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Circular economy and industry

Monday, 6 December 2021

8:00 - 10:00 pm UTC

Industrial symbiosis and biorefineries in a circular economy

Biorefining is one of the key enabling strategies of the Circular Economy, closing loops of raw biomass materials (re-use of agro-, process- and post-consumer residues), minerals, water and carbon. It will result in cost-competitive co-production of food/feed ingredients, biobased products and bioenergy combined with optimal socio-economic and environmental impacts.

Industrial symbiosis – the process by which wastes or by‐products of an industry or industrial process become the raw materials for another – is also a crucial principle in the Circular economy.

This session considered the status and prospects of biorefineries, future scenarios for industry transformation as well as green innovation possibilities through industrial symbiosis.

Michael Mandl, Managing Director & Environment and Energy Expert, tbw research, Austria
Johanna Mossberg, Vice President Biorefinery and Energy, RISE Research Institutes of Sweden, Sweden


Green innovations through industrial symbiosis
Mats Eklund, Director of the transdisciplinary Biogas Research Centre, Linköping University, Sweden

The status of biorefineries in a circular economy
Bert Annevelink, Senior scientist biomass chains, Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, The Netherlands

Barriers and incentives for the market diffusion of biorefineries in a circular economy
Franziska Hesser, Team leader Market Analysis and Innovation Research Team, WoodKplus, Austia

Planning the Canadian bioeconomy in the context of industrial symbiosis, the circular bioeconomy, and Net-Zero GHG emissions (IETS TCP – Task XI Biorefineries)
Marzouk Benali, Senior Research Scientist, Manager of Biorefinery R&D Program, Natural Resources Canada, Canada
Paul Stuart, Full Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering, Polytechnique Montreal, Canada



  • Green innovation through industrial symbiosis is sometimes called ‘the science of the leftovers’. Connecting different sectors, with exchange of residual material and energy flows increases the value of underutilised resources, improves the business case for the different parties, leads to increased resource efficiency and reduces climate impacts. Biogas is a good example of an inherently symbiotic system, connecting different sectors as it draws on waste and residues, produces a renewable energy source for industry processes or for transport, and co-produces a biofertilizer that can go back to the field.
  • Drawing on a masterplan for industrial symbiosis is difficult; partners need to find each other (bottom-up) to expand their interactions – this may also involve new intermediary companies to manage some of the interactions between different actors. While the initiative develops bottom-up, it is important for municipalities to enable it to happen and create an arena / symbiose centre where different actors can come together.
  • Biorefineries are in the centre of the circular bioeconomy as they produce a range of bio-products (including energy carriers) in an integrated way. This integration also improves economics and resource efficiency. IEA Bioenergy Task 42 initiated a global Biorefinery Atlas Portal where information of biorefineries from all over the globe is brought together. Available at:
  • Innovation and its market roll-out does not purely depend on technical performance. Considering the market environment (environmental, political, legislative, economic, social, networking, and institutional factors) is crucial – market knowledge should be developed during R&D activities. Having knowledge on specific barriers and incentives is seen as a key asset towards a successful market diffusion. This involves the analysis of the importance and current performance of factors influencing a broader commercialization.
  • The competitive advantages of oil refineries are huge, building on decades of experience and optimisation, but environmental impacts are generally not internalized in the production cost. Policies are needed to transform the market environment for biorefineries to be commercially successful, e.g., through CO2 taxation or the Polluter-pays-principle. It is also important to support sustainable feedstock supply.
  • Canada contains the most biomass per capita in the world. It is the second-largest exporter of forest products in the world and has mature and efficient wood fibre collection systems. Identifying successful bioeconomy strategies remains complex due to uncertainties. Building on lessons learned and established business models in other regions, as well as flexible decision support tools enable the assessment of scale-up risks and opportunities for biorefineries.
  • Production systems are not static, but they keep evolving. Biofuel production plants are constantly improving their environmental footprint, and they are more and more evolving to biorefineries producing different products next to biofuel. This also improves their business model. Similar evolutions can be seen in pulp and paper plants, where co-products are gaining importance.



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