BBW ForWerts, the graduate programme within Baden-Württemberg’s strategic Bioeconomy Research Programme, offers PhD students a three-year interdisciplinary curriculum to work on their own research project and gain insights into other bioeconomy-related research priorities. The interdisciplinary approach, which also includes working with industrial partners and research institutions, provides students with the knowledge required for making the structural shift to a sustainable biobased economy and dealing with the associated challenges.
If we do not want to destroy our natural resources, a paradigm shift from an economy that is based on fossil fuels and raw materials to a sustainable bioeconomy based on renewable biomaterials must begin now. This statement is taken from the “Transforming our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” adopted by most of the world's nations in New York in 2015. A few months later at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, all UN member states agreed to the final global pact. However, scepticism is justified. Does prompt action really follow on from the intentions? Germany sees itself taking a leading role in the implementation of the Bioeconomy Agenda as it has already established strategic programmes aimed at reinforcing the implementation of a bioeconomy at national and regional level.
Training a new generation of scientists who can rise to the challenges of a sustainable bioeconomy and act as multipliers in society is an essential element in the acceptance and implementation of the new bioeconomy. The Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts has therefore set up an interdisciplinary graduate programme within the “Bioeconomy Research Programme Baden-Württemberg”. At present, 47 highly skilled PhD students are taking part in the programme, including 15 from abroad. Seven are Chinese students with grants from the “China Scholarship Council” who have been participating in the programme since autumn 2015. Each of the young scientists does part of his or her doctoral research at one of nine research institutions in Baden-Württemberg on a theme that is part of one of the three large interdisciplinary and multi-site research networks on lignocellulose, biogas and microalgae. As the name of the graduate programme suggests: “BBW ForWerts: Baden-Württemberg – Exploring Innovative Value-Added Chains”, the objective is to look at the bioeconomy along value creation networks as integrated systems.
The programme is coordinated by Prof. Dr. Thomas Rausch and managed by Dr. Ines Petersen at the Center for Organismal Studies at the University of Heidelberg. BBW ForWerts offers a three-year curriculum, which includes compulsory summer schools, status seminars, methodology courses and field trips. With its interdisciplinary approach, the programme offers the PhD students not only deeper insights into their own area of research, but also gives them an overview of other bioeconomy research priorities. Periods spent at a different (preferentially foreign) institution and participation in relevant conferences are mandatory. Key components of the programme include information exchange among the students themselves as well as with partners at other scientific institutions and in industry. “Sending the PhD students out to many other institutions has been the greatest challenge of the programme. It has made supervision and monitoring of the students quite difficult,” says Petersen. “However, the fantastic support from the project coordinators and the students themselves helped us overcome these difficulties.”
Among the highlights of the graduate programme are the summer schools with lectures by experts and discussions, group work and presentations (pitches) by the PhD students. The July 2015 summer school “Bioeconomy: guarantee of sustainable development?” confronted the criticism that although a bioeconomy is necessary for sustainable development, it does not alone guarantee sustainability, as many past mistakes illustrate – for example the expansion of monocultures for producing biofuels. The PhD students were also asked to explore how much their own research projects fitted in with sustainability criteria.
The next summer school at Kloster Höchst in August 2016, will focus on the topic “International perspectives for the bioeconomy”. BBW ForWerts and the strategic Bioeconomy Research Programme Baden-Württemberg must be seen as part of a wide range of measures for initiating a paradigm change from a fossil-fuel based world economy to a sustainable economy based on renewable resources.