Science & Technology in Action

14th Edition

What is the Bioeconomy

The Government of Ireland

The term ‘circular bioeconomy’ refers to an economy that is largely independent of fossil fuels and in which waste materials are reused or recycled to extract the maximum benefit from them while eliminating the disposal of resources in nonrenewable ways. This is the only way in which human beings can survive in the long term on this planet.
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Lesson excerpt

Introduction

Modern telecommunications and space technologies provide us with stunning views of planet Earth. They also bring home to us the fragility of our planetary ecosystem and the effects of our lack of stewardship in the use of its limited resources.

Currently most developed countries obtain over 85% of their energy and much of their materials from fossil fuels. As fossil fuel reserves are depleted over the next 100 years or so we will need other energy and material sources.

Even if we had limitless fossil fuel reserves we have no option but to reduce our use of such fuels in order to lower the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

For our long-term survival we must live more sustainably and become more responsible as citizens, as nations and as a global community in our use of Earth’s resources. The bioeconomy addresses many of these issues through the production of bio-based materials and services.

What is the bioeconomy?

The term ‘bioeconomy’ refers to the sustainable use of biological resources and waste streams to produce value-added food, feed, bio-energy and bio-materials that can replace, for example, traditional plastics with biodegradable alternatives. The added value is usually obtained by producing intermediate products. For example, the residue of plants that are grown for food or feed may be used to produce higher-value materials (e.g. pharmaceuticals, oils, ethanol) and the final residue used as fuel or even as the raw material for another process. The potential benefit of this ‘cascade’ model will depend on research and development of novel processes and on the industrial scaling of these processes.

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True or False?

  1. Today most developed countries obtain over 85% of their energy from fossil fuels. true
  2. Fossil fuels will last for hundreds of years. false
  3. Biofuels can be produced in a sustainable way. true
  4. Much of today’s refuse is not biodegradable and may cause pollution of the oceans for centuries. true
  5. Few materials we currently discard could be reprocessed to produce high value products. true
  6. The bioeconomy is just another name for agriculture. false
  7. Many agricultural and aquacultural residues can be used to produce high-value products. true
  8. Bioplastics cannot replace synthetic plastics such as polythene for packing. false
  9. The Irish mushroom industry produces 1000 tonnes of spent mushroom compost every week. false
  10. Whey is used for making cheese. false