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Enhance New Approaches in BioBased Local Innovation Networks for Growth

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - ENABLING (Enhance New Approaches in BioBased Local Innovation Networks for Growth)

Reporting period: 2019-06-01 to 2020-11-30

ENABLING aimed to support the spreading of best practices and innovation for the management and implementation of bio-based products and processes (BBPs) from sustainable biomass from rural areas.
The project intended to respond to the need of improving and systematising collaboration among the different stakeholders, and in particular between the source of biomass streams, and the processing and transformation industry, or Bio-Based Industry (BBI). Currently, most biomass supply chains for BBPs do not take advantage of structured networks. Most agricultural business involved in the production of biomass for the BBPs do so in a bilateral (and often unbalanced) relationship with their industrial counterpart.

In this context, Europe bears a huge potential for optimizing the supply of biomass into innovative bio-based processes and products. ENABLING therefore intended to favour a better exploitation of the available biomass in the bio-based industry, by making available science- and practice-based information and favoring Innovation Uptake by practitioners.

After three years of project implementation, the consortium managed to reach the objectives set out at the beginning of the project, achieve all planned results and even exceed engagement targets. However, the entire project is to be considered as a fundamental step, and not a point of arrival per se. Partners could definitely experience how complex the support landscape for this sector is, counting over 160 EU level/multi-national projects, 11 associations and platforms and many hundreds more at member state level. The sector is also far more diverse in terms of its feedstocks and end products than expected at the time of proposal writing.
Project activities started with the identification of the correct categories of by-products from by biomass of several rural, agro-forestry and agro-industrial sectors, linked with relevant Industrial processes. This was essential in order to provide a significant knowledge base for the whole project and for project stakeholders as well. In parallel, a first guideline has been developed in order to select and share criteria for identifying the best practices. A format for the collection of practices was developed, in compliance with EIP-AGRI requirements. At the end of the project, a total of 132 Practice Abstracts has been collected across Europe. Such practices have been made public on the Best Practice Atlas and on the project communication tools, including the videos shared on the project Youtube channel.

The work of practice collection has been accompanied by activities of information, training and capacity building, which consisted in: i) the organisation of workshops and webinars in each participating country; ii) the set up of a coaching and innovation brokerage services, supporting stakeholders in getting information and updates on emerging trends and innovation in the sector; iii) the collection of information on ongoing innovation in the bioeconomy sector, including ongoing projects on novel technology for BBPs and biomass exploitation as well as a huge collection of scientific articles able to give more details about scientific progress on exploitation of rural residues and technologies. Finally, a Biomass Trade Platform has been developed and launched, meant for favouring business links between biomass producers and bio-based industry, as a necessary starting point for boosting the BBP value chain and market sector.

In the Dissemination action, the website was seen as the access point to the tools developed during the project, i.e. the biomass matrix gathering data on biomass availability and related industrial processes for BBPs, the innovation brokerage and coaching services, the Best Practice Atlas and the Biomass Trade Platform. The website also collected information from the Innovation Watch, on the events organised within the project and the newsletter. Finally, the exploitation has special importance in the consortium’s roadmap to concretely contribute to the development of a Europe-wide marketplace promoting the matching of biomass residues and BBPs industry offer and demand. For all tangible results, a clear exploitation route has been proposed on the final Business Plan.
The project certainly bears a potential impact at economic (creation of new businesses and support to innovation), environmental (favouring circular economy) and social (new jobs and more specialised workforce) level. The experience collected throughout the project proved that research in the bioeconomy sector is very lively, and single initiatives are numerous.
However, a number of consideration have to be made besides the project in itself.

In its last year, ENABLING suffered from the spread of the COVID pandemic, which strongly disadvantaged the uptake of innovations in biobased products. Economic and social crisis triggered by the pandemic caused significant losses to innumerous economic actors, including bioeconomy stakeholders. Interest in innovative solutions and in new sectors therefore came to a stake, as companies had to switch on a “survival mode”. In this context, impact on economic growth and on the creation of jobs remains limited. However, COVID has only halted an increased attention on bioeconomy, with major changes in policy due to a new Agriculture Policy and Green Deal. It is not feasible to demonstrate a direct cause and effect relationship between the project and the growth of the bioeconomy, as this growth has also been influenced by so many other policy, projects and funding mechanisms of orders of magnitude much larger than the ENABLING project. However, ENABLING has certainly acted in line with such policies and took important steps in a sector which remains to a large extent unstructured. Such key results are in particular: i) an extremely detailed activity of biomass characterisation and industrial processes has been performed, which results have been made available online; ii) the collection of a great number of practices across Europe which have been put online and are therefore easily accessible to any bioeconomy actor; iii) a business support system which has been useful to understand main interests and concerns by practitioners; iv) an online biomass trade platform as a virtual meeting place to favour a match among bioeconomy actors. All these results do contribute to make the bioeconomy tissue more cohesive and connected.

Lessons learned from the implementation of the project, and possible policy recommendations mainly refer to how projects such ENABLING should be structured. Firstly, it is critical to network all the projects working on the bioeconomy, as individual projects can add substantial value by working together on dissemination as well as technical issues. Second of all, networks take much time to set up and consolidate and 3 years is probably too short for them to become self sustaining. Moreover, some longer term functions, such as support to companies, will have to be implemented on a continous base, also after the project completion. Finally, considering the major changes ENABLING went through, it is important that projects remain flexible and change direction along with the economic, social and political context.