The climatic context is forcing us to rethink our production and consumption methods to limit the damage to the environment. Not only the extensive use of non-renewable resources (with further depletion issues) but also irreversible impacts on life cycles are pointed out as the main causes [1
]. The bioeconomy is part of this approach which aims to replace fossil resources—i.e., non-sustainable resources such as coal or oil—by “green” resources which are also called biomass, the process of which the rationalized processing would open more environmental-friendly perspectives to our Planet. Indeed, bioeconomy is more than a concept. It is a set of initiatives that reconciles both economic, environmental and social objectives [2
Is it a new concept or not? Fifteen years ago, the European Commission observed that bioeconomy was one of the oldest economic sectors known to humanity but that the life sciences and biotechnology were transforming it into one of the newest [3
]. Generally, bioeconomy is understood as an economy “where the basic building blocks for materials, chemicals and energy are derived from renewable biological resources, such as plant and animal sources,” with a strong potential for environmental, social and economic sustainability [4
]. In other words, bioeconomy is an “economy based on the sustainable production and conversion of renewable biomass into a range of bio-based products, chemicals and energy” [5
Especially in Europe, the short “modern bioeconomy” started twenty years ago, with the 5th EU Framework Programme (1998–2002) and the creation of so-called key actions; this FP5 “departed from the classical and linear innovation chain (and) focused on targeted socio-economic needs and on the Community’s policy objectives, where European research should make a decisive contribution with innovative products, processes or services (…) with the aim of developing new types of drugs, foodstuffs with specific nutritional properties, techniques for biodegradation of recalcitrant compounds, industrial enzymes able to replace less environmentally friendly chemical processes and so forth.” [6
According to various scientific orientations and political priorities, bioeconomy has been defined in different ways, as a broader or narrower concept, with different visions and sometimes divergent goals; as a matter of fact, the short history of “modern” bioeconomy is characterized by a close interaction between politics, research and industry [4
]. A comparative analysis of ten integrated and fully developed bioeconomy strategies from OECD and EU, Germany, Sweden and the USA reveals not only specific and divergent elements of definitions but also different visions, expectations and guiding principles, covering innovative knowledge society as well as economic growth and competitiveness, a revolution in the health sector or priority for food; the same study highlights the need for a consistent political framework, for international cooperation, for interdisciplinary research and for integrated action, especially between the public and the corporate sectors [8
Nevertheless, another assessment of political strategies provides evidence how these different strategies focus on the same key priority areas for developing the bioeconomy, in particular “fostering research and innovation, primarily in the field of biotechnology; promoting collaboration between industry, enterprises and research institutions; prioritizing the optimized use of biomass by implementation of the cascade principle and by utilizing waste residue streams; and providing funding support for the development of bio-based activities” [5
]. The “multiple, sometimes scattered activities within the EC and the Member States (…) were always pointing into the same direction, that is, to the utmost use of the four unique ‘properties’ of biological resources (…):
inherent circularity,—particularly in closing cycles in waste processing, recycling and fostering bio-degradability, mostly in the format of cascades in biorefining activities
and, last but not least, offering new additional and better functions, such as higher stability, longer lifetime, less toxicity, less resources consumption, sustainability and so forth.” [6
Until recently, the concept of bioeconomy has been rapidly spreading in different spheres: institutional, scientific and entrepreneurial. The concept of bioeconomy is used in scientific publications and mobilizes on the one hand, experimental sciences and agronomic and environmental techniques and, on the other hand, human and social sciences. Moreover, this concept has been the subject of strong public policy attention. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) is the first institution to underline the issues and the aims of bioeconomy through its pioneering work. According to Reference [1
], “the transition to bioeconomy gains significant footing towards the end of the 20th century and is now a strategic element on a transnational, national and regional level” (p. 67). Most strategies “point to the need for strong collaborations between research institutions and industry in order to facilitate technological innovation” [5
]. Companies are applying new technologies to meet the demands of pollution abatement, innovation and profitability. In the field of research and development, there is an innovation model based on sharing and collaboration between stakeholders. This model, called “Open Innovation,” suggests calling on stakeholders outside the company to innovate [9
]. In such an approach, a set of stakeholders can be profitably invested in the field of bioeconomy to achieve major advances both socioeconomic and environmental major advances.
