Biomass can be used to produce chemicals, fibres, pigments and plastics. These products are either identical to their petroleum-based counterparts or have completely new properties. Biorefineries will play a key role in the transition to a bioeconomy. There is great expectation placed on the potential ability to convert the countless carbon compounds in biomass into chemicals and material components.
Agricultural land on Earth is limited. However, the increased need for food and feed coupled with the increasing use of biomass feedstocks leads to areas of conflict such as intensive farming, biodiversity loss, land grabbing and indirect land use change. Governments are faced with the major challenge of having to deal with and shape the bioeconomy while taking equally into account the ecological, economic and ethical concerns and integrating them in sustainable solutions.
Nature provides the material basis for a bioeconomy. Preventive and production-integrated environmental protection will therefore become even more important in a bioeconomy. Powerful analytical systems that can be used in industrial processes or in the field will provide information about soil, air and water quality. Environmental analytics and monitoring are crucial for the bioeconomy.
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.
Examples of fuels produced from biomass are biomethane, renewable natural gas (RNG), biogenic hydrogen, biokerosene, biomethanol, bioethanol and higher alcohols. However, in future, care must be taken to avoid the well-documented conflict between crops used for food and those used for fuel production. The bioeconomy strategy therefore calls for only using the biomass that cannot be used for producing food. Microalgae, biowaste and residual materials have huge potential in this area.
The Special Interest Groups (SIGs) were created as part of BIOPRO Baden-Württemberg’s Akteursplattform Bioökonomie and are aimed at promoting Baden-Württemberg as a bioeconomy location. Two SIG meetings were held in May and June 2016.
In 2011 Baden-Württemberg was home to around 37 bioenergy villages and several others are under construction or in the planning phase. Bioenergy villages produce all of their electricity and energy for heating locally from renewable resources such as maize and wood electricity is mainly generated from biogas.
The alarming decline in animal and plant species stands more chance to be stopped by action on local and regional levels than through global conventions. Research and action programmes by German federal and state governments can help preserve biodiversity in Baden-Württemberg.
The German Minister of Agriculture, Ilse Aigner, has launched the pilot phase of the world’s first lignocellulose biorefinery to be set up by a research consortium at the Leuna chemical location. Speaking in Berlin, Aigner presented the decision of the German government to grant more than 8.5 million euros to a consortium that also includes researchers from Baden-Württemberg as part of the “Renewable Resources” programme of the German Ministry of Nutrition, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV).
The conversion of undeveloped land into residential areas and roads in Baden-Württemberg has in fact fallen by fifty percent in the past ten years, but there is still a long way to go before land management becomes sustainable. Detailed studies on the changing conditions of land use are necessary in order to develop practical concepts for environmentally compatible planning.
With the investment of 4.2 per cent of its gross domestic product in research and development Baden-Württemberg leads other German states and European countries in this sector. The 27 European states spent an average of only 1.8 per cent.
Major impulses for the transition to a bioeconomy must come from the international and national level. This has been the case for Europe and Germany and is driven forward by programmes that have been launched by national and European governments
The lack of flexibility with regard to peak demand for electricity – both for consumers and producers – is a well-known problem as far as the production of electricity from renewable resources is concerned. Biogas plants present a particular challenge due to the complex and relatively slow microbial processes involved. A research project called FLEXIZUCKER at the Universities of Ulm and Göttingen aims to make biogas production more flexible and hence the supply of renewable electricity more grid- and market compatible.
A project called ”Energiebündel & Flowerpower" run by the “Netzwerk Streuobst Mössingen" has established a complex local recycling network for biomass from meadow orchards. The network involves the city of Mössingen, the neighbouring municipality of Nehren, the KFB institution for the physically disabled and their self-help work group called “Streuobst und Naturschutz”, a biogas operator from Nehren, a start-up company called Vital Carbon, a wood pellet company and first and foremost the owners of small orchards around the city of Mössingen.
Baden-Württemberg will provide an additional 16.5 million euros for the rehabilitation of the biology building and the State Institute of Agricultural Chemistry at the University of Hohenheim both of which are central buildings required by the life science priorities.
On 1st December 2008 Prof. Dr. Karl Schmid the first person to hold the F.W. Schnell Foundations endowed professorship for crop biodiversity and breeding informatics started the ball rolling on a unique European-wide project. Schmid and his colleagues are searching gigantic databases in which genetic analyses and plant descriptions are stored for hidden treasures.
We talk about bioenergy, but what do we actually mean? The term bioenergy refers to renewable energy produced from material of biological origin. But is the term really exact? Does it create false expectations? “Bio” is often associated with something that is ecological, environmentally friendly and clean. Perhaps “energy from biomass” would be more appropriate? It’s a bulkier term than bioenergy, but also much more neutral.
The forestry industry already makes an important contribution to the bioeconomy. A project called “CirculAlps” will expand and diversify this contribution as well as promoting the circular economy in the Alpine timber sector.
Biogas experts at the University of Hohenheim believe that up to 50 per cent more energy can be achieved per hectare of cultivated energy crops. The researchers are hoping that Germanys first biogas research plant will provide them with new insights.
Wood from local forests is an important resource for the bioeconomy. However at present, a large amount of wood is used as fuel for energy production. Greater forest diversity and new wood-based materials have the potential to make the timber industry more sustainable. The bioeconomy can contribute to this by promoting the utilisation of deciduous trees.
The discussion relating to bioeconomy and biobased economy is broadening. But what do these terms actually mean? The “View on Biobased Economy – Bioeconomy” presentation theme at ACHEMA 2012 in Frankfurt has provided some answers. Several exhibitors presented industrial biotechnology product scenarios and provided information about current funding programmes and future funding calls.
The Interreg Danube Translational Programme’s ”DanuBioValNet” project aims to establish new biobased value chains. Under the leadership of BIOPRO Baden-Württemberg GmbH, 17 partners from the Danube region met on 1st January 2017 to pave the ground for transnational collaboration in the biobased industry. Regional cluster organisations are expected to drive the change from a fossil fuel-based industry to a biobased industry forward and will be given intensive training to help them initiate transnational networking in this sector.