According to the European Commission, the European bioeconomy employs over 18 million people and generates annual turnover of around EUR 2 trillion. The sector has a great economic potential for fields related to biomass, such as agriculture, forestry, fisheries, livestock, chemical production and bioenergy. Digital technologies can drive strategic improvements across the bioenergy industry. The goal of the ICT-BIOCHAIN project was to identify opportunities for using information and communication technologies (ICT) to increase the efficiency of biomass supply chains. Comprising a consortium of eight partners from five different European countries (Finland, Germany, Ireland, Spain and the United Kingdom), the initiative received funding from the Bio-Based Industries Joint Undertaking operating under Horizon 2020.
Bio-based digital innovation hubs
“Our main focus was on developing efficient biomass supply chains for sustainable chemical production in bioeconomy regions across Europe,” notes Judit Anda, ICT BIOCHAIN coordinator. To achieve its aim, the project established two digital innovation hubs located in ready-made, test-bed bioeconomy regions: one in south-east Ireland that focused on lignocellulose, manures and horticulture value chains, and one in Andalusia that focused on olive, horticulture and algae value chains. In 2016, the European Commission designated six regions across Europe as model demonstrator regions for sustainable chemical production – chemicals produced from locally available biomass. Two of these regions are represented in ICT-BIOCHAIN. “The project arises as a tool to capitalise these regions serving as test-bed locations for the implementation of digital innovation hubs for the biobased sector in Europe focused on biomass mobilisation. The main concept of the project is based on three elements: competence centres, regional facilitators and two model demonstrator regions,” adds Anda. These digital innovation hubs in both regions were formed following a multi-actor approach that included primary producers, bio-based industries and ICT specialists. Several activities were held: knowledge transfer, demonstration and investment events. These events provided opportunities for stakeholders from various sectors to meet and discuss their interests, exploit arising opportunities for cooperation and explore different financing options. Leading experts and support networks also developed region-specific bioresource data models and provided access to stakeholders to acquire best practices, expert knowledge and information. The knowledge and roadmap generated during ICT-BIOCHAIN will be transferred to other bioeconomy regions building capacity across Europe.
Leveraging ICT tools to improve the biomass value chain
ICT-BIOCHAIN released a user-friendly online platform to connect biomass suppliers and stakeholders from the bio-based industries with ICT providers. It is the first of its kind to store and share information regarding waste resources, and the sustainability and efficiency of regional biomass supply chain. The platform also includes a database of the state-of-the-art ICT, Internet of Things and Industry 4.0 solutions applicable to biomass supply chains. Users will be able to access the platform until May 2022. Digital technologies have the potential to change value chains, lead to higher productivity and more innovation, and create new channels to market. ICT-BIOCHAIN took big steps to boost regional and European bioeconomy. Undoubtedly, the implementation of technology solutions will help increase the competitiveness of European biomass supply chains.
ICT-BIOCHAIN, ICT, biomass, supply chain, bioeconomy, digital innovation hubs, information technology, bioenergy