A bioeconomy can be defined as an economy where the basic building blocks for materials, chemicals and energy are derived from renewable biological resources. This paper provides an overview of the bioeconomy in Europe, examining it from a policy framework and concept perspective. The role of bioenergy in the bioeconomy is discussed particularly through biofuels for transport and biorefineries. The study finds that the definitions of the bioeconomy are evolving and vary depending on the actor, but display similarities such as the emphasis on economic output and a broad, cross-sectoral focus. While there is great optimism about the benefits and opportunities associated with developing an advanced bioeconomy in Europe, significant risks and trade-offs are also expressed. Furthermore, the bioeconomy concept has been criticised for presenting a technical fix and pre-empting alternative visions. To advance a competitive and sustainable bioeconomy, this paper calls for attention on two important themes: participatory governance that engages the general public and key stakeholders in an open and informed dialogue as well as a commitment by government and industry to innovation that drives concerted efforts on sustainable development of the bioeconomy.