FAU News

Sustainable raw materials for industry

FAU researchers co-ordinate new collaborative project on developing processes in biotechnology for use in industry

Industry is changing its thinking, moving away from finite resources and towards sustainable production that conserves resources. Applications in industrial biotechnology (IBT) have considerable potential to drive forward biology-based production processes and accelerate this transition.

FAU’s Chair of Bioprocess Engineering was commissioned by the Bavarian State Ministry of the Environment and Consumer Protection (StMUV) to design the concept for the collaborative project BayBiotech, which it will also be co-ordinating. The three-year project will involve FAU and two other Bavarian universities working on two main topics to develop biotechnical processes for use in industry. On 3 February, Ulrike Scharf from the Bavarian State Ministry of the Environment and Consumer Protection presented the research grant of two million euros at the official launch event.

Incredibly important for the future of our country

‘It is incredibly important for the future of our country that we use our finite resources sparingly and intelligently,’ Ms Scharf emphasised. ‘We therefore need to change our approach to raw materials – for economical and ecological reasons. The new project will enable us to develop innovative solutions in biotechnology that will conserve resources. Alongside the existing ForCycle project, BayBiotech is another important research and development initiative that will help us to achieve our major goal of transforming how we use raw materials. FAU’s high-quality concept considers how resources can be conserved in all elements of the project.’

This is not the first time that the team of bioprocess engineers led by Prof. Dr. Rainer Buchholz have demonstrated their expertise in the field of industrial biotechnology. In the past they have worked on the ForCycle project which aims to reduce Bavarian industry’s reliance on the raw materials market, studied how to recover rare earths using algae, used the waste product crude glycerine for the biosynthesis of useful products and bioactive substances, and produced hydrogen using algae. In light of this, it made sense for the Bavarian State Ministry of the Environment and Consumer Protection to ask them to design a collaborative project that would drive IBT forward.

‘The transition to a sustainable and resource-efficient industry can succeed with the help of industrial biotechnology. The new project is an opportunity to drive forward developments in this area. The ministry choosing us to co-ordinate the project is further confirmation of how strong FAU’s research is,’ explains BayBiotech speaker Professor Buchholz.

Industrial biotechnology: sustainable and resource-efficient

The aim of IBT is to implement processes from biotechnology in production processes. A wide range of products – such as fine chemicals, food and feed additives, and pharmaceutical substances – could be produced using biological processes based on biomass waste as an alternative to traditional processes such as chemical synthesis or conversion. For example, low-energy biomass waste from agriculture which is currently used in energy production could be used to produce biodegradable plastics or fine chemicals, which would be a considerably more valuable way of using it. IBT is therefore of interest for a broad variety of applications in various industries – from the chemical and automotive industries to the mechanical engineering and agricultural sectors.

The new project ‘Ressourcenschonende Biotechnologie in Bayern – BayBiotech’ in which FAU will collaborate with the University of Bayreuth and Technische Universität München (TUM) aims to improve the conservation of resources in order to make a considerable contribution to the Bavarian government’s sustainability strategy and help protect the environment. BayBiotech is focusing on two main topics – biopolymers and conserving resources – each of which is subdivided into three specialist projects and one co-ordination project.

Increasing awareness

The full potential of high quality research findings can only be used when many people know about and are able to apply them. For this reason, a team of FAU researchers led by Prof. Dr. Rainer Buchholz and Dr. Ludwig Körber will be responsible for co-ordinating the project, which will involve providing technical and academic assistance, organising the project and presenting its progress to a wider audience. They will ensure that the various research groups are able to exchange results and ideas quickly and efficiently, and will communicate with the public and representatives from industry – the people who will eventually use IBT – and researchers working on other projects with similar topics. Furthermore, the FAU experts will evaluate the results, taking into account the wider socio-economic background, to ensure that they can be used effectively in the long term.

Focus 1: Biopolymers

This topic will involve researchers studying how biodegradable plastics can be produced. These biopolymers will be based on biomass waste or carbon dioxide as an alternative to oil, the finite raw material that currently dominates the polymer industry. As biopolymers can also be used in combination with other polymers, they could soon become an important part of a new sustainable polymer industry based on biological resources.

Focus 2: Conserving resources

The second key topic is conserving resources and will involve researchers studying biocatalytic processes which can be used in the production of fine chemicals, for example, and can be more economical and environmentally friendly than traditional chemical processes. Another of the specialist projects within this topic will focus on using acetic acid bacteria as catalysts in order to use sugar and alcohol as raw materials. The third specialist project will investigate biofilms, which can enable biocatalysts to be used very effectively in certain situations.

More information about the BayBiotech project is available at www.baybiotech.de.

Further information:

Prof. Dr. Rainer Buchholz
Phone: +49 9131 8523003

Dr. Ludwig Körber
Phone: +49 9131 8523184