Topic 7: Sustainable bioeconomy – harnessing the potential of nature

Grafik Topic 7: Helmholtz-Forschungsprogramm 2021 - 2027: "Changing Earth - Sustaining our Future"

“Our mission is to contribute to a bioeconomy that delivers sustainably produced foodstuffs and renewable resources while also reducing the environmental footprint of the world’s population.”

Harry Vereecