Republic of Poland

Europe promotes biotechnology

30th March 2017

How did it happen that the Wrocław University of Environmental an Life Sciences was invited to take part in the research on bioeconomy in the Danube Region?

Poland is within the Danube catchment area – Trójmorski Wierch – a peak in the Śnieżnik Mountains near Międzylesie is the only peak in Poland where three rivers that are within the catchment of three big seas: the Baltic, the North Sea and the Black Sea begin their course. And we took part in the research because in 2012 the European Union announced the bioeconomy program – as one of the main, strategic European programs, described as reindustrialization of Europe. We already know that we won’t keep up up with the Americans in space technologies and when it comes to IT we are bound to stay behind Eastern Asia so we bank on biotechnology and on what will soon await the whole world.

Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences, WUELS
fot. Tomasz Lewandowski

Which means?

On bioeconomy. Sooner, rather than later, we’ll run out of not only water but also energy resources and those for chemical industry.

“And bioeconomy is nothing else than basing economy on bio-resources.”

This kind of thinking is manifested by projects carried out within the EU 2020 Horizon program, KIC. The Green Valley of WUELS is also a part of bioeconomy.

It was the Hungarians who offered us cooperation?

We met our Hungarian partner within the Climate-KIC. The other partner is the Central European Initiative – CEI) which also includes Poland. Together with the colleagues from Hungary we participated in preparing two projects, so-called Pathfinder that is looking for areas of cooperation and obtaining finance for projects regarding the management of bio-resources. As it is usually the case with European projects, many entities participated, and the cooperation then initiated allowed us to go one step further.

“When the Hungarians received finance for a detailed research in the Danube area, they asked our University, among other 100 entities, to take part in a survey on possible developments in bioeconomy.”

The report was prepared by scientists, politicians and entrepreneurs so it fits in the “golden” triangle of connections.

And is, despite appearances, the most difficult, especially in the countries of the so-called new European Union.

More than that, when we got the offer to cooperate in creating the report, I myself asked our Hungarian partner what we have to do with the Danube Region. And they answered that it is indeed addressed to this specific area, but it also involves people from Albania, Greece, Italy, Lithuania, Macedonia, Holland and even Japan, and its general aim is to recognize and assess the possibilities of introducing bioeconomy. This is, after all, a question vital to everyone, also in the context of the future of science and universities themselves.

Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences, WUELS
fot. Shutterstock

Regular meetings, of for example Interfaculty Committee Agraria – ICA) address questions about the future of not only agriculture or the whole raw materials economy but also the directions for the development of science and didactics. The effect of these efforts is a conference organized by our Faculty of Biotechnology and Food Science and Ghent University devoted to bioeconomy and biorefineries which is taking place at our University at the beginning of June.

What is the awareness of the term: “bioeconomy” and the direction it entails?

When I was going out to work in the morning, I managed to hear on the news that Asia wants to be a global leader in limiting coal use. And we all know that the biggest polluter is now China. It’s apparent that the awareness is growing in different parts of the world.

In the EU, the Bio Based Industry (BBI) program was distinguished in the current research funding perspective (for years 2016-2020). The program exists within the so-called public-private partnership. It consists of funds which include 2.8 billion euros of private money belonging to consortium members who deal with bioeconomy, and about 1 billion comes from the EU funds dedicated to creating the economy based on bio-resources. So bioeconomy is emerging before our very eyes. And this is one of the most important projects.

Rector Trziszka inspired us to participate as a university in an organization meeting of the BBI project (Info day) and we joined the network created with the idea of bioeconomy in mind. We (the Department of Obtaining Research Projects) participated twice in submitting the application for the COST – Farwaste project which aims at consolidating all the entities that could be interested in cooperating in this field and in which German, British Swedish and French universities already take active part.

Europe already knows, but do we know in Poland, that a new look at bioeconomy is now emerging?

In 2015 a conference was held at our University during which professor Eugeniusz Chyłek presented Poland’s strong points in the field. They are: good standard and diversity of research, highly qualified staff and innovative entities.

“Weak points, which hinder the development of bioeconomy, are a lack of coherent thinking and actions, competency matrix in the area of content-related supervision, lack of initiatives and fragmentation of innovations.”

That’s why we should educate, explain, integrate and convince people to take the path on which our economy could successfully develop. After all, the Green Valley is key to this path.

And what do you think, when you hear that the Polish economy should be based only on coal…

This is a political question. I somehow understand that in order to avoid social unrest and preserve workplaces in the mining industry such declarations and decisions are beneficial for governments, but we could use coal in a better and more rational way than just in combustion processes. Last winter was a painful proof how harmful coal can be for our environment and health. If we don’t develop bioeconomy and renewable resources, we will lose our competitiveness in Europe.

So I’ll ask in a different way: can the redefinition of economy and the use of natural resources change our thinking about farming in Poland?

I always tell my students of all the faculties I teach – and I teach typically agricultural subjects – about future-oriented models. This is, for example, city farming or biophilic city and many more but my bet is on creating farms of the future.

Wrocław University of Environmental and Life Sciences, WUELS
fot. Shutterstock

What’s that?

It’s a farm which does not waste resources. It doesn’t spoil the market when it has got resource surpluses – so it carries out the tasks which farming was designed for. After all, the surpluses can be used in biorefineries, in the same way as waste is. We know that about 30 percent of chemical compounds which we use may be obtained from plant materials and not from oil or complicated and very costly syntheses. And this means that a farm of the future may be a raw materials supplier. Another step forward, which isn’t being discussed in our country, is algae farms. The future model should be based on the idea of an ecologically clean farm in which all produce and waste is utilized.

Can you imagine such farms in Poland?

On one hand, I don’t because farms of the future are extremely advanced technologically. On the other, however, there are ideas of installing biogas plants in small farms, that do not require a great amount of biomass. Efforts are underway to create the technology available to average farms.

When, during realization of the Re-Save project, our partners from Turkey came up with such a concept, I thought it wasn’t awfully realistic but some time has passed and now I know that there are installations and ideas of mobile biogas plants which could be implemented in any farm. And if there are biogas plants why not think of biorefineries?

When in 2004 we accessed the European Union, Polish farming was fragmented, underinvested and traditional. It was considered a burden at that time.

And now we know that it turned out to be our strength. Polish food export is a key part of our overall exports. Obviously, fragmentation has inhibitory effects as well. We had and still have hidden unemployment in the countryside but subsidy for farmers, though not as high as in the western EU, calmed down the situation and they are something what I call a social pension.

In Lower Silesia we have about 60 thousand farms. Most of them are small and traditional and they will never reach a large scale of production due to limited opportunities because they see no point in investing in costly machines. However, at the same time we don’t need only 2 or 3-hundred-hectare farms as the smaller ones can become involved in very specialized economic activities. And this may turn out to be a new chance for our agriculture.


2017-03-28 09:56