Seven Million Euros for a Sustainable Bioeconomy in North Rhine-Westphalia

01/06/2017

Three so-called FocusLabs are currently being established, pooling the competencies of researchers from different fields such as biology, the engineering sciences, and economics. The aim is to secure a sustainable, knowledge-based bioeconomy in the federal state of North-Rhine Westphalia.

  The three lab coordinators Alexander Vogel/RWTH The coordinators of the FocusLabs (from left): Dr. Holger Klose, Dr. Anita Loeschcke, and Dr. Lars Regestein

The FocusLabs will be part of the Bioeconomy Center, BioSc for short, which is coordinated by Forschungszentrum Jülich. The four partner institutions wof the Bioeconomy Center will all collaborate in the new FocusLabs, working on different research topics such as the development of an integrative biorefinery based on perennial plants or the innovative production of biosurfactants and natural products with the help of synthetic biology.

As part of its BioSC Strategy Project, the NRW Ministry of Innovation, Science and Research supports the FocusLabs with seven million euros in funding.

The Bioeconomy Science Center was jointly established in 2010 by RWTH Aachen University, the University of Bonn, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, and Forschungszentrum Jülich. In the first funding phase of the Center, more than 40 interdisciplinary research projects on an integrated bioecononomy were financed by the federal state of NRW. In the second funding phase, the BioSC FocusLabs will receive funding for a three-year period to develop solutions for the global challenges addressed by the Bioeconomy.

Multidisciplinary Focus and Integrated Approach

The FocusLabs AP³ and Bio2 are concerned with “integrated biorefineries for sustainable production and processing,” while the CombiCom FocusLab investigates “modular biotransformations for high-value chemicals.” The BioSc FocusLabs are characterized by high-quality research from a multidisciplinary perspective that follows an integrated approach.

The AP³ FocusLab focuses on the start of the value chain, investigating the sustainable utilization of perennial biomass, for example from Sida or Silphium plants, sources which do not compete with food crops. The plants are selected based on the characteristics of the resulting biomass, such as its cellulose content, and its suitability for the biorefinery process and the desired product. At the same time, in line with the integrated approach, the biorefinery processes are adapted to the characteristics of the biomass. This makes it possible to sustainably and efficiently separate the biomass into sugar, cellulose, and lignin, for example, which in turn can serve as basis for valuable products such as biosurfactants. The FocusLab is coordinated by Dr. Holger Klose from the RWTH Institute for Biology I.

The Bio2 FocusLab deals with one of the possible (end) products of a biorefinery, that is, the development of biosurfactants, which are widely used in detergents, for example. Biosurfactants are biodegradable and less toxic than conventional surfactants from crude oil. The production from biosurfactants, however, is more expensive – thus, it is one of the aims of Bio2 to develop an innovative, competitive biorefinery process based on sugars and hydrolyzed plant components for the manufacture of biosurfactants. The Bio2 Lab is coordinated by Dr. Lars Regestein from the Department of Chemical Engineering AVT.

The CombiCom FocusLab is concerned with natural products, so-called secondary metabolites, which are part of the natural immune systems of plants and provide a promising basis for bioactive substances. With the help of synthetic biology, ComiCom will open up new pathways towards the sustainable production of these valuable natural materials and biochemicals based on them. These can be used in the development of new agrochemicals and pharmaceuticals. The CombiCom FocusLab is coordinated by Dr. Anita Loeschcke from the Institute of Molecular Enzymtechnology at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf.

Furthermore, the BioSc addresses the topic of “smart management for plant performance.” In addition to the FocusLabs, the Center is planning to establish a competence platform titled “Economy, Strategies, and Concepts.”