Bioeconomy being a relatively recent and emergent field of research, a small but growing number of papers present results of bibliometric studies on this topic. A multilevel social network analysis has been applied by Reference [1
] to construct a holistic and visual definition of bioeconomy and to describe its evolution, based on scientific literature from the European Union, the United States and China. Their data consists of 1369 articles from 2008 to 2018, retrieved from the Web of Science (WoS) database; the study includes a content analysis of strategic policy documents. In 2016, a study showed how in terms of publications, the importance of biotechnology had grown in South Africa following the country’s launch of its Biotechnology Strategy in 2001, with accompanying government financial support for R&D [10
A large study on about 7000 papers indexed in the Scopus database showed the decisive role of technology (industrial biotechnology, synthetic biology, metabolic engineering etc.) in the development of the bioeconomy and proposed a systemic model of 20 interacting factors influencing this development, such as research and innovation, energy consumption and policy [11
]. Innovation is the main topic of a recent German study which aims to improve the measurement of innovation in bioeconomy, to discuss what kind of information may be needed to understand innovation patterns in bioeconomy and to assess the current data availability [12
]. This study is particular insofar as it applies bibliometric methodology to patents, in order to highlight the innovation potential of bioeconomy and the public and private R&D funding activities and to contribute to the monitoring of the economic, social and ecologic developments of bioeconomy.
The relationship between bioeconomy and sustainability has been addressed by Reference [13
], providing evidence how visions about this relationship differ across scientific publications, ranging from positive to negative: the assumption that sustainability is an inherent characteristic of bioeconomy; the expectation of benefits under certain conditions; tentative criticism; and the expectation of a negative impact.
Another bibliometric study on 453 articles published between 2005 and 2014 analyzed the meaning of the notion of bioeconomy by exploring the origins, uptake and contents of the term “bioeconomy” in the academic literature [14
]. Main results are an increasing visibility of bioeconomy research, mainly by researchers affiliated to a higher education institution, much less from the corporate sector; a rather fragmented research community, with a core of European and American regional clusters most active and networked in the field and dispersed over many fields of science yet dominated by natural and engineering sciences. They also identified three different visions of bioeconomy (i.e., bio-technology, bio-resource, bio-ecology) and described their implications in terms of overall aims and objectives, value creation, drivers and mediators of innovation and spatial focus. Reference [2
] conducted a complementary bibliometric study on temporal and geographical distribution of publications, most popular publication platforms, salient keywords and emerging topics in order to compare circular economy, green economy and bioeconomy as global sustainability concepts.
] performed a bibliometric analysis on papers indexed by the Web of Science (WoS) for a number of South African authored publications and citations in bioeconomy and compared them with Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRICS) and selected countries for the period 2008 to 2018. Based on a large and inclusive query, they retrieved 19,040 publications in bioeconomy disciplines with at least one South African author for the period 2008–2018; about 55% were written in collaboration with researchers from other countries and the average percentage industry collaboration was at 1.3%. With a focus on biotechnology, Reference [16
] evaluated the research output of ten Indian universities between 1997 and 2006, identifying prolific authors, most relevant journals and different document types.
Other bibliometric papers deal with specific aspects of bioeconomy, like biomass, biorefineries and forest bioeconomy [17
]. Reference [20
] performed a bibliometric analysis of a small corpus of 166 papers on bioeconomy retrieved through a systematic review of academic journals in social sciences. Their study confirms that most of the current analysis of the bioeconomy relates to genetics, chemistry, biotechnology, energy or biology issues and regrets that a proper interpretation of the significant implications of the bioeconomy from a social and economic perspective is still (too) scarce.
