Opinion: Grass can be a surprising star of the EU bioeconomy

By Philipp Grundmann and Nathalie Bargues

“Almost one fifth of the EU’s total surface area is covered by grasslands. This resource provides important ecosystem services, including carbon sequestration and water protection. Grasslands are home to a vast diversity of species, and permanent grassland in particular are vital breeding grounds for birds and invertebrates. They also act as important carbon sinks, storing one third of the global terrestrial carbon.

“Current practices are not exploiting the economic, environmental, and social potential of grasslands. In this context, innovative approaches for processing, using, and marketing of grass-based products and grassland ecosystem services are needed.

“For the past four years the GO-GRASS project has been working to unlock the overlooked potential of grassland across Europe and create new business opportunities for rural areas. Work has centred around four demo sites, where different circular business cases have been demonstrated.

Demonstrating grass-based business cases and fostering rural jobs

“In Sweden, Reed Canary Grass is shredded and pressed into briquettes – an innovative material for animal bedding which afterwards can easily be used as fertiliser, as well as for biogas and heat production.

“At the demo site in Germany, low nutritional quality grass from the wetlands of the Nationalpark Unteres Odertal is converted into biochar. By implementing a first complete processing line, the grass is transformed into biochar by pyrolysis.

“In the Netherlands, partners have developed a process to extract fibres from roadside and nature grass to produce high-quality packaging and paper.

“The demo site in Denmark is using a small green biorefinery for extracting protein from grass. The organic protein concentrate extracted can be fed to pigs and poultry to enrich their diet and substitute soya imports.

Advising entrepreneurs and policy makers

“The GO-GRASS demonstration activities begin to show the diverse array of business opportunities linked to grass and grasslands. To help rural actors make the most of these opportunities and ensure the replicability of the models, the project has also developed a range of business support tools.

“An online Decision Support Tool gives potential grass entrepreneurs tailored advice based on their local conditions and capacities. A custom-made Business Plan Writer supports current and future entrepreneurs in assessing and improving their business model.

“Grasslands are an important part of our natural capital and strong policies are needed to protect and manage them. It was in this context that GO-GRASS partners developed a White Paper, which aims to support European decision-makers, rural development agencies, and local authorities to develop targeted policies for a circular and sustainable use of grassland in collaboration with researchers, rural networks and advisors, industry and farmers.”

Philipp Grundmann is Head of Work Group Innovation on Sociotechnical Systems at ATB and coordinator of the GO-GRASS project.

Nathalie Bargues is Project Manager at Greenovate! Europe and lead partner of the Work Package on Value Chains Analysis in the GO-GRASS project.

GO-GRASS held its final conference this month, you can watch the recording here.

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