The bioeconomy – the circular flow of biological resources

The bioeconomy – the circular flow of biological resources
26 October 2017

The bioeconomy – the circular flow of biological resources

The Scottish Government, through its legislative programme for 2017, is setting a course for a resource-efficient and sustainable economy. A key goal is a more innovative, low-emissions and circular economy. An aspect of the circular economy which Scotland is uniquely placed to prosper from is the 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 our geography, our large coast and forests, our economy with an enormous food and drink sector and a diverse agricultural sector producing crop residues and animal wastes.

Realising the economic value of these bioresources is vital. To help Scotland capitalise 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 bioresource[1] arisings 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 is the first time bioresources have been quantified to this level anywhere in the UK, and possibly even in the world. This is 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.

The study enables Scotland to understand the types and quantities of bioresource arisings which will support three key aspects:

  • developing new technologies and processes for the bioeconomy;
  • developing markets and competitiveness in bioeconomy sectors; and
  • showcasing the materials available and allowing both public and private sectors to stakeholders to work more closely together.

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 our sources of energy and the bioeconomy can support breakthroughs in low-carbon technologies with coordinated 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 capitalise on 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 valorisation of Scotland’s bioresources.

Attend our free webinar (Tuesday, November 7, 2017) on unlocking the real world circular economy solutions at national, city and organisational level. Click below to register now 


[1] Bioresources are non-fossil biogenic resources which can be used by humans for multiple purposes: to produce food, substantial products, and/or energy carriers