Most of these papers (9 out of 13) are based on WoS data; some are rather large and inclusive whereas others apply a more selective query approach. Half of them combine the bibliometric methodology with a conceptual analysis of the papers’ content. However, so far none of the bibliometric papers investigated the accessibility of publications on bioeconomy on the Internet, to which degree the access to published research output is free, open and universal. Open access (OA) to academic papers and more generally, open science appears out of scope in this field of research.
Now, open science is one of the major challenges of the European research and innovation framework program (Horizon 2020, Horizon Europe1
), along with bioeconomy. The objective is to accelerate the transition towards a sustainable European bioeconomy by reducing the gap between new technologies and their implementation. The position in favor of open science includes the obligation to ensure free access to publications resulting from funded projects. The European Commission defines open science as a way research is carried out, “disseminated, deployed and transformed by digital tools and networks. It relies on the combined effects of technological development and cultural change towards collaboration and openness in research”2
. New technologies contribute to the improvement of scientific research and communication and “by providing unlimited, barrier free, open access to research outputs, open science makes scientific processes more efficient, transparent and responsive to societal challenges” (ibid.).
The scientific and technical information brings together all the information produced by professionals in research, teaching but also industry and economics. It covers all scientific and technical sectors and can be presented in several forms, such as articles, reviews, books, posters, technical documentation, patent notice, databases and gray literature [21
]. The real challenge of research today is to democratize access to knowledge and to recognize that knowledge has a driving role for our society. The open access movement has focused on the communication and circulation of scientific publications while the open science movement values science and its evaluation by opening up research data and new measures to assess awareness, for example [22
The aim of our paper is to assess the degree of openness of scientific articles on bioeconomy and related topics. Similar to Reference [14
], we calculated bibliometric indicators on the development, impact (citations), journals, authors, institutions, countries and research areas; we also investigated the internationality [23
] of the underlying research collaborations and the share and types of funding sources [24
]. Based on this dataset, we explored the openness of each article, if it has been published in a gold or hybrid OA journal or if it is legally available on an institutional or a disciplinary repository or another, similar platform and we assessed the share of journals, countries and research areas of open access (OA) articles on bioeconomy.
After a short description of the applied methodology (Section 2
), we present the results of the bibliometric analysis of scientific articles on bioeconomy published between 2015 and 2019, together with an assessment of their free and open availability on the Internet (Section 3
). The results are discussed in Section 4
, in particular regarding methodological limitations and downfalls, the differences with former studies and the impact of open science in this research field. We conclude our paper with some perspectives for further research.
The search in the entire WoS Core Collection based on the selected keywords described above produced 6728 references. From these references, 5073 are identified as journal articles (75.4%). 2489 articles have been published from 2015 to 2019. These articles are the sample for the following bibliometric analysis. From this sample, 2329 articles have an DOI (93.6%) and serve as the subsample for the assessment of openness.
3.1. Articles and Citations
Our search in the WoS Core Collection identified 2489 articles for the period 2015–2019. The annual number of published articles doubled from 2015 to 2019, with an annual increase rate between 15% and 30% (Figure 1
). The articles from 2019 include 28 articles published by the journal in an early access version.
The annual increase in bioeconomy is well above the average global growth of published articles worldwide which is, for the given period, between 5% and 10% (WoS Core Collection).
At the time of the WoS query, the articles of our sample have been cited 18,431 times. As in Reference [14
], the distribution of the citations is skewed but in a more long-tail way (Figure 2
The most cited article published in the period 2015–2019—Roger Sheldon’s article on “The E factor 25 years on: the rise of green chemistry and sustainability” published by the Royal Society of Chemistry journal Green Chemistry
]—received so far 269 citations; the five most cited articles (the “top of the charts”) are at the origin of 5.9% of all citations (Table 1
). The 15 most cited articles received 10.7% of all citations.
20% of all articles received 66.9% of all citations while 80% of all citations are “produced” by 31% articles. This is not a classic 80/20 Pareto-like distribution but moves to the so-called “long-tail” distribution [29
]. On the other extreme of the ranking, 332 articles (19.7%) received one citation only while 490 articles (13.3%) were not cited at all.
