On 21st November 2007 the German Minister of Agriculture Horst Seehofer and the German Minister of the Environment Sigmar Gabriel presented a strategy on Germanys climate and energy policy in the biofuel sector the Biofuels Roadmap.
The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research is providing total funding for research into biomass utilisation of 50 million euros. Biofuels remain an important research topic this is more than evident from the current debate on biofuel in Germany.
The Distillery for Research and Training at the University of Hohenheim has been reopened after the completion of renovation work costing around 1.2 million euros. The distillery is now equipped with a computer-operated process-control system and modern sensors, all state-of-the-art technology for the fermentation processes at Hohenheim. The new distillery pilot plant has a fermentation room for work with genetically modified organisms. Genetically modified yeasts can be tested for their suitability for the production of bioethanol from new raw materials.
Jatropha is an extremely hardy and frugal plant species native to tropical and subtropical areas where it grows on wasteland. Jatropha seeds contain large quantities of oil that can be processed into a variety of products such as biofuels, animal feed, cosmetics and organic fertiliser. However, few Jatropha species have been properly domesticated, and the yields of the plants that grow in the wild are too small to be economically viable. Jatropha experts from the consulting company JatroSolutions from Stuttgart-Hohenheim are seeking to change this and since 2007 have been focussing on ways to make Jatropha cultivation economically profitable, as well as ecologically and socially acceptable. The first Jatropha varieties that meet the required criteria were placed on the market in 2014.
An Airbus A321 will be flying between Hamburg and Frankfurt to test biofuel on scheduled flights over the course of six months. On this service, one engine will be using a fuel blend containing 50 percent biosynthetic kerosene. The key objective of this project is to conduct a long-term test during which the impact of biofuels on the maintenance and efficiency of jet engines can be investigated.
In view of dwindling oil reserves and ongoing climate change, microalgae are gaining in importance as suppliers of energy. The major advantage of microalgae is that they can be used to produce CO2-neutral fuels without competing with food production. However, despite intensive efforts, the economic production of biofuels from microalgae is not yet possible. This dossier will present and discuss the opportunities and challenges associated with the use of microalgae for energy production.
Alternatives for fossil fuels are urgently being sought. Prof. Dr. Ralf Kölling, a biotechnologist from the University of Hohenheim, and his team of scientists are working on a new, continuous method to produce bioethanol efficiently that could potentially overcome current drawbacks in biofuel production.
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
Sabine Sané, a doctoral student in the Department of Microsystems Engineering (IMTEK) at the University of Freiburg, has developed a concept that shows how micropollutants can be degraded in wastewater and how the latter can serve as a valuable source of raw materials. She is one of four researchers who have been awarded the 2014 Huber Technology Prize “Future Water” with a purse of 10,000 euros. Her concept is based on an enzyme that is secreted by the turkey tail fungus Trametes versicolor. This enzyme, known as laccase, has been shown to efficiently degrade pollutants and increase the performance of biofuel cells.
Prof. Dr. Annegret Wilde and Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Hess from the Institute of Biology III at the University of Freiburg have been using the versatile cyanobacteria for quite some time. The two researchers are part of the project "Cyanosys - Systems biology of cyanobacterial biofuel production", which aims to use cyanobacteria for the large-scale production of biofuels from sunlight and carbon dioxide.
On 17th October 2012, the Commission published a proposal to limit global land conversion for biofuel production, and raise the climate benefits of biofuels used in the EU. Through changes of the current legislation the Commission wants to promote biofuels that help achieving substantial emission cuts, do not directly compete with food and are more sustainable at the same time.
How “bio” can a car be? Quite a lot, as the Bioconcept car developed by Reutlingen-based Four Motors demonstrates. Former DTM driver Tom von Löwis and his team are currently working on a fourth-generation biofuel-powered Bioconcept car. The body parts and interior are made from fully or partially biobased materials and composites with plant-fibre reinforced duromers. The optimised combustion engines are powered with biofuels. Anyone who thinks this is just a nice little hobby is wrong. Renewable energy is central to the team's commitment to motor racing.
Using the power of microbes: biochemists from Leipzig and Tübingen use the combined power of microbes and electrolysis to produce fuels from organic material. This new process uses electricity from renewable resources to produce diesel from organic waste and green cuttings, amongst other things, and can therefore also be used for storing wind and solar energy.
The bioeconomy, or biobased economy, is a new model for industry and the economy. It involves using renewable biological resources sustainably to produce food, energy and industrial goods. It also exploits the untapped potential stored within millions of tons of biological waste and residual materials.
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.
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.
As part of the “University of Hohenheim – strength through communication” thematic year 2011, Dr. Detlef Virchow, Executive Manager of the Food Security Center at the University of Hohenheim, talked to us about the medium-term risks of E10 biofuel in relation to global food safety.
Baden-Württemberg’s Minister of Economic Affairs, Ernst Pfister, believes that the target of ten percent biofuels that was introduced to stop emission growth can only be reached with new technologies. “In terms of the target, I envisage excellent opportunities for the bioliq® process developed by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology,” said Pfister speaking on 15th December 2008 in Stuttgart.
It is just a matter of time before coal and oil will run out. However, there are, it would seem, ways to counteract this situation. Plants can be turned into fossil energy carriers, with the added advantage that the combustion of plants on average only releases as much CO2 as the plants have previously absorbed from the atmosphere. Professor Andrea Kruse from the University of Hohenheim is developing methods for using whole green plants for the industrial production of biofuel.
Every single biotechnological production process is tested in shake flasks before it is gradually scaled up to eventually produce tons of platform chemicals or biofuels in cubic-metre sized fermenters. Prof. Dr. Sybille Ebert teaches the theory and practice of bioprocess engineering in the form of lectures and practical laboratory exercises to students at the Biberach University of Applied Sciences. The trained chemist and mathematician was appointed to the endowed chair of process engineering in biotechnology in summer 2013. The professorship is part of the university’s Industrial Biotechnology bachelor degree course.
Microalgae are among the most promising sources of sustainable, carbon-neutral biofuels for the future. They are already being used as feedstock for producing biogas, biodiesel, bioethanol and kerosene, but the associated production methods consume a great deal of energy and are rather costly. Dr. Nikolaos Boukis from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is working on the development of a sophisticated, thermochemical process with an energy balance that promises to improve the situation.
The completion of the bioliq® pilot plant on the northern campus of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is now a certainty. Following the commitment by the German and Baden-Württemberg governments to provide 11 million euros in financing, the KIT has now also signed contracts with companies that will work with KIT in the implementation of the two final processing stages. These two stages involve the production of second-generation environmentally friendly biofuel from biogenic synthesis gas.