“The bioeconomy provides new markets and opportunities for growth, which we would like to take advantage of.” To say it was last Friday Herman Onko Aikens, Minister of Agriculture and the Environment of German Region Saxony-Anhalt at the fourth International Bioeconomy Conference was held in Halle (Saale). It was organized by the ScienceCampus Halle – Plant-based Bioeconomy and the BioEconomy Cluster, a Leading-Edge Cluster of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. More than 180 international experts in science, politics and the economy discussed the conditions and opportunities surrounding the transition away from petroleum towards renewable, bio-based raw materials. The conference at the Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Transition Economies (IAMO) demonstrated the key role the bioeconomy will play in Saxony-Anhalt’s future.
The two-day conference highlighted the many activities taking place throughout the EU – particularly in the UK, the partner country of this year’s conference – and in Central Germany. These activities are aimed at developing a bio-based economy. On the one hand, there is a need to replace fossil-based raw materials like oil and gas. At the same time, calls for a sustainable economy are becoming increasingly louder. In the future, agriculture and forestry will play a key role in the production of raw materials. “We also focused on the sustainable production of plants at this year’s Bioeconomy Conference. Plants are found at the start of many value chains. Thus, the bioeconomy is set to profit from scientific innovation in the area of renewable plant-based resources,” says Klaus Pillen, co-spokesperson for ScienceCampus Halle.
Conference speaker Léon Broers, who is the chairman of KWS Saat AG and a member of the Bioeconomy Council, explained the need for science and the economy to work closely together in this context. The major challenge is to link sectors that traditionally do not collaborate together, such as agriculture and the chemical industry.
Efforts to make the value chain for food “greener” were picked up by China Williams from the Royal Botanic Gardens in the UK. Her talk centered on using genetic resources and maintaining biodiversity as set forth in the Nagoya Protocol, a global environmental agreement. Her colleague, Mark Tester from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, presented the audience of experts with his research on saltwater-resistant grain varieties as a response to climate change.
The material and energetic use of biomass was discussed alongside food security and its socio-economic aspects. Nicolaus Dahmen from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology elaborated on this using the example of synthesis gas, which could be produced in a bio-based way on an industrial scale. Thomas Hirth from the BioEconomy Cluster added, “Non-food biomass is the raw material of the future for many industry sectors. Biogenic raw materials like wood, straw, oil plants and microalgae enable new products and product properties to be developed and allow us to finally stop relying on fossil resources like petroleum and natural gas, and to sustainably reduce CO2 emissions. The first integrated pilot plants at the long-standing chemical site in Leuna are evidence that this transition to raw materials has begun.”
The 4th International Bioeconomy Conference underscores the role of Saxony-Anhalt as a bioeconomic model region in Germany and Europe. Halle (Saale) is home to two leading organizations: ScienceCampus Hallle, which brought to life the first conference in 2012, and the BioEconomy Cluster. Saxony-Anhalt’s Minister of Agriculture and the Environment, Hermann Onko Aeikens, believes his state is moving in the right direction in terms of a knowledge-based bioeconomy. With its modern agricultural economy and a broad research base that focuses on plant sciences, the state has excellent conditions in place for achieving the goals of the National Research Strategy “BioEconomy 2030” of developing a stronger bio-based economy. According to
Aeikens, “Saxony-Anhalt has developed into a center of biomass usage in terms of cultivation and utilization. It also made “Chemistry and Bioeconomy” one of its five lead markets in 2014. The bioeconomy provides new markets and opportunities for growth, which we would like to take advantage of.”
The world’s population is expected to reach eight billion by 2030 with the area set aside for food production remaining unchanged. Climate change will ensure increases in extreme weather occurrences and food and water shortages. There is a growing awareness of these facts, however we are still in search of courses of action. The bioeconomy is therefore considered one of the key concepts of the 21st century.