Northern French region banks on bioeconomy

Extractis laboratories in Dury, near Amiens (France)

This article is part of our special report The bioeconomy in the post-2020 CAP.

In September 2018, the Hauts-de-France region in northern France adopted a bioeconomy roadmap. The former sugar region wants to become a leader in this new sector. EURACTIV France reports.

The Hauts-de-France region is adopting strategies that are heavily focused on developing a strong bioeconomy. Energy transition challenges, economic development and limiting global warming are among the main arguments that are motivating the region.

It would strengthen economic development because the bioeconomy affects all sectors of activity that process biomass: agriculture, forestry, agri-food, plant chemistry.

In the field of energy, biomass is an organic energy source that comes from plants (including microalgae), animals, bacteria or fungi.

New EU bioeconomy strategy widens scope to solve more cycle problems

The European Commission’s new strategy is seeking to create a sustainable bioeconomy and build a carbon-neutral future. Rather than just find a replacement for petroleum-based products, the strategy addresses broader cyclic challenges, including food and nutrition security.

Ynsect, for example, a company that raises insects for animal feed, has chosen the northern French city of Amiens to set up its industrial unit and is set to create close to 100 jobs. Root Lines Technology, a start-up from Amiens, manufactures human therapeutic proteins based on turnip root.

Other more established companies in the region also continue to innovate. This is the case of Extractis, a French leader in the field of green chemistry which aims to become a European leader, with the region’s support

Extractis, partly EU-funded with the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), is a technical centre specialised in fractioning biomass. The company develops, among other things, new extracts, active ingredients and ingredients from biomass.

Experts in green chemistry

All the necessary equipment and technologies can be found on the company’s site near Amiens. Everything is there to produce extracts that are used by the company’s clients in many sectors: agri-food, cosmetics, etc.

“Let’s take the example of a company that is interested in creating a cream that contains an antioxidant capable of rejuvenating the skin. They know that a particular flower compound can be interesting,” explained Julienne Allemon, business developer at Extractis.

But due to lack of time or expertise, they mandate us to do this extraction. So they will deliver X kilos of this flower to us, and we will innovate to find out how to extract the molecule,” she said.

The company therefore specialises in research and development and direct production. Because the company already knows how to extract molecules, it will immediately enter the production phase, process several tons of raw material and give the customer a few kilos of dry product.

“I am giving you the example of the cosmetics sector, but it is the same for the food industry,” she added, saying that Extractis works for both French and European customers.

EU emphasises ‘ecological limitations’ of new bioeconomy plan

The European Commission unveiled a new bioeconomy strategy on Thursday (11 October), saying it could reduce the EU’s dependence on fossil fuels while underlining the ecological limitations of Europe’s farming and forestry sector.

The European project

Since 2016, the company has also been working on a project alongside 19 European partners under the European Horizon 2020 programme. Saltgae, coordinated by Spaniards, aims to recover saline effluents from the agri-food industry.

“We received funding for the demineralisation of effluents because of microalgae being able to survive in very saline conditions, which are then harvested and fractionated to recover proteins for example,” explained Camille Viot, a project manager at Extractis with a PhD in chemistry.

The company works very closely with partners from Ireland, Portugal, Italy or Spain. They meet every three months and regularly communicate by phone to share their experiences and obstacles.

At European level, the European Commission is also making bioeconomy its flagship project. Last October, it announced that it would launch 14 measures in 2019 so that EU member states would mobilise around the idea of promoting a strong bioeconomy.

“In a world where biological resources and ecosystems are limited, innovative efforts are needed to feed people and provide them with clean water and energy,” the Commission said in an October statement.

“Bioeconomy can produce fuel from algae, recycle plastics, transform waste into new furniture or clothing, and develop organic fertilisers from industrial by-products. It has the potential to create one million new green jobs by 2030,” it said.

Private sector is part of the solution in bioeconomy, experts say

The private sector has a key role to play in promoting bioeconomy in the agrifood sector, high-level experts have told EURACTIV.com. However, they said the risk of depriving the food production system of organic resources must be weighed up.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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