Five prerequisites for growth in the bioeconomy

There are a number of important conditions and trends driving bio-based development forward. Below, we have formulated some ideas that are particularly interesting regarding the areas of Chemicals & Energy, Materials, and Construction & Design. These create extensive opportunities for new collaboration, and new innovations.


The manufacturing of competitive products from biomass requires new and more cost-effective processes. The high production costs for existing technologies are hampering investment in bio-based alternatives, both by producers, and also by actors further down the value chain. Processes that ensure correct and stable product quality, despite variations in the quality of the biomass, are one important area. At the moment, many a good idea is dismissed with the argument that it is too expensive, too uncertain, or that the supply of raw materials is too limited for volume products. However, through the efficient utilisation of raw materials, and through circularity, great potential for a large selection of products and processes exists.

More inputs, providing a foundation for decisions about upscaling, are also needed. Ideas that have been validated in the laboratory, or on a small pilot scale, need to be verified in a context that companies consider to be relevant and reliable, if they are to proceed and implement. In this way the preconditions for new bio-based products on the market are created. New technologies and processes require capital-intensive investments with a long repayment period. The possibility of increased support for pilot plants, for risky demonstration projects, and for flagship projects – that is, full-scale first-of-a-kind investments – is an important boost to development.

II. benifits from residual currents

Raw materials from forestry and agriculture form the foundation of many large industries and companies today. In many cases, these actors have invested multibillion SEK in facilities, and in production systems. There is great potential here for exploiting lateral and residual flows from the existing processing of bio-based raw materials. However, this can only happen when the prerequisite conditions in the market, and in society are in place. In terms of investment costs and operating costs, there are benefits for new bio-based processes and products in integration with existing production infrastructure, and existing processes.

The residual streams need not be generated internally, or originate in on-site production. Instead, residual streams from several production plants or recycled product streams, can be processed in a larger plant thereby offering economies of scale. This is in combination with cost-effective logistics solutions. It is about the right raw material at the right price, but also the right combination of processes and products for the cost-effective use of all parts of the raw material. It is also a question of clearly identifying real market needs.

III. Design creates better conditions

An important part of a circular economy is resource-efficiency through the recycling of materials. Materials used in products must be recyclable as raw material, in the same value chain or in other chains. Smart design, efficient recycling processes and functioning circular business models and social models, are needed for this to happen. According to a study from the Swedish Recycling Industries’ Association, Sweden loses over 40 billion Swedish Kronor annually due to materials being recycled incorrectly.

In order for materials and products to be recycled for a high value, awareness regarding the design of materials, material systems and products is essential. Products and materials cannot simply be designed on the basis of customer preferences and functional requirements, but also using the knowledge of new areas of utility. This is in terms of constituent components and methods of joining and separating materials, as well as opportunities for classic material recycling.

In many areas, there are currently no bio-based alternatives that can replace existing material solutions completely. Yet it is frequently possible to replace some parts by combining bio-based materials with other materials. This could be in systems where the various materials complement each other with their different functions, but also in components where they create a joint function together. With the right material in the right place, many developmental needs can be addressed, such as fire resistance, stability, moisture, strength and durability, for example. In addition, the amount of bio-based materials both in existing and in new applications can increase, whilst at the same time being more efficient in terms of climate and circularity.

The design of future bio-based materials and products will also require additives and chemicals for surface treatment, for binding or some other functionalisation. At the present time, the availability of such high-quality bio-based chemicals, formulations and materials is limited, which constitutes an obstacle to the development of fully bio-based products.

IV. Smart digitalisation

For the circular bioeconomy, digitalisation is expected to be a necessary, and absolutely crucial prerequisite for success. Various actors in the bio-based sector – raw material producers, manufacturers, designers, architects and others – have long produced large amounts of data. This can be anything from timber sorting and process management, to quality controls. Historically, this information has not actually been passed between the steps along the value chain, and instead, new information has been created at every step.

Now, the development of information management systems makes it possible to track and to use data in an information value chain, that follows the material value chain. This development brings gains in efficiency, both in logistics and processes as well as in quality control and business systems. It can also guarantee the source of trade marks, which benefits the industries contributing to the transition to a bioeconomy.

The biobased sector has no need to push digitalisation for its own sake. Instead, it is a question of identifying opportunities and using the new tools that digitalisation offers. One significant starting point is that general tools, such as machine learning, are not expected to be able to contribute significantly to the area, unless they are clearly linked to process know how and to specific understanding of the market.

There is great potential in the digital information value chains of the bioeconomy. But there are challenges as well as opportunities that are linked to using information flows and closed data loops as a way to increase efficiency and add value. Examples of clearly affected areas are products, processes, aftermarkets and customer added value.

V. Knowledge about the biobased sector

The use of bio-based materials must inspire, attract and be accepted by the constructors, designers and architects who develop new products and materials. One challenge is creating the conditions that make users feel secure about taking the step towards bio-based materials – that there is sufficient volume of bio-based materials, that their performance is acknowledged, that the tools for construction and design are in place, and that inspiring examples already exist. Otherwise, there is the risk of many people choosing the familiar, short-term safety that the current material concept already offers.

Taking the step into bio-based alternatives also implies an increased need for knowledge as well as clear information explaining why bio-based solutions can be a more sustainable and favourable alternative. Therefore, common terms and concepts, sustainability criteria, frameworks for lifecycle analysis, as well as reliable data are all required.