An estimated ten billion people are expected to be living on Earth in 2050 – that is 2.5 billion more than today. How can we supply all these people with sufficient food, energy, and raw materials? Fossil resources, i.e. oil, gas, and coal, are viewed as a dead end since their supply is limited and they also exacerbate the greenhouse effect. Research, politics, and industry therefore prioritize a sustainable, bio-based recycling economy: a bioeconomy. The latter relies on plants, bio-waste, and other bio-based materials as sources for the raw materials of the future.
The concept is well-established: after all, humanity has lived off what nature provided in fields, forests, and waters for thousands of years. But the bioeconomy does not represent a return to the supposed “good old days”. It is all about a radical rethinking of old ways, gaining a fresh perspective of the toolbox that nature provides and the variety of renewable raw materials, their sustainable cultivation, and the economic and creative application of state-of-the-art research and technology.
1) PEF is short for polyethylene furanoate. The plastic from plant raw materials is viewed as the packaging material of the future, particularly for foodstuffs and drinks.
2) The oil-based plastic polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is particularly known for its use in disposable plastic bottles. In Germany, approximately 15 % of all plastic packaging is made from PET.
Many nations have introduced bioeconomy-based strategies. The energy supply is increasingly fed by regenerative or renewable sources. Agriculture cultivates resistant and productive plants, and industry has replaced a multitude of previously oil-based products with bio-based materials and is researching further alternatives. In addition to bioenergy and chemicals made from plants – such as the plastic polyethylene furanoate (PEF) from which plastic bottles are made – there are also car parts reinforced by natural fibres, dandelion-based tyres, wall plugs made from castor oil, kerosene from algae, and biodiesel and lubricants from renewable raw materials. The cycle is complete if these products are completely recyclable, can be used as energy carriers, or serve as fertilizer for plants or nutrients for microorganisms.
The bioeconomy depends on the expertise and cooperation of many different fields of science. The Jülich-coordinated Bioeconomy Science Center (BioSC) pools the competences of more than 1,200 engineers, biologists, agricultural scientists, economists, and technicians from more than 60 institutes at the universities of Bonn and Düsseldorf, RWTH Aachen University, and Forschungszentrum Jülich.
Together, they develop plants and microorganisms as well as technical processes for the sustainable production of foodstuffs, feed, and raw and useful materials, as well as the generation of bioenergy. They are also working on socio-economic implementation strategies and concepts in order to drive the transformation towards a bio-based economy.
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