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Realising the economic potential of renewable resources - bioproducts from non-food crops

Final Report Summary - EPOBIO (Realising the economic potential of renewable resources - bioproducts from non-food crops)

EPOBIO was an international Science to Support Policy project funded by the European Commission in the Sixth Framework Programme and with the cooperation of the United States Department of Agriculture. The aim of the project was to realise the economic potential of sustainable plant-derived raw materials. A key objective was to design new generations of bio-based products derived from plant raw materials that will reach the market place 10-15 years from now.

Building on the work of the US / EC Taskforce in Biotechnology Research, EPOBIO incorporated and took forward the extensive discussions and analyses on plant-based bioproducts that took place during 2004 and 2005. Those discussions established criteria to select flagship themes that represent important areas for new international R&D activities aimed at delivering the new generation of bio-based products. The taskforce identified three flagship themes - plant cell walls, plant oils and biopolymers - as important areas for new international R&D activities.

Each flagship theme was developed within a framework of its environmental impact, economics and regulatory frameworks, attitudes and expectations of policy makers and the public, and a communication strategy. This integration of technical and non-technical issues in an holistic approach and analysis required close integration with environmental scientists, agronomists, experts in legislation and regulations, socio-economists, policy-makers and the public to evaluate proposed products and ensure the products developed are beneficial to our society and for our planet. Uniquely, EPOBIO examined scientific potential in this wider social context.

Incorporated into EPOBIO, the BioMatNet database of information ensured dissemination of information concerning EC supported RTD projects and related activities concerning the development of renewable bioproducts and biofuels from agricultural and forestry derived raw materials. The key outputs of EPOBIO include a series of twelve reports published during the project; the EPOBIO workshops which identified priorities for action and reported results; the development of specific policy recommendations to take forward the bioeconomy; and, a wide-ranging series of dissemination activities.

The publications and reports delivered during the EPOBIO project are as follows:
(a) three flagship-specific reports published in October 2006: cell wall saccharification, production of wax esters in crambe; alternative sources of natural rubber.
(b) a series of crop platform reports published in April 2007 as follows: crop platforms for cell wall biorefining; lignocellulose feedstocks; oil crop platforms for industrial uses; industrial crop platforms for the production of chemicals and biopolymers.
(c) reports published in April 2007 by the communications and social attitudes support themes: science communication and the potential of sustainable resources; public attitudes towards the industrial uses of plants.
(d) a final report published in September 2007 combining the input and expertise of the flagship desk researchers: micro- and macro-algae; utility for industrial applications.
(e) workshop reports: reports from each of the workshops published in September 2006 and September 2007, respectively.

The first EPOBIO Workshop was held in May 2006. Over 180 delegates attended the workshop which consisted of a series of plenary presentations addressing the global, EU and US perspectives in the biorenewables sector. Presentations also looked at the implication of the expansion of the bioeconomy for agriculture in the EU and the potential of the bioeconomy in developing countries. The EPOBIO unique concept was explained to delegates and was set in the context of other developments in the EU, primarily through the various technology platforms, with which EPOBIO has sought to develop strong links.

The second workshop focussed on the potential of green plants to use solar energy and manufacture raw material feedstocks, which offers a major way to address issues of paramount importance and to deliver the future needs of society in a sustainable way. The EPOBIO team reported on the work undertaken since the 2006 workshop, examining the future potential of the bioeconomy in the context of relevant regulatory and policy issues, global developments and industrial perspectives on sustainability. The results showed how the EPOBIO process had been used to provide a framework for validation of research priorities and a thorough evidence base to inform decision-making.

In its early stages EPOBIO identified key policy makers and research funders in the European Union and information and reports were circulated on a regular basis to these stakeholders. The project director and coordinator met with officials in the European Commission to discuss current policy on the development of the bioeconomy in Europe and well as the key finding from EPOBIO reports. Each report prepared by EPOBIo analysed policy impacts and barriers and contributed to the development of future policy. Also, EPOBIO contributed to the development of policy papers prepared by others, for example, Europabio. Finally, the coordinator gave a presentation at the 2007 workshop analysing the key issues concerning the use of science in policy making and how they can better be integrated.

In addition to the published reports, the dissemination activities of EPOBIO have included the presentation of the public face of the project through the website which can be accessed in seven languages, and the generation and dissemination of information through the website. The BioMatNet website, which listed specific research programmes and relevant non-food crops projects up to December 2004, was re-established and expanded through integration with EPOBIO. Individual project reports or summaries of other activities on the BioMatNet website, termed 'ITEMs' were reviewed and revised as necessary. New ITEMs were added as necessary and a total of around 2100 were on the website at the conclusion of EPOBIO.

The first CD-ROM was produced for the second EPOBIO workshop. The CD-ROM was entitled 'BioMatNet CD-ROM 7 – non-food agro industrial research'. This contained copies of the websites, links to over 1000 other bioproducts websites and the EPOBIO flagship reports. The second 'Building the European knowledge based bioeconomy (KBBE). The impact of non-food research 1988-2008' was produced in December 2007. Distribution was developed as a package containing the printed report and the two CDs.