The bioeconomy is a central focus of Fribourg’s new economic development strategy, which was devised by the cantonal authorities with input from the private sector and academic community. Interview with Jerry Krattiger, Managing Director of the Fribourg Development Agency.
What is the bioeconomy exactly?
A host of recent studies and plans has addressed the bioeconomy concept, in varying degrees of detail. We apply a pretty broad definition that encompasses all activities related to the production, conversion and use of biomass to create foodstuffs, molecules and innovative materials. As a result, our definition covers a wide range of sectors, including agrifood, construction and biotechnology. However, the bioeconomy and the circular economy are notinterchangeable concepts. The bioeconomy should actually be viewed as a component of the circular economy. It also has nothing to do with the ‘bio’ label that is used widely in Switzerland and Europe to identify products from organic farming.
Why has Fribourg made bioeconomy a focus of its economic development strategy?
If we had opted for a disruptive scenario, we would have stacked all our chips on cryptocurrencies, for example. However, we decided to capitalize on the existing strengths of our economic fabric and ensure a through line with the investments we have already made. Specializing in the bioeconomy allows us to build on the pillars of the Fribourg economy: construction – through biomaterials and energy efficiency – and agrifood. At the same time, it offers us the opportunity to integrate and galvanize high-potential sectors like biotechnology and biobased products.
This is a world of opportunities…
Our goal here is to consolidate our gains while advancing those areas that offer higher added value. The cross-sectoral and interdisciplinary nature of the bioeconomy opens up lots of interesting avenues in terms of development and innovation, particularly when they tie in with Industry 4.0. These two strategic components are not only complementary but also mutually beneficial. Automation and robotization are commonplace in the food industry and in companies like Nespresso, JNJ Automation and Frewitt. The canton of Fribourg is therefore in the fortunate position to have strong expertise in these two fields already at hand.
The boundaries between agrifood and biotechnology are also becoming increasingly blurred…
Biomass harvesting and conversion systems are really attractive, and in some instances help to address biochemical and biotechnological concerns. Vanillin extraction at Bloom Biorenewables and Alver’s precision fermentation with Golden Chlorella are just two of many examples. The products that are derived from these processes are highly effective and help towards resolving issues surrounding CO2 emissions, food security and oil dependency. This takes us into the very interesting and on-topic territory of social and environmental concerns. The same is also true of the materials sector, where flax-based biosourced composite solutions offered by firms like Bcomp are garnering a great deal of attention.
Does the Fribourg ecosystem have what it takes to bolster the bioeconomy?
Absolutely. Given the historical predominance of the agrifood and construction sectors in the canton, the bioeconomy is therefore a direct continuation of our economic development efforts to date. Over the years, we have grasped strategic opportunities and made targeted investments which have led to the creation and development of research institutes, centers of expertise, and specialized innovation sites. These include the Smart Living Lab, a research center for the housing of the future; the Biofactory Competence Center, a biopharmaceuticals and biotechnology education, training and research institute; the Adolphe Merkle Institute, which specializes in nanomaterials, and the AgriCo campus, which is dedicated to creating value in the fields of agriculture, nutrition and biomass. There are also the Food & Nutrition and Building Innovation clusters, both of which foster synergies and promote competitiveness and innovation, all with a keen eye on the bioeconomy.
What does the future hold?
The canton of Fribourg must make sure that its approach accommodates both tradition and ambition. It must guarantee that there is a place not only for manufacturers of cutting-edge biotech molecules like UCB Farchim but also for the production of Gruyère d’Alpage AOP. This is a fantastic challenge, and we are ready to take it on.