The median number of citations per article is low, with only 3 citations per article. For articles published in 2015, the median is 7 citations while for those published more recently in 2019, it is only 1 citation (Table 2
3.2. Journals and Research Areas
The 2489 articles of our sample have been published in 932 different journals. From these journals, 607 (65.1%) have published only one article on bioeconomy in the given period 2015–2019. Again, the distribution is skewed. The five journals with the highest number of articles on bioeconomy and related subjects, together represent 332 articles (13.3% of all articles). Their articles received 3247 citations (17.6%). The journal which published the most articles in the field of bioeconomy in the given period 2015–2019, was the Journal of Cleaner Production
, an international, transdisciplinary journal focusing on cleaner production, environmental and sustainability research and practice4
, published by Elsevier, followed by the MDPI open access journal Sustainability
, an international, cross-disciplinary, scholarly journal of environmental, cultural, economic and social sustainability of human beings5
The first twenty journals published together 703 articles on the topic (28.2%). These articles received 6362 citations (34.5%) (Appendix B
). Applying the Bradford law on the distribution of articles and citations to our corpus, 29 journals (3.1%) (=1/3 articles) and 12 journals (1.3%) (=1/3 citations) can be identified as core journals in the field of bioeconomy (Appendix C
The journals of our sample are published by 360 different publishers but some of them belong to the same publishing house. The most important publishers, in terms of articles and citations, are Elsevier, Springer Nature, Wiley, MDPI and Taylor & Francis (Table 4
); except for the new open access publisher MDPI from Switzerland, these publishers belong to “big five” academic publishers. Together, the five publishers represent 1565 articles (62.9%) and 12,473 citations (67.7%), confirming in this particular, emerging field of research the global oligopoly of academic publishers [30
Sage Publishing, the fifth of the “big five” academic publishers, produced only 27 articles over the given period, which received 274 citations. Clearly, Elsevier is in a significant, dominant position, as well in terms of production (articles) as in terms of impact (citations). The only surprise is the emergence of the newcomer MDPI, with a different publishing and business model based on 100% open access (see below).
Publications on bioeconomy are dispersed over many fields of science, yet dominated by natural and engineering science [14
]. In our sample, we identified 161 WoS categories of research areas, most of them—the long tail—covered by few articles. Figure 3
shows the fifteen most important WoS research areas, representing the highest number of articles; one article can be indexed in more than one research area.
The most important research areas contributing to the growing corpus of journal articles on bioeconomy and related topics are, for the period 2015–2019, environmental sciences (19.5% of all articles), followed by biotechnology & applied microbiology (13.3%), green & sustainable science & technology (11.9%), environmental studies (11.7%) and economics (10.1%). A more detailed analysis of these figures provides complementary insight:
Ranking: the comparison of the annual ranking of the different research areas reveals that while over the whole period environmental sciences remain the first research area in terms of articles, four areas are gaining importance (green & sustainable science & technology; environmental engineering; forestry; multidisciplinary chemistry); three other areas become relatively less important (ecology; fisheries; agricultural engineering).
Journals: in some research areas, articles on bioeconomy are more dispersed than in others, that is, are published in a relatively higher number of journals. More dispersion: multidisciplinary sciences; chemical engineering; multidisciplinary chemistry. Less dispersion: agricultural engineering; green & sustainable science & technology; environmental engineering.
Citations: in some research areas, articles are averagely more cited than in others and thus have a higher potential impact. Higher citation average per article: multidisciplinary chemistry; environmental engineering; green & sustainable science & technology; agricultural engineering. Lower citation average per article: economics; forestry; fisheries.
