Renewable resources not only provide the field of biotechnology with interesting possibilities for the development of new materials. Scientists from the Department of Chemical Material Science at the University of Konstanz have now succeeded in chemically synthesising a new type of plastic from plant oils.
Biogenic raw materials have never been as popular as they are now. Efforts to tap renewable carbon resources are already underway, despite the fact that new oil drilling technologies are boosting fossil fuel stockpiles. In the medium term, industry will have to expand its raw materials base, and in the long term it may have to renew it completely. Industrial biotechnology is one of the key technologies in the transition from an economy based on fossil fuels to one based on renewable resources. The microbes that produce renewable resources need access to a sufficient supply of biomass. But what kind of biomass will they use and do we have enough of it?
The Institute of Biochemical Engineering at Technische Universität Braunschweig (Technical University (TU) Braunschweig) is a member of the Biopolymers/Biomaterials cluster and, as such, is involved in two projects to produce diaminopentane and succinic acid using optimised microorganisms with the aim of establishing a basis from which to provide industry with new materials made from renewable resources.
Industrial or white biotechnology uses microorganisms and enzymes to produce goods for industry, including chemicals, plastics, food, agricultural and pharmaceutical products and energy carriers. Renewable raw materials and increasingly also waste from agriculture and forestry are used for the manufacture of industrial goods.
On the one hand, a bioeconomy relies on renewable resources to meet society’s need for food, energy and industrial products. On the other, it emphasises the role of biogenic material flows. The bioeconomy model is expected to reduce our dependency on fossil fuels in the long term. In order to implement the shift from a fossil-based economy to a biobased economy on the regional level, the Baden-Württemberg government launched the Bioeconomy Research Strategy in summer 2013.
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 aim of the Technofunctional Proteins (TeFuProt) innovation alliance is to develop in an environmentally compatible way new products with high earnings potential by using proteins from agricultural residues. As part of the alliance, the lubricant company FUCHS EUROPE SCHMIERSTOFFE GmbH from Mannheim will add modified rapeseed proteins as non-toxic additives to its product portfolio. The use of proteins from renewable raw materials contributes to the creation of a biobased, sustainable economy.
A growing number of industrial companies would like to use renewable raw materials for production, out of ecological, economic or technical interest. However, it is not always easy for many of the companies to get into contact with farmers and secure the supply of crops in the quantity and quality they require. Dresden-based C.S.P. Consulting und Service für Pflanzliche Rohstoffe GmbH is now able to use its know-how and that of its partners to close the gap between the farmers, i.e. producers of raw materials, and the processing companies.
The company POLYFEA Polymer- und Produktentwicklung, based in the southern Black Forest (Germany), offers consulting for and contract development of polymer-based materials and products. Using the biodegradable material system CAPROWAX P, the company has successfully developed an innovative product.
The biologist Prof. Dr. Marian Kazda from Ulm has worked on biogas research for many years. However, he occupies a particular niche in that he approaches the topic from the point of view of a problem-oriented ecologist. The 55-year-old is head of the Institute of Systematic Botany and Ecology at the University of Ulm and his specific field of research is plant ecology. It was his work on wetlands that first got him interested in biogas research.
The German Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) has led to a considerable increase in the use of biogas in Germany. However, increasing biogas production must make ecological sense and not generate conflict with the sustainability objectives of environmental conservation schemes. There must therefore be a careful consideration of the overall conditions. An analysis of the ecological impact of the generation and use of biogas in Germany taking into account legal and economic aspects was coordinated by ifeu - Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Heidelberg and recommendations were given to policy makers.
Polyhydroxyalkanoates are storage substances produced and stored by many cells plants and bacteria only in times when they lack lack important nutrients. A particular property of these plastics-related biopolymers is that their composition and hence their material properties can be regulated by the fermentation process.
Up until now biotechnology has mainly been focused on the production of enzymes basic chemical and pharmaceutical substances as well as other biobased materials. From now on efforts will be made to exploit the potential of biotechnology at the beginning of value creation chains by improving the access to regenerative resources. Apart from its potential for use as food and animal feed there are two more concepts that focus on the utilisation of biomass the material and energetic use of biomass. The problem is that these two concepts are in competition with each other.
GEHR Kunststoffwerk GmbH & Co. KG, founded in 1932 and owned by the Gehr family ever since, is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of semi-finished thermoplastics. The company’s headquarters are in Mannheim.
In addition to sunlight water and wind biogas is a regenerative source of energy that contributes to saving fossil resources. Germany is home to around 7100 biogas plants including 796 as of 2011 in Baden-Württemberg. In 2010 these facilities produced 11 per cent of the electricity generated from renewables in Germany. Energy-rich methane is the major constituent of biogas and is produced when organic compounds are broken down by bacteria in the absence of oxygen.
Coal crude oil whats next? The preparations for switching from crude oil to other resources for the production of fuels and petrochemical products are underway. Crude oil and also gas reserves are in irrevocable decline. Pessimists believe that peak oil production has already been reached and optimists believe that this peak will be reached in 2020. Crude oil is not only our most important source of energy production but it is also an important resource for the chemical industry. The transport sector is the biggest consumer of oil while the chemical industry requires around seven per cent of total oil reserves.
Industry is being greened. The EU has put in place schemes to boost the bioeconomy Germany Finland Norway Denmark and the Netherlands are working hard on bioeconomy strategies. Even regional stakeholders are developing concepts aimed at supporting the bioeconomy. Things are moving in the right direction.
In order to achieve the sought-after shift towards sustainable regenerative energy supply, researchers around the world are focusing on the conversion of solar energy into hydrogen and carbon compounds using artificial chemical systems. They aim to achieve much more efficient photosynthesis than plants have. Other scenarios foresee improving the energy balance of photosynthesis by modifying the photosynthesis system.
Grass flowers and small bushes are constant features along roadsides they are mowed at regular intervals and either dumped left where they are or less frequently composted. Cuttings like these could contribute to solving the global energy problem and even generate money. However communities that are aiming to turn green waste from roadsides riversides or sports grounds into biogas and hence a renewable source of energy are confronted with practical problems that require precise planning and the assessment of potential gain. Dr. Chantal Ruppert-Winkel and her team from the Centre for Renewable Energy in Freiburg have carried out a survey in a Baden-Württemberg administrative district aimed at identifying the factors that communities need to take into account before setting up renewable energy systems i.e. using previously neglected sources of biogas for generating energy and heat.
Biotechnology plays a part in many high-tech fabrics that have become an integral part of our everyday life. Whether it is products for the treatment of wounds, fabrics for marquees or for clothing, many materials have been developed or are produced using biotechnological techniques and processes. Many products marketed as “micro” or “nano” are inspired by nature. The current topic of the month addresses different aspects of innovative textiles in which the biotechnology sector plays a role.
Algae are rich in valuable substances and can be grown easily, which makes them promising candidates for the sustainable production of raw materials. The work done by Prof. Dr. Stefan Mecking at the University of Konstanz in cooperation with plant physiologist Prof. Dr. Peter Kroth, confirms this. The two scientists have developed a method to transform algae oil into high-quality chemical raw materials which can, amongst other things, be used for the production of polymers. This opens up new possibilities for the use of algae as a raw material source beyond just a substitute for crude oil.
The Institute of Textile Technology and Process Engineering Denkendorf ITV Denkendorf is Germanys largest and oldest textile research centre. Research is carried out in specialised laboratories and technical centres covering the entire range of textiles from raw materials to the final product both in basic as well as applied research.
We are all very aware of what happens when we dispose of waste whether it is industry waste private household waste or CO2. We also know that cost-effectiveness is still given priority over sustainability. As more and more waste is dumped it is increasingly entering the groundwater soil and atmosphere. The ideal solution would enable us to kill two birds with one stone if we could somehow combine the problems related to increasing environmental contamination and anthropogenic global warming with the problem of finite resources. What would be more natural than that? Waste is a sustainable source of energy. How can this source be tapped?
Most developed countries are “throwaway societies”, i.e. societies where people simply throw away defective articles and purchase new ones. However, our resources are finite. This is not only true for oil but also for many other raw materials such as precious metals or rare earths. Scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart are working with researchers from other Fraunhofer institutes with the aim of developing technologies that enable raw materials to be sorted at the molecular level and returned to the production process. The ambitious project is focused on using specific separation technologies to extract any residual minute traces of valuable raw materials from waste streams.