Our vision it that Sweden will have made the conversion into a bioeconomy in 2050. The bioeconomy is an economy where materials, chemicals and energy originate from renewable bio-based raw materials. Increased resource-efficient use of renewable materials, and reduced use of fossil raw materials is necessary in order to create sustainable societal development.
In a circular economy, resources remain within society’s sustainability cycle, instead of becoming waste. Possibly the most well-known model of circular economics has been developed by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. It contains two different types of circuits – a technical one, and a biological one. In the model, bio-based renewable materials have come to be associated with biodegradability, but bio-based products also have an important role in the technological cycle, as illustrated in the figure below. Bioeconomics and circular economics are two complementary forces in the pursuit of sustainable development.
The size of the bioeconomy
The EU bioeconomy employs more than 22 million people. Statistics Sweden, SCB, has developed statistics for the Swedish bioeconomy, which are based on statistics for industries and businesses producing goods or services that, wholly or in part, relate to the use of biomass. The Swedish bioeconomy is estimated at an annual value of 258 billion Swedish Kronor, or six percent of GDP in 2015, and it employs approximately 330,000 people.
Around half of the value added comes from industries that Statistics Sweden classifies as 100 percent bioeconomic – such as agriculture and forestry, food, wood, paper and pulp. The other half comes from industries that are classified as bioeconomic only in part – for example textiles, construction and chemistry.
Raw materials and products
The sustainably used forest is a great resource for the Swedish bioeconomy. Wood is the main raw material for a wide range of climate-smart products, such as wood products, buildings, furniture, pulp, cardboard, textiles, chemicals, fuels and energy. Of the products produced from forest raw materials in Sweden today, about 80 percent are exported.
When forest raw material is processed on an industrial level, side streams arise in the form of sawdust, lignin and tall oil, for example, which in turn are further refined, see figure below. There is great potential for developing and streamlining both the extraction and further processing of these streams.
Our fields are another important source of bioeconomic growth. Fields are mainly used to grow crops for feed and for food production, but some are also used for raw materials to make chemicals and fuels. Some examples of these raw materials are sugar-based or starch-based crops such as sugar beets, or oil-based crops such as rapeseed. In agriculture, residual streams with the potential for further processing also arise – for example, these can be straw, husk cakes or seed cakes.
The seas and the lakes
There is also great potential in the biomass of the seas and the lakes. Aquatic organisms such as algae and sea squirts often contain high-quality protein, valuable enzymes, cellulose and other polymers that are not extensively recovered today. These may well grow in importance in the coming years.
Residual streams arise from industries, agriculture and society. These are streams that consist of biomass in the form of packaging waste, textile waste, food waste and sewage sludge, for example. At the moment, many of these streams lead into energy recycling, with the exception of packaging and paper waste which is recycled in the form of recycled fibres. However, the value of residual streams can be upgraded through improved sorting and increased material recycling.