3.3. Authors, Organisations and Funding
The articles of our sample were written by 8566 authors. 8447 (98.6%) authors contributed only to one article on the topic of bioeconomy, which represents 2090 articles of the corpus. The ten most prolific researchers authored between 9 and 17 articles, together 125 articles which received 1153 citations, which is above the average number of citations per article (Table 5
). The most prominent author, S.Venkata Mohan, is working at the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research funded Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (CSIR-IICT), Hyderabad, India. The two following authors, Mario Pagliaro and Rosaria Cirminna, are both working at the Institute for the Study of Nanostructured Materials (ISMN) of the Italian National Research Council (CNR) at Palermo, Italy, while Qingling Zhang is working at the Northeastern University, Shenyang, China.
The median number of authors per article is 4; the maximum number is 89, for an article on the emerging field of marine biotechnology in Brazil with 20 main authors and a network of 69 other researchers.
Among the references, the authors listed affiliations to 2471 organizations. The most performant institution, in terms of published articles in the field of bioeconomy but also in terms of impact (citations), is the Dutch University of Wageningen, followed by the French public National Institute of Agricultural Research (INRA)6
, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (Table 6
). Except for USDA and CSIRO, all organizations are from the European Union member states.
These ten organizations together produced 415 articles (16.7%); their articles received 4198 citations (22.8%). In terms of impact, the most important organizations are the Dutch universities of Wageningen and Delft, followed by the German Helmholtz-Centre for Environmental Research (which is ranked #11 and not part of Table 6
), the University of Helsinki and the Technical University of Denmark.
85% of these organizations could be clearly attributed to a specific type of academic or other structure. More than half of the organizations are Higher Education institutions (mainly universities) and they contributed to 86% of all articles (Table 7
). They are followed by research institutes (like INRA, CNR or CSIRO) which represent 18.5% of all institutions but contributed to 32.4% articles. Corporate companies (5.2%) authored or co-authored 6.5% articles.
A total of 1677 articles (67.4%) acknowledge some kind of funding, from one (30.0%) or more funding bodies (37.4%). However, when this indicator—the funding rate—is broken up by the research areas, significant differences appear. Some research areas - especially (but not only) the most important in terms of published articles—show funding rates well above 70% or 75%, like green & sustainable science & technology, agricultural engineering but also marine & freshwater biology or fisheries, for instance (Figure 4
). In other research areas, the funding rate is lower, that is, the published results have less often received specific funding; this is the case for articles indexed in economics and management, similar to a long tail of articles covering less important or less central fields of bioeconomy.
3.4. Affiliation Countries and International Collaboration
Based on the affiliations, the following table shows the cumulative number of articles and citations for the most “productive” countries in the field of bioeconomy research (Table 8
These ten leading research countries in the field of bioeconomy represent 1958 articles (78.7%) and 17,043 citations (92.5%). The researchers from US organizations, the best ranked country, have authored or co-authored 17.5% of all articles and received 19.0% of all citations. Articles from France, Spain, India and Australia are in average less well cited than from the other countries.
Two-third of the articles are domestic, that is, written by authors working in the same country (1685 articles, 67.7%). Most of the international articles have been published by authors from two or three countries (705 articles, 28.3%); yet, one article, a comparative property rights analysis on Europe’s private forests, has authors from 29 different countries.
The topological map (Figure 5
) represents the affiliate network according to the share of international articles by country.
highlights the international collaboration between different countries. The majority of countries that maintain international collaboration are developed countries: USA, Austria, Germany, England, France, Italy, Nordic countries and other countries from Europe. Interesting: the central role of Austrian research for partnerships with countries from Central and East Europe. Interesting, too, the strong partnerships of the US with the Commonwealth countries England, Canada and Australia but also with China and Brazil and, less, with Germany and France.
The word cloud represents the share of domestic articles per country, that is, highlights countries that have produced articles without international collaboration. Germany, the US and Italy are countries with a high amount of domestic research (Figure 6
, Appendix E
); yet, all of them are also strongly invested in international collaborations (see Figure 5
above). More interesting is the case of India, with an important number of domestic research but less international partnerships.
