Novel Containers for Active Ingredients and Modular Biotransformations – BioSC Launches Two New FocusLabs




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Integrative research approaches that support the transition to a sustainable bioeconomy in NRW – the objective of the two new FocusLabs, which are being funded for three years beginning in 2018.


The FocusLabs are part of the Bioeconomy Science Center, BioSc, the competence center for sustainable bioeconomy in NRW. Scientists from all four partner institutions of BioSc are involved in the FocusLabs. RWTH is represented by the Chair of Biotechnology, chaired by Professor Ulrich Schwaneberg, and Biochemical Engineering – Aachener Verfahrenstechnik AVT– chaired by Professor Jochen Büchs.

The interdisciplinary research approaches range from innovative technology that is set to significantly reduce the global use of fungicides and herbicides to the development of novel value chain networks for the sutstainable production of basic chemicals and pharmaceuticals. The Ministry of Culture and Science is investing a total of 4.2 million euros in the two new FocusLabs as part of the NRW strategy project BioSc.

greenRelease FocusLab

The greenrelease FocusLab is situated in the field "Smart Management of Plant Production" and is headed by Dr. Felix Jakob of RWTH Aachen. Scientists are developing small biodegradable containers made of microgels, which can attach through tailor-made anchor peptides to leaves or fruits and which are additionally rainproof. These containers can release herbicides or fungicides as needed. The microgels make it possible to control the dosage of the active agent, significantly reducing the worldwide use of herbicides and fungicides and sparing the environment.

greenRelease technology will first be tested on apples, potatoes, sugar beets, and barley. The FocusLab is also conducting analyses of market entry options and studies on the market acceptance of greenRelease technology to evalute the potential introduction of greenRelease technology to the market.

HyImPAct FocusLab

The HylmPAct FocusLab, part of the "Modular Biotransformations to Produce Valuable Chemicals," is headed by Dr. Stephan Noack at Forschungszentrum Jülich. The FocusLab is pursuing the concept "multi substrate – multi product" processes for interwoven value networks. Biotechnological and chemical processes are tightly integrated to establish a hybrid process. HylmPAct aims at a major breakthrough in this field, beginning with the sugar D-xylose, by designing a complex hybrid example process for the combined production of active pharmaceutical ingredients and their bulk chemical precursors, such as the amino acid L-alanine. Different biocatalysts based on individual enzymes and microorganism cells are optimally combined with each other to achieve this production. The entire hybrid process, with a growing range of target products, will be analyzed and evaluted with consideration given to economic – alternative value added – and ecological – carbon footprint – aspects.

The five FocusLab projects will be funded with over 11 million euros during the second funding period of the NRW BioSc Strategy Project. Three of the labs were selected during the first round – CombiCom, AP3, and Bio2 – and began work in spring of 2017. The new FocusLabs greenRelease and HyImPAct are starting their work at the beginning of 2018. All FocusLabs collaborate with each other and significantly contribute to the implementation of a sustainable bioeconomy in NRW. BioSc focuses on the research areas "Smart Management of Plant Production," "Integrated Biorefining for Sustainable Production and Processing," and "Modular Biotransformations for Producting Valuable Chemicals" as well as the competence platform "Economy, Strategy, and Concepts."

The BioSc, founded in 2010 by the four partners RWTH Aachen, Friedrich Wilhelms University in Bonn, Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf, and Forschungszentrum Jülich, is receiving funding from the State of NRW for at least ten years. In the first funding period there were over 40 BioSc research projects on integrated bioeconomy. The FocusLabs in phase 2 represent the formation of larger and longer term research cooperations.