A long-anticipated report on Climate Change was released by the UN earlier this week. The report, written by the IPCC, outlines the state of the current climate with regards to CO2 emissions. The IPCC also sets out four plans for keeping CO2 below 1.5%, a crucial threshold for maintaining the environment as we know it. Beyond this threshold, climate scientists predict near complete destruction of corals, a doubling in the loss of produce for marine fisheries and half the access to freshwater. According to the report, there is only 12 years left to execute the changes necessary to keep CO2 emissions below the 1.5% threshold, after which we will be powerless to change the course.

Why is this relevant to the bioeconomy?

In all four plans laid out by the IPCC, ‘greater adoption of carbon capture’ was an integral component. China, followed earlier this year by the EU, have also committed to adopting the ‘circular economy’ approach which focuses on minimising environmental impact. This huge paradigm-shift signifies the growing appreciation of the limited resources available and a need to invest in innovation to improve development of sustainable materials. Carbon capture is at the heart of many sectors of the bioeconomy. Industrial Biotech has already made great strides in developing biofuels using only yeast, water and nutrients, which are commercially available. Furthermore, researchers from University of Nottingham recently announced that, by harnessing salt-tolerant variants of yeast, biofuel can be produced using saltwater instead of freshwater. This new process actually reclaims freshwater as a product, which would also tackle lack of access to freshwater. Developing ground-breaking innovation like this will be essential for us to meet the critical targets set by the IPCC.

A shift away from oil-based fuels to biofuel and electricity is a crucial factor in the IPCC report.

How can East of England Contribute?

In our region, innovative technologies to reduce impact on the environment are constantly emerging. Companies like Zembra are already capitalising on the shift to the circular economy by producing eco-friendly alternatives to existing products. Zembra develop a range of products from olive seeds, including plant-based fertilisers and biodegradable microbeads for skin cosmetics. The much-maligned plastic microbead was banned in the UK earlier this year, demonstrating how policy changes can open the door for innovation. Advanced biomaterials are also being produced by several companies across the region, with a move away from synthetic materials that cannot be broken down after use. These materials have found their way into a huge variety of sectors, ranging from healthcare to automotive sectors. One company producing biomaterials for car manufacturers are Ecotechnilin. The Norfolk-based company supply a load floor made exclusively of biomaterials to Jaguar Land Rover, as well as hemp-based body panels for Lotus Cars Eco Elise programme.

Companies like Zembra are turning waste products into useful items in an effort to minimse environmental impact.

Climate change is, without doubt, one of the biggest challenges the human race has faced. The message from the UN is clear, we must innovate to survive. Although this is a daunting prospect, it provides the perfect backdrop for revolutionary technological advancements, and the East of England is well placed to be a major player.