The Basque Country, with a population of 2.2 million, is one of the most important industrial areas in Spain. While metal industries, construction, machinery and transport equipment dominate, more than half of the land area is wooded and forest biomass is highly relevant for Basque entrepreneurs. The Basque government has incorporated the bioeconomy as a core element of its circular economy strategy.

The Basque Country, with a population of 2.2 million, is one of the most important industrial areas in Spain. The strongest sectors of the Basque economy are metal industries, construction, machinery and transport equipment. The construction industry, especially, has high potential to move towards the bioeconomy through timber use but the automobile, energy and chemical industries could also be transformed by better incorporating local bio-based resources and new technologies.

More than half of the land area in the Basque Country (54%) is wooded. It is, therefore, no wonder that forest biomass is the most relevant biomass (two-thirds of the mass) for Basque entrepreneurs. There are about 0,89 tons of biomass available for every Basque citizen; this corresponds to roughly one-tenth of the materials consumed in the Basque economy.

The Basque government is looking beyond biomass, however, and has incorporated the bioeconomy as a core element of its circular economy strategy in order to realise a sustainable transformation.

The Basque Country has a strong innovation profile, and within the forest bioeconomy start-up ecosystem, most start-ups function in the biotech, agri-food, forestry4.0 and timber construction sectors.

Basque Country

A vision on the bioeconomy

The Basque government considers bioeconomy as an opportunity to transform key industrial sectors of the region (mainly construction, automobile, energy, chemical industry) by providing a new generation of materials, products and business models enhancing the usage and value of local bio-based resources.

The vision of the Basque bioeconomy roadmap is to make the Basque Country a referent region in bioeconomy, promoting the generation and consolidation of high added value economic activities based on the optimal exploitation of regional resources.

Five topics in the Basque bioeconomy roadmap:

  1. Ensure the quantity, quality, treatment and logistics of the bio-based resources needed to undertake the new activities.
  2. Promote and attract business activity with high added value.
  3. Orient and promote scientific-technological and talent capacities to business needs.
  4. Generate framework conditions (legal, instruments to 5 support R&D&I, entrepreneurship)
  5. Awareness and communication.

Five Basque industries with significant potential for bio-based transformation:

  1. Construction
  2. Plastics and packaging
  3. Energy
  4. Forestry and wood products
  5. Pulp and paper

Research and Innovation Smart Specialisation Strategy (RIS3)

The Basque Country approved a new Science and Technology plan (PCTI 2030) in February 2021. Its ultimate goal is to improve the standard of living and quality of employment in Basque society through an innovation policy that will place the Basque Country among the most advanced European regions by 2030.

The PCTI 2030 updates priorities in the Basque Innovation Smart Specialisation Strategy (RIS3) that identifies three priority areas responding to the necessary digital, energy and social transitions: 1) Smart Industries; 2) Clean energy; and 3) Personalised health. It also identifies new areas of opportunity for economic development: a) sustainable food; b) eco-innovation; c) sustainable cities; and d) creative industries. These priorities and opportunities are further developed in three leading cross-cutting initiatives: i) healthy aging; ii) electric mobility; and iii) circular economy.

The bioeconomy is considered as a core component of the cross-cutting circular economy initiative. It is envisioned as a transformative effort to biologise existing economic sectors based on endogenous biological resources.

Regional Profile

“In this context, moreover, the bioeoconomy is an opportunity to transform the key sectors of the economy through a new generation of materials, products and new business models that make the most of the use of existing biological resources in the territory”

Basque Country Ecosystem

The Basque forest bioeconomy ecosystem can be grouped into ten different categories.

Industrial clusters

The Basque Country has specific clusters for wood-based industrial sectors: Basque wood sector; pulp & paper industry; equipment, furniture and design. Additionally the Basque Alliance for the Bioeconomy is a public-private partnership set up as a network of business agents helping to reinforce the economic models generating bio-based products. The Alliance aims to establish a structured collaboration between institutions, technology centres and companies, in order to expand bio-based modes of production and wealth generation.

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Bioeconomy education and training

There are several university studies (biotechnology, biochemistry, forestry, etc.) that can educate the Basque bioeconomy entrepreneurs of tomorrow, even if there is currently no dedicated university degree, Master or PhD course on the bioeconomy. Additionally, different organisations and training centres work in vocational training. The most relevant for the bioeconomy is TKNIKA, the Centre for Research and Applied Innovation in Vocational Training.

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Investors and venture capitalists

Many Basque investors invest mainly in Spanish companies, with some of them focusing on the Basque Country and others with a more international scope. Most of the investors focus on technology start-ups and tech SMEs. The investment volume is highly dependent on the stage of the start-ups and tech SMEs. The investment volumes mentioned by the different investors ranged from €50,000 up to €20,000,000.

Leading companies

The Basque Country plays an important role in the pulp & paper industry, with several leading companies in this sector. Other major companies are active in timber construction and (bio)energy. Market segment leaders include companies in biotech, clothing and advanced materials.

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Public agencies supporting forest bioeconomy

The Basque agency for the promotion of innovation, Innobasque, depends on the Basque government and supports innovation in all sectors, including the bioeconomy. They work in cooperation with Spri, the public agency for industrial development and Hazi, a public foundation in support of agriculture development and innovation.

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Start-ups and tech SMEs

The Basque forest bioeconomy start-up focuses on biotechnology. These are the biotech start-ups based on lignocellulose raw materials. A considerable number of those biotech start-ups produce advanced materials. Many other start-ups function in the market segments agri-food, forestry 4.0 and timber construction.

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Forest- or innovation-related information sourcest

Useful information sources for Basque Country entrepreneurs and the forestry and wood sector include: Up!Euskadi; Basque startups; Gananzia; BaskEgur.

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Research centres and technological centres

The Basque Research and Technology Alliance (BRTA) was established to meet the industrial challenges of the Basque Country and to compete with leading international organisations in research and technology development. This alliance will be the vanguard of Basque research in Europe and the rest of the world. Many of the identified research and technological centres are part of this alliance.

Accelerators and incubators

Many Basque accelerators focus on technology start-ups. The accelerator programmes BIC Bizkaia, Zitek and Metxa might be the most relevant for forest bioeconomy start-ups. The accelerators are a mix of private, government and university-related initiatives and most of them also accept start-ups from outside the Basque Country.

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The Basque Country holds several international sporting, gastronomic and cultural events, with venue facilities of international standards. Several events focus on entrepreneurship and a few are related to forestry and bioeconomy.


Photo: Jan Vašek via Pixabay

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