"BRANCHES", an EU project for the bio-economy in rural areas

by Matteo Monni - Itabia

The project aims to create networks of stakeholders in the field of the bioeconomy in the five European partner countries. The creation of sustainable agricultural and forestry production chains will be facilitated by promoting a dialogue between the business and research worlds. Solutions will be provided to the needs of operators by focusing on the transfer of technological innovations resulting from specific lines of research

The BRANCHES project - Boosting RurAl Bioeconomy Networks following multi-actor approACHES - is an ini- tiative funded by the European Commission under the Coordination and Support Action (CSA) of the Horizon 2020 Programme.

The BRANCHES project - Boosting RurAl Bioeconomy Networks following multi-actor approACHES - is an ini- tiative funded by the European Commission under the Coordination and Support Action (CSA) of the Horizon 2020 Programme.

This three-year project, which will start in January 2021, in- volves 12 partners representing five European countries: Finland, Germany, Italy, Poland and Spain. In addition, 5 oth- er countries - Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Portugal and Slovakia - have been designated for specific knowledge transfer activities and sharing of project results.

As can be seen from the title of the project and its acronym, the main objective is to enhance the value of wood re- sources by creating networks of stakeholders, whose ram

ifications touch on many areas of industrial interest, from which requests can be received and answered. All this is aimed at stimulating the economic fabric linked to the world of agriculture and forestry towards forms of circular bioe- conomy. The reference context is therefore very broad, em- bracing the many issues of the green economy, from rural space management to the biobased industry, including bioenergy.

With this in mind, BRANCHES - through the promotion of new technologies - aims to increase the sustainability of the supply chains built around biomass, making forestry and agricultural sites more efficient for the collection, transport, conditioning and storage of this precious resource. As well as generating positive environmental effects, this will sig- nificantly reduce the cost of supplying plant and renewable raw materials and create new business opportunities in rur- al areas. It is expected that all this can be achieved in prac- tice by improving and strengthening the link between busi- nesses operating in the sector and the world of science re- lated to the bio-based economy.

The approach promoted by the BRANCHES project will make it possible to activate a channel for the two-way flow of in- formation, new ideas and technologies to be circulated be- tween operators and forestry and agricultural experts from different European countries, with a particular interest in finding suitable solutions in areas at risk of marginalisation or over-exploitation.

Each partner country will have to create the National The- matic Network involving all potentially interested parties: companies, research bodies, trade associations, public administrations. This network will make it possible to transfer and widely share valuable information from specific lines of research, preventing a large amount of acquired knowl- edge from remaining unused.

In addition, the BRANCHES project will identify, select and disseminate existing good practices, both in the working and professional spheres, and in terms of the results pro- duced by other European and national projects aimed at promoting the bio-economy and rural development through new bio-based initiatives. For an effective dissemination of good practices, special fact sheets will be drawn up that will provide, in simple and direct language, concise and com- prehensive descriptions of the selected best-case studies. Obviously, the communication strategy will play a central role in this project and a special work package is dedicat- ed to it, led by ITABIA but involving all the partners for the many activities to be carried out. For example, demonstra- tion days will be organised in all countries in relation to the peculiarities of the local production and territorial context, as reported below:

Finland. The case study concerns the production of high- quality, high-calorific forest wood chips by means of an ef- ficient drying system with a mixed artificial and natural method.

Italy. A demonstration day on the production and use of very small-scale wood chips. This particularly dry, uniform biofuel can be used to replace pellets in stoves, with the advantage of being cheaper and allowing local production with limited investment. Another case study will be the Short Rotation Forestry model activated to feed a biomass plant in Biella.

Poland. There will be a field demonstration of agricultural techniques for industrial crops, both for the biobased in- dustry and for energy. Another topic will be an energy self- sufficient farm with a biogas plant based on innovative tech- nologies.

Spain. A tele-heating plant in Vilafranca del Penedés, fu- elled by vine shoots from local vineyards, will be shown as a virtuous model. It will show how these residual biomasses are efficiently collected, treated and stored.

On the occasion of the demonstration days, videos will be filmed with interviews with operators and experts involved. The videos will be uploaded to the project website (www.branchesproject.eu) and disseminated through the so- cial media channels.
A series of workshops and meetings will be organised to gath- er the demands and needs of professionals, optimised through active cooperation within national networks. Since the efficien- cy of biomass supply chains plays a central role in the BRANCH- ES project, innovation in the field of forestry and agricultural mechanisation will also be extensively addressed for the most modern and efficient technological options. With this in mind, in Italy a meeting opportunity deemed to be of great importance will be the Energy section of the EIMA International exhibition and Agrilevante. At both these shows, the topics revolving around the biomass resource are always at the centre of the pro- gramme, with seminars, conferences and technical visits per- fectly in line with the BRANCHES Project.
We all hope that the constraints caused by the measures to contain the Covid pandemic will be reduced by the mas- sive vaccination campaigns, thus enabling the economy to recover through the green routes mapped out by the EU and widely taken up by the project.

Matteo Monni