A major goal of the bioeconomy is to use larger quantities of biobased raw materials to produce energy, transport fuels and feedstock for industrial processes. This requires detailed analyses, simulations, concepts and processes. Major focus needs to be placed on issues relating to crop production, biomass potentials, land surface requirements, conversion technologies, biobased value creation networks and food security. Agriculture, forestry, waste management and the industry in general will need to work in concert as far as the raw materials all of them use or deal with are concerned.
Plants are often used for one particular purpose only. However, walnut trees have much more to offer than just delicious nuts. The AlpBioEco project is studying the potential of walnut trees for the bioeconomy and how the potential can be exploited commercially. The international team of researchers is also focusing on apples and herbs.
In 2018, Germans consumed 235 chicken eggs per head. While egg white and egg yolks are processed into cakes, pasta or scrambled eggs, the shell predominantly ends up as organic waste. This despite the fact that eggshells are complex composites of lime and protein fibres. “It has repeatedly been shown over recent years that natural products are excellently suited for energy storage,” explains Professor Maximilian Fichtner from the Helmholtz Institute Ulm, a facility that comes under the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) in Karlsruhe.
Miscanthus and hemp are biomass plants that can be used as raw materials for a wide range of products and can be grown on land areas that are currently underutilised. A European consortium led by the University of Hohenheim in Baden-Württemberg has started a five-year project to demonstrate the economic potential of these plants.
In cooperation with the research unit of the German Technical and Scientific Association for Gas and Water (DVGW), KIT researchers have successfully built a pilot plant in which biogas produced by fermenting residual organic materials can be upgraded to synthetic methane (synthetic SNG). Biobased methane is not only a sustainable energy source for the heating and transport sectors, but also opens up new opportunities for temporary storage of renewable energies.
For many decades, glyphosate has been a common component of agricultural pesticides worldwide, although it is a controversial herbicide that may be harmful for humans, animals and the environment. The good news is that a more sustainable alternative is now in sight: researchers from the University of Tübingen have discovered a sugar molecule called 7-deoxy-sedoheptulose (7dSh). 7dSh inhibits the growth of plants and microorganisms, but appears to be completely harmless to human cells. Long-term studies are now being undertaken to substantiate this finding.
Algae are frugal organisms. They require only light, water, minerals and carbon dioxide to be able to produce biomass. These properties will now be exploited economically in a two-year research project. Dr. Stefan Sebök from the University of Hamburg plans to study the holistic utilisation of degradation products of a biogas plant in Wallerstädten by linking them to land-based algae cultivation.
National and international policy papers emphasize the role of the education sector in the transition into a bioeconomy. On the practical level, various actors are working on programmes to prepare professionals for future challenges. The University of Hohenheim, for example, offers a bioeconomy master's programme, further education projects for skilled workers and is one of the universities that have laid the cornerstone for the “European Bioeconomy University” consortium.
Carbon fibre is increasingly found in airplanes, cars and wind turbines. Carbon fibre is still made from oil and relatively expensive. However, this is soon to change. Researchers from the German Institutes of Textile and Fibre Research in Denkendorf (DITF) are working on the development of cost-effective carbon fibre made of lignin, a by-product of papermaking.