Biorefining Potential for Scotland, A new report from Zero Waste Scotland

In 2015, Scottish Enterprise published “The Biorefinery Roadmap for Scotland” on behalf of the Scottish Industrial Biotechnology Development Group (SIBDG), which sets out the key actions required to identify the barriers and risks faced by companies and potential investors to enable the more established biorefinery technologies. The Roadmap aims to increase industrial biotechnology turnover to £900 million by 2025.

A key action of this Roadmap was to map the wastes, by-products and agricultural residues that are, or which could be, available as feedstock for a biorefining process. In addition, The “Making Things Last” strategy outlines the Scottish Government’s priorities for recovering value from biological waste, including mapping bioresource arisings in Scotland and investigating the potential for local biorefining hubs.

The challenge for this project was therefore to establish the scale of the opportunity for the bioeconomy sector in Scotland, by quantifying and mapping bioresource arisings to understand the scale and shape of a potential bioeconomy market. This report also builds on the outcomes of an earlier Beer Whisky Fish circular economy sector study which highlighted the need to better understand the volume and geographic arisings of by-products in Scotland. For the first time Scotland’s bioresources have been assessed in such a thorough way and the volume of resources confirms that there is sufficient feedstock to enable Scotland to be confident in developing opportunities for biorefining.

Within the bioeconomy there is demonstrable scope to develop a bio-based industrial sector with the potential to significantly reduce our dependency on fossil-based resources, help meet climate change targets, and lead to sustainable economic growth. In addition, it will also help diversify and grow farmers’ incomes through additional margins by valorising agricultural residues. The “Making Things Last” strategy brings together many of the policy areas linked to the bioeconomy, however this transition will require a greater cross-sector approach, bringing industry and academia together. Scotland already has a great deal of biorefining expertise including research into brewing and fermentation, the future potential for forestry and marine biomass and synthetic biology.

Building on this foundation this study has shown that biorefineries have significant potential in Scotland with over 27 million tonnes of materials suitable for biorefining every year. Importantly this study has, for the first time, quantified a number of previously unaccounted for or ‘hidden’ resource streams including agricultural residues and byproducts both of which have significant biorefining and economic potential. The data shows a number of rural and coastal areas where bioresources arise in high volumes. This creates the opportunity for decentralised production facilities which can provide new income and employment opportunities in rural areas. Due to the fact that the raw materials arise over large areas, bio-based production favours a decentralised structure.

This report confirms that significant bioresources exist to develop technologies for biorefining to convert sustainable feedstocks into high value chemicals, biofuels and other renewable products for a range of industries. In addition, biorefining could offer significant economic benefits for the agricultural and rural industries in Scotland as well as across the food and drink supply chain. Scotland is well placed to develop biorefinery facilities given the co-ordinated approach and sufficient support from policymakers and funding bodies. Scotland has the enviable position in having world-leading centres of research excellence, a large volume of bioresources and an industrial base suited to the exploitation of the bioeconomy. The development of an industrial biorefining strategy, in alignment with the National Plan for Industrial Biotechnology, is required to encourage collaboration and focus the academic and industrial expertise. Development of a biorefining strategy will lead to a focus on the knowledge and skill gaps and reinforce the existing expertise base in Scotland.

Read the full report

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