The University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart has just published a strategy paper with the bioeconomy as a core topic of its research activities. Heike Laue talked with the university’s rector, Prof. Dr. Stephan Dabbert, about the paper.
No, I don’t think so. The bioeconomy is not only a major social challenge. It is also a complex thematic area that covers many scientific fields. The focus on a bioeconomy even gives us the opportunity to pool many of our existing research activities. It enables us to combine our long tradition in the agricultural sciences, the strong areas of biology, nutrition and food sciences as well as the very central economic and social sciences. The strong commitment to bioeconomy research does not however mean that the university is exclusively devoted to this topic. The search for answers to key bioeconomy issues creates connections that we would like to promote and expand upon.
We will begin with the basis of the bioeconomy, which is the plant. Plants are at the origins of production, whether it is food or feed or the replacement of artificial fibres in clothing. And also whether we are looking at renewable resources to replace synthetic raw materials or whether we are working on replacing fossil fuels such as petrol, gas and coal with plant-based fuels.
Here in Hohenheim, we have more than 30 professors dealing with plants in the narrower or wider sense – for example how relevant plants can be bred and cultivated. They are simultaneously investigating how this can be done in a sustainable and environmentally friendly way, taking into account culture areas, biodiversity, climate, resource conservation and energy efficiency.
Yes, that’s right. This is why we are pooling a broad range of different competences. Product and method development mainly involves life scientists, biologists, biotechnologists and nutrition experts.
As far as this field of research is concerned, we also focus on the application of microorganisms for the bioproduction of enzymes and other important industrial compounds.
As a matter of fact, the efficiency of bioeconomy processes needs to be comparable to those of a fossil-based economy, which is mainly dependent on price, cost and market and competitive structures. Any reflections on this issue must take economic analyses of the bioeconomy system into account – and this is the third area in which the University of Hohenheim is extremely well positioned.
The time for simple answers is over. If you look at our strategy paper, it is entitled “Bioeconomy 2020 – understanding and designing complex systems”. Despite all the innovation that is going on, the bioeconomy is more than just the manufacture of new products from plants.
As scientists, we make the claim that our research should also contribute to securing global nutrition and the protection of the climate, resources and the environment.
Let’s have a look at the field of renewable resources. Hohenheim is currently running Europe’s largest field trial focussed on the systematic comparison of all new energy crops with one another. The investigations not only involve the assessment of energy yield. Our researchers also carry out life cycle assessments, assess biodiversity, measure greenhouse gases and develop standards for future energy crops. Another example is a workgroup dealing with regional climate change, which involves around ten professors. Meteorologists work with plant researchers and social scientists and are aiming to come up with predictions on how changes in agriculture and climate can affect one another.
It is to the credit of the Baden-Württemberg Science Minister, Theresia Bauer, that she recognised the bioeconomy theme as an important issue for Baden-Württemberg. Major existing bioeconomy skills in the state have been brought together under the auspices of the Bioeconomy Strategy Circle. The Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts’ latest plans are to support bioeconomy research with 12 million euros in funding. We regard ourselves as a major building block of a very rich research environment and we are very happy about that. A huge challenge such as the production of bioenergy can only be tackled with diversity, a network of scientific collaboration partners and scientific competition.
Prof. Dr. Stephan Dabbert Institute of Farm Management Universität Hohenheim70593 Stuttgart, GermanyTel.: +49 711 459 22541 Fax: +49 711 459 23499Stephan.Dabbert@uni-hohenheim.dehttps://www.biooekonomie-bw.deuhoh.de/dabbert