Networked Bioeconomies for Net-Zero Food Production

27 January 2023

There is an urgent need to reduce food-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, particularly from animal protein production. In a new publication, Joyce Tait and colleagues argue that a ‘networked bioeconomy’ model, guided by cascading principles and fast-tracked using innovative technologies, may be more powerful than one based on rigid closed-loop circularity, in delivering sustainable food production.

In this paper the authors examine aquaculture value chains in Scotland and ways in which innovative technologies can contribute to reducing their impact on marine biodiversity and GHG emissions.

The value chain relationships and opportunities that emerged in this case study are more complex than those implied in the MacArthur Foundation bio-based circular economy models. They highlight the need for linked, not necessarily circular, value chains that extend beyond aquaculture, forming part of a wider, networked bioeconomy.

As the authors point out, cascading opportunities that incorporate the captured carbon in a biofuel that is then burned will have a limited impact on Net Zero targets. Better cascading opportunities may come from incorporating co-products into higher value uses in the emerging bio-material economy (manufacturing bioplastics or building materials) rather than retaining them in a more circular model within the food and feed bioeconomy.

Policies that support the development and deployment of innovations that facilitate cooperation across value chains to maximise positive outcomes in terms of both biodiversity and GHG emissions will contribute to speed up the transition to more sustainable food systems.

Circular economy thinking is making a big contribution to guiding companies towards more sustainable business models and value chains and it is important not to lose these benefits. However, a rigid adherence to closed loop circularity can result in sub-optimal decisions from the perspectives of Net Zero and biodiversity policies,” says Prof. Joyce Tait, Founding Director of Innogen at The University of Edinburgh.

Tait, J., Raybould, A., Flight, M.H. et al. Circular and Networked Bioeconomies for Net-Zero Food Production: There is Nothing Magic About Circles. Circ.Econ.Sust. (2023).