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What makes the Circular Biobased Europe (CBE) initiative appealing to plastic companies?

Circular Biobased Europe
Juan José Candel

Juan José Candel

Responsible of European Projects at the Valencia office

Recently, the first physical CBE JU (Circular Biobased Europe Joint Undertaking) Info Day took place at the European Commission premises in Brussels and that Zabala Innovation attended to engage with the main stakeholders in the bioeconomy field and to gather quality information on how to best approach CBE JU proposals directed to the new 2023 Call.

Circular Biobased Europe (CBE) is a public-private funding Joint Undertaking (JU) that supports research and innovation in sustainable bio-based solutions under the Horizon Europe programme. The bio-based industries are essential to CBE as projects require collaboration between stakeholders along the entire bio-based value chain, including primary producers, processing industries, consumer brands, SMEs, research and technology centres, and universities.

During the day, the 18 open topics (4 Flagships, 7 IAs, 5 RIAs and 2 CSAs) for 2023 have been announced (deadline 20th September), analysed and discussed, together with specific requirements for the financial aspects, the consortium, the expected TRL and the other main rules and conditions for participating.

Among these open topics, exist exciting opportunities for companies in the plastic industry. This article aims to explore these opportunities as an example for a specific sector, highlight their differences from standard Horizon Europe topics, and outline the key advantages for companies.

What are the most interesting innovation actions related to plastics?

One of the main characteristics of Circular Biobased Europe Work programme is it progressively development of the topics from more basic Research (Lower Technological Research Levels-TRL); to the higher TRL projects directed to cover the gap between the research and the market uptake for innovative technologies and bioproducts.

We can see now different topics covering these progressive steps in the research process.

Innovation action aligned with the Sustainable Products Initiative and the EU Plastics Strategy. They are seeking large-scale demonstrators related to improved barrier properties, durability, sustainability, circularity, and availability of circular bio-based packaging products.

The topic is interesting for industries because they can upscale production technologies, improve the functional properties of bio-based packaging materials, address the new requirements (technical, circularity, and environmental), demonstrate the sustainable end-of-life of the developed products, enhance the safety of new products, apply existing certification schemes, consider end-users’ perception and ensure improved sustainability profiles compared to existing solutions.

A winning consortium must contribute to replicable, regional/local, circular bio-based business models, with a significant improvement in environmental sustainability, business opportunities diversification, new skilled job opportunities and social acceptance of circular bio-based solutions.

Another Innovation action aligned with the Circular Economy Action Plan, the Plastics Strategy, and Waste Framework Directive. The goal is to increase the recycled content in new products made from bio-based plastics and develop effective sorting and recycling schemes.

It focuses on recycling bio-based plastics that are not already recycled with conventional (fossil-based) plastics. This will involve developing sorting and separation systems to isolate dedicated bio-based plastics from mixed streams, scaling up and deploying innovative or existing recycling technologies, and integrating the recycling process at a relevant scale.

The challenge lies in producing the same grade for the recycled product as the virgin product or upgrading the resulting stream into higher-value products. The participation of industry is crucial because a winning consortium must assess the market uptake of recycled bio-based plastic products and the integration of developed technologies with current waste management practices.

Interesting innovation action for producing bio-based composites in line with the Sustainable Products Initiative, New European Bauhaus, and EU Industrial Strategy.

The results showcase includes innovative production of fibres, thermoset and/or thermoplastic matrices, and bio-based additives that must meet the technical and environmental performance standards set for fossil-based products.

The topic also emphasizes sustainability design and end-of-life strategies, including recycling based on specified benchmarks.

Industry participation is crucial to promote practical applications that increase recyclable content, biodegradability, and compostability under specific conditions while minimizing CAPEX impacts and hazardous substance use.

What other options are related to lower TRLs?

Many bio-based monomers and polymers are new and have limited practical use due to undesirable properties, such as brittleness or low glass transition temperature.

This topic is a research action (RIA) to develop innovative, high-performance bio-based polymers and co-polymers. It focuses on new polymers obtained by polymerizing/co-polymerizing bio-based monomers or blending bio-based polymers to create safe and sustainable materials with advanced properties.

Industries are an interesting partner because they can involve potential end users and specify end applications. Furthermore, they can provide pilot scale production and testing, including a preliminary safety, circularity, and overall sustainability assessment.

The preliminary techno-economic feasibility analysis, including considerations such as demand, target price, competing products, and estimated lead time are relevant issues for a winning consortium.

The increasing amount of waste pollution, especially plastic littering, has led to a global emergency that affects soil, water quality, and biodiversity. Biodegradable materials offer a solution to this problem, but there is a need for clear labelling and standards covering biodegradation under controlled and open environments.

This is a research action (RIA) for pre-normative research to develop standards for biodegradability of bio-based products in controlled and in open environments. The aim is to select applications, identify gaps in existing testing methods and certification schemes, and select combinations of bio-based products and end-of-life environments.

Companies can benefit from tests that can monitor all relevant environmental impacts and validate the biodegradability of the selected combinations. Furthermore, it includes surveys to gather information from consumers and stakeholders on the use and disposal options of bio-based products and will provide measures to improve societal acceptance and responsible decision-making.

Expert person

Juan José Candel
Juan José Candel

Valencia Office

Responsible of European Projects at the Valencia office

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