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Biotechnology: a sector of the future driven by the EU

The industrial sector, which is mainly responsible for climate change, must adapt to new ecological techniques. In particular, bio-industry, defined as all industrial activities involving biotechnological processes, could be used in a more “green” way.

1. Biotechnology: definition

Biotechnology, defined by the OECD as “the application of science and technology to living organisms (…) to alter (…) materials for the production of knowledge, goods and services”, consists of four types: blue (marine) biotechnology, green (plant) biotechnology, red (health) biotechnology and white (industry) biotechnology.

White biotechnology uses micro-organisms to manufacture products for technical use, using several processes, some of which are less energy consuming than others (enzymes for example). These should be given priority, particularly in the textile, agri-food and paper industries. Indeed, they can be used to control the shape of fruits and vegetables or even to bleach paper. Less well known, this field of research has many future interests in a wide range of areas.

2. What actions and EU funding are provided for an ecological transition of the bio-industry?

The EU offers funding for biotechnology through the Horizon 2020 programme, which has defined this sector as a Generic Key Technology. These multidisciplinary technologies provide the basis for an important competitive advantage for European industry and stimulate growth and the creation of new jobs.

With its funding, the EU has one objective: to deploy biotechnology to promote environmental protection while ensuring the leadership of European industries. In this context, the exploitation of biotechnologies and their products could lead to a reduction in CO2 emissions of between 1 and 2.5 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year by 2030.

To this end, the European Commission launched a call for proposals “Bio-based industries” on April, 4th 2019. The wide variety of open topics allows an open range of project leaders to apply, regardless of their level of technological maturity. The following are targeted:
– Research and innovation actions: solving the end-of-life problem of plastics; transforming vegetable oils and fats into products with high added value;
– Innovative actions (Demonstration): use of microalgae in production; promotion of biostimulant products for agricultural productivity;
– Innovative actions (Flagship): technological combinations to enhance the value of biomass raw material; production of biological alternatives to harmful products;
– Coordination and support actions: strengthening SME clusters to cross the “valley of death“; shaping the bio-economy through a participatory approach.

Project leaders are invited to apply before 4 September 2019. The budget allocated to this call is 135 million euros, to be distributed among the 21 topics identified.

Since 2014, the number of calls for proposals related to biotechnology has increased with each new work programme. Between 2014 and 2017, only 13 topics were open for this purpose, compared to 21 for 2018-2020. In view of this progress, it is to be hoped that the next Horizon Europe programme will be up to the challenges it will have to face, in particular the ecological awareness of industries in their production methods.

Fanny Robert


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