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Accelerating the Circular Bioeconomy

13 Apr 23 4 minute read

The Circular Bioeconomy is a critical part of our efforts toward creating a circular economy and making Scotland an international leader in using renewable biological resources.

Reducing Scotland's dependence on finite resources and reversing the negative impacts in nature.

What is a Circular Bioeconomy?

The Bioeconomy (Biological Economy) is the parts of the economy that uses renewable biological resources from land and sea (farming, fish and forestry) and converts them into feeds, foods, materials and energy.

However, renewable energy doesn't always equate to sustainability. This is due to the amount of food we need, and the inherently linear nature of the system that demands both resources and emissions simultaneously.

In contrast, a Circular Bioeconomy is inspired by and works with nature to close the loop on materials and nutrients and maximise upcycling opportunities for organic surplus including food waste.

Infographic showing the processes of the bioeconomy

As a food and drink nation, this is an incredibly exciting opportunity for Scotland with many innovative projects already underway and in development, with significant potential for new businesses and business models to emerge.

The Circular Bioeconomy in Scotland

Scotland’s bioeconomy produces more than 10 million tonnes of organic surplus every year, which could be used as valuable feedstocks for bio-based processes from food and feed ingredients to bio-based materials that can replace petrochemicals.

A more circular approach to Scotland’s beer, whisky and fish sector by-products alone, could generate 500-800 million pounds per year.

Some examples of bioeconomy businesses that are adding value to waste and by-products in Scotland include:

  • CelluComp – Fife-based company turning nano-fibers from root vegetable by-products into an environmentally friendly thickener for paints and coatings, inks, personal care, home care, paper, food, concrete, drilling fluids, composites, and other applications. 
  • Argent Energy – Motherwell-based company specializing in the production of sustainable biofuels and fertiliser byproducts from waste fats, oils, and greases. 
  • Ogilvy Spirits – Drinks company making more sustainable vodka from potatoes that were not suitable for retail.
  • Cuantec – Oban/Glenrothes-based company focused on extraction of chitin and chitosan from shellfish waste for use in functional film plastic packaging for food applications.  

Serial utilisation of whisky co-products

Whisky is perhaps one of Scotland’s most recognisable products. It is also one of the most energy intensive operations in our food and drink sectors. Huge efforts are already underway to improve overall environmental, ecological, and economic performance, but new innovations are required to support and advance net zero ambitions at every stage of the process.  

Whether malt or grain, whisky production ends up with co-products such as draff, pot ale and spent lees which have value in being used as cattle feed, applications as soil enhancers, and as bioenergy feedstocks.  

Though, it is increasingly recognised that further value is possible through a more integrated approach. Future value-add opportunities include protein extraction for use in food and feed, cosmetics, the production of biofuels, and harnessing the CO2 released in the distillation process.   

Watch our video to find out how three innovative organisations - MiAlgae, Horizon Proteins and BioPower - are embracing the principles of a circular economy to gain maximum value from resources. 

These small businesses are working with the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre’s (IBioIC) FlexBio laboratory facilities at Heriot Watt University to integrate, test, refine, and evaluate commercial processes to maximise the value of co-products. 

This project was co-funded by Zero Waste Scotland and led by IBioIC, with additional support from the Scotch Whisky Research Institute (SWRI), the industry’s leading research organisation. 

The role of Zero Waste Scotland

Several ambitious projects are being supported by Zero Waste Scotland that increases the circularity of resource use and support the transition to a more regenerative model.

Working in strategic partnerships with the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) and Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), Zero Waste Scotland aims to drive innovation and growth in Scotland’s circular bioeconomy by:

  • identifying and developing key opportunities based on sector focused research;
  • proactively supporting innovators and industrial actors with resources and funding;
  • bringing stakeholders together to network and collaborate towards co-benefits.

We also work alongside enterprise agencies and other business support organisations to facilitate the delivery of targeted support and inspire collaborations between businesses.

We directly support businesses developing bioeconomy opportunities through our Circular Economy Business Support Service, which provides access to expertise and resources to help businesses implement ideas for new processes, products or technologies.