Enhancing innovation is undoubtedly the road to competitive advantages and improved financial performance.

So often trees from woods and plantations sustainably managed are seen only as sources of biomass, timber, firewood, wood blocks, chipper stock, wood chips, sawdust, wood cellulose and the like. However, recently there are many projects going on to unlock the many potentialities hidden in wood, such as the ones conducted by the Natural Resources Institute Finland (Luke), to make the most of tree bark, since it contains  “anti-microbial and antioxidant compounds which can be used as preservatives and ingredients to enhance the taste of food products” for example. It also “can also provide raw materials for industrial applications like adhesives and insulating materials and can even help in removing impurities”, according to declarations by Pekka Saranpää, Research Manager at Luke.

This is just an example of the many innovations that are being researched and developed. The company Stora Enso is building a plant to produce a renewable bio-based carbon to replace synthetic graphite, a non-renewable material used in batteries. The new bio-based graphite is made of lignin, the second most common macromolecule after cellulose found in nature, and it makes up for a third of the composition of wood.

Also, wood plastic composites (WPCs) that combine plastic and cellulose fibres allow using recycled plastic bags and wood residues. There are many forest-based innovative solutions that contribute enormously to a new circular bioeconomy. But there is still much to be done.

For example, although the European Union has taken a strategic turn towards bioeconomy, this has influenced the research and development orientation, prioritizing bioeconomy related research and activities, most of it is oriented toward renewable biomass. That leaves huge room for further research on innovation and product development in need of investment and support. Thus, in order to reach the objective of a circular bioeconomy we must create an enabling regulatory framework, bring purposeful innovation to the investment and political agenda and ensure access to finance and enhance risk-taking capacity to help the forestry based bioeconomy to flourish.

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