Do forest biorefineries fit with working principles of a circular bioeconomy? A case of Finnish and Swedish initiatives

Armi Temmes*, Philip Peck

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Pursuit of the Bioeconomy (BE) and the Circular Economy (CE) is high on the political agendas of many countries. Application of the concepts is intended to ameliorate a number of sustainability challenges, such as raw material constraint concerns and global warming. The concepts of BE and CE are increasingly combined to describe a ‘circular bioeconomy’ (CBE), which emphasises value retention for renewable resources and increased circularity in material cycles. Embedding these CE principes is anticipated to ameliorate sustainability weaknesses associated with the BE. Biorefineries, the focal point for this discussion, are perceived as essential infrastructure items within such concepts. The work focuses on the forest industries, a leading bioeconomy sector. This study draws upon a review of extant literature on the BE, CE and biorefinery concepts to summarise a set of working principles aligned with high levels of socio-economic and environmental performance. These are deemed to operationalize these concepts as parts of the concept of the circular bioeconomy. Analysis is then performed to compare a set of 22 forest biorefinery initiatives in Finland and Sweden to the working principles, and assess how the expectations are met in practice. Overall, the study finds that expectations of increased value added of the products and increased sustainability through closing the material loops are rarely met. That is, very few characteristics compliant with visions for the circular bioeconomy were found. We conclude that while a CBE framing offers insights that can help a bioeconomy sector such as forestry become more sustainable, there is a lack of consistency and coherence in the manner in which CE and BE concepts are communicated and applied. Further, it is suggested that biorefinery proponents may benefit from clearer framing and promotion of their endeavours. While scholarly works suggest this may have potential to defray trust and undermine perceptions of reliability among potential supporters or partners, we deem that further work is needed to assess whether, or how this is so. Areas of relevance for research include assessment of the actual function, and likely impacts of inconsistent use of the concepts upon the societal, industrial, and political support.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101896
Number of pages12
JournalForest Policy and Economics
Volume110
Early online date11 Apr 2019
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Keywords

  • Bioeconomy
  • Circular bioeconomy
  • Circular economy
  • Forest biorefinery

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