THE world has changed a lot in 2020. But with change comes opportunity, and with opportunity comes challenge. Is Scotland up for the BioEconomy challenge?

Scotland is a country with an abundance of natural resources including its well-educated, inventive population. The world’s major problems are climate change, food security, and Covid. All of these are providing Scotland with a chance to reset thinking and try things in new ways.

What if we could rapidly change what we do to benefit nature and benefit the economy? What if we could create a bedrock of technology companies and provide a better work-life balance?

Scotland perhaps does not make the most of our opportunities, as a nation we are too nervous about making decisions and driving things forwards that we sometimes fail to capitalise on what we could have been leading.

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Take the on-going 10+ year discussion about a Scottish bio-refinery. A bio-refinery would allow us to take in waste and obtain high-value items such as bio-ethanol which can be used as sustainable starting materials in the manufacture of many items.

Establishing a bio-refinery is expensive and requires consideration, but the benefits are huge. Scotland is stuck in the trap of trying to work out where the source materials for the refinery could come from, instead of making it happen.

We should be thinking big and using other established technologies to create something that isn’t such a “closed-loop” system, but a wider eco-system drawing in benefits from multiple sources.

Using vertical farming we could encourage urban regeneration into green growing spaces. We could upcycle warehouses to create sources of year-round fresh fruits and vegetables, grown locally to organic standards under LED lighting. We could power these spaces with excess wind energy (just like the excess wind energy of Ardnamurchan is helping to grow algae for Xanthella). The waste from these farms and food processing could go to the Biorefinery. The Netherlands is already doing this, and they are now one of the top fresh food exporters.

It could lead to high-tech quality jobs in rural areas that are creating the power. Just think what could happen in Wanlockhead (most recent community buyout that hopes to create a wind farm) or South Uist (Storas Uibhist an early community buy-out that has already established a wind farm) We just need to think bigger, be more courageous in our decision making, and swifter into action.

We can borrow ideas not just from The Netherlands – we can learn from Finland too. They are developing Ecosystems of companies working together They are encouraging co-operation, requiring new projects to involve multiple SME’s and to be ambitious for internationalisation of the technologies and products created.

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But what is holding such things back in Scotland? It is not a lack of ideas or finance as increasingly we are seeing investors supporting sustainability (UN 2045 goals).

I think perhaps there is not yet enough understanding of BioEconomy at a policy level. I think we are missing key parts of the infrastructure to enable companies to go through pilot phase expansion. We have IBioIC supporting small scale, but nothing at the small industrial scale upstage. Scotland is missing the open goal here as a centre for this stage would be a European first.

There are already BioEconomy companies in Scotland among them 3F Bio creating protein from renewable resources, CelluComp creating cellulose from food waste, CuanTec upcycling fisheries waste to compostable food packaging. All are creating technology that will benefit Scotland and which also has potential to make a huge contribution to the world’s main challenges.

Scotland can do this. We can harness that energy, our know-how and go and take on the global challenges.