EU proposes to bet the farm on agrofuel

Bay Area reporter Richard Brenneman, on his blog Eats Shoots n Leaves, draws the link between yesterday’s European Commission proposal to step-up the transformation toward a “bio-economy” and the development of the new Lawrence Berkeley National Lab campus proposed for Richmond, California. 

Next month, on March 29, GJEP will be co-convening an event to raise public awareness of the new lab and its implications, called Unmasking the Bay Area Bio-Lab and Synthetic Biology: Health, Justice, and Communities at Risk. — Jeff Conant, for Synbiowatch


EU proposes to bet the farm on agrofuel

by Richard Brenneman, Eats Shoots n Leaves

recommendation issued today by the European Commission, the European Union proposes a major switch to agrofuels as part of a continental switch to a “bio-economy” as global petroleum supplies diminish.

From Valentina Pop of euobserver:

Future EU spending on agriculture, research and energy should promote the “bio-economy” instead of fossil-based chemicals and fuels, the European Commission says.

Agricultural waste used as fuel for energy plants, plastic made out of organic compounds instead of oil-based chemicals, bio-enzymes that let detergents clean laundry at lower temperatures than conventional substitutes – these are just a few examples of what the EU executive aims to sponsor under the label “bio-economy.”

Its communication – a non-binding strategy paper due to be published on Monday (13 February) and seen by EUobserver – describes the sector as “[contributing] to a lower emission and more resource efficient society that reconciles food security with the sustainable use of renewable resources for industrial purposes and environmental protection.”

The commission estimates that the bio-economy already creates an annual turnover of €2 trillion and employs 22 million people. But a more “integrated framework” of funding and regulation could create another 400,000 jobs and bring about a 0.4 percent rise in the bloc’s GDP while lowering carbon emissions.

It has earmarked €80 billion in the 2014-2020 EU budget for related initiatives in research and innovation, agriculture, fisheries, energy efficiency, bio-technology, computer science and nano-technology.

Read the rest.

The report outlines the basic strategy, which will be good news for folks at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory [LBNL], which is spearheading efforts into two key areas cited in the document, which we found in the Web:

The strategy will promote research and innovation activities to increase EU leadership and investment in the bioeconomy, increase the share of the skilled bioeconomy labour force and promote entrepreneurship.

The need to increase public funding for bioeconomy research and innovation has been recognised in the European Commission’s proposal for its future research programme Horizon 2020 . €4.5 billion have already been proposed for the Horizon 2020 ‘societal challenge’ theme “Food security, sustainable agriculture, marine and maritime research, and the bioeconomy”. Furthermore, bioeconomy themes will also be partially supported under elements of the Horizon 2020 themes “Climate action, resource efficiency and raw materials”, “Secure, clean and efficient energy” and “Health, demographic changes and wellbeing”.

This will be complemented by research and innovation in enabling and industrial technologies (e.g. biotechnology, nanotechnology and ICT) and the promotion of emerging technologies. Providing stakeholders along the entire bioeconomy value chain with a toolbox that includes a range of key enabling technologies will also be critical to the implementation of a wide range of bioeconomy-related policies.

Read the rest.

More from a press release [PDF] accompanying the report:

The term “Bioeconomy” means an economy using biological resources from the land and sea, as well as waste, as inputs to food and feed, industrial and energy production. It also covers the use of bio-based processes for sustainable industries. Bio-waste for example has considerable potential as an alternative to chemical fertilizers or for conversion into bio-energy, and can meet 2% of the EU renewable energy target.

The EU bioeconomy already has a turnover of nearly €2 trillion and employs more than 22 million people, 9% of total employment in the EU. It includes agriculture, forestry, fisheries, food and pulp and paper production, as well as parts of chemical, biotechnological and energy industries. Each euro invested in EU-funded bioeconomy research and innovation is estimated to trigger €10 of value added in bioeconomy sectors by 2025.

LBNL and UC Berkeley are leaders in both agrofuel and nanotechnology research.

Two European oil giants are the key funders of two major agrofuel research efforts born at Berkeley, BP’s $500 million Energy Biosciences Institutes, a joint effort of the University of California, LBNL, and the University of Illinois, and the sadly flagging Cal-spawned agrofuel corporate venture Amyris, started by LBNL/UCB bioengineer Jay Keasling and backed by French oil giant Total.

LBNL is also a major research hub for nanotechnology research, conducted at the lab’s Molecular Foundry.

As for Amyris, which announced last week that’s it’s going to have to issue new stock in a desperate move to gain more capital at the cost of the share prices already held by existing investors, the news from Europe doesn’t seem to have done much good, with the company’s shares hit a new record low of $6.66 this morning before rebounding, as we write, to $6.70.

Keasling, the company’s founder, did quite well for himself, cashing out before the firm went public. He now heads a major Department of Energy funded agrofuel lab housed in the same building as Amyris, the Joint BioEnergy Institute.

Oh, and Amyris is headed by a former BP vice president.