1135 articles from the sample have been identified as freely available in open access (45.6%), nearly as much (1194 articles) are not open access but behind a paywall (48%); for the other 160 articles, because of lacking DOIs, Unpaywall could not identify the status (Figure 7
shows also the distribution of different variants of open access:
Green open access (articles that are also available in an institutional or other open access repository): 11.6%. This percentage does not include preprints or other unpublished articles.
Gold open access (articles published in an open access journal): with 22.1% of all articles, the 549 gold OA articles represent 48.4% of all OA articles and is clearly the most important variant of OA.
Hybrid open access (articles in a subscription journal that are open access with a clear license): 8.3% articles are freely accessible in subscription journals.
Bronze open access (articles published in a subscription journal that are open access without a license): 3.7% articles have been made freely accessible by the publishers.
To summarize, in the field of bioeconomy, open repositories provide 25.4% of the open access to published articles, while the journals cover the other 74.6%.
The share of OA articles is steadily increasing, from 31% in 2015 to 52% in 2019 (Figure 8
The 1135 open access articles come from 505 journals (54.2% of all journals) but only 83 journals (8.9%) have 3 or more articles in open access, either on their own platform or on a green repository. Table 9
shows the five journals that published the highest number of open access articles.
The first twenty journals cumulate 326 OA articles on the topic, which represent 46.4% of all OA articles but only 13.1% of all articles (Appendix B
). Elsevier published the most articles in bioeconomy (791) and Elsevier is also the publisher with the highest number of OA articles (216, equal 19% of all OA articles). But as Table 10
shows, this represents only 27.3% of all articles published by Elsevier on bioeconomy, a share which is lower than the other “big five” publishers Springer Nature (37.7%), Taylor & Francis (39.2%) and Wiley Blackwell (44.2%).
The real difference, however, is with the MDPI publisher of open access journals—all MDPI articles are published in gold open access. With regards to open access, MDPI is already the second important publishers of articles on bioeconomy; with regards to open access compliant with the Plan S requirements7
and the preference of funding bodies for gold OA, they are the most important OA publishing house. MDPI is not the only OA publisher in this field; however, the other gold OA publishers, like BioMed Central, Frontiers Media, Public Library of Science and Sciendo, are less important, at least for the moment, with an overall share of less than 10% of all articles.
The part of OA articles in the fifteen most important research areas (cf. Figure 3
) range from 16.7% (Engineering, Chemical) to 78.6% (Multidisciplinary Studies) (Figure 9
). Especially the applied domains of agricultural, chemical and environmental engineering have low rates of OA publishing while, except for the relatively small number of multidisciplinary studies, all other important research areas have average rates of OA publishing, between 40% and 50%. The full table with all WoS research areas in our sample is in Appendix D
Some of the less important research areas show relatively high rates of OA articles, with more than 60% articles in OA journals or repositories. Some examples: marine and freshwater biology; business; management; microbiology; mathematics; plant sciences; biodiversity conservation. But because of the relatively small number of published articles, there may be a bias and this should not be over-interpreted.
Some research areas are more “OA gold,” obviously preferring open access via journals (Biotechnology & Applied Microbiology; Green & Sustainable Science & Technology; Energy & Fuels; Agronomics) while others are more “OA green” with a preference for repositories as a vector of open access (Economics; Ecology; Fisheries).
(see above) ranks the ten most important countries, according to the total number of articles published in the field of bioeconomy. Table 11
shows the same countries, this time with the number and percentage of OA articles.
The leading countries regarding the part of open access are the UK, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany and France; while Germany and the Netherlands appear preferring the gold variant of OA, the UK has a preference for OA hybrid and gold journals and France clearly prefers green.
Regarding the different types of organizations, the essential contribution to OA articles on bioeconomy comes from the universities which (co)authored 87.6% of all OA articles. However, the share of OA does not vary significantly between universities, research institutes, government organizations, companies and so forth.
A last result: 73.5% of the OA articles (834) present results from research that got funding from one or more funding bodies, a percentage which is slightly higher than the funding rate of the non-OA articles (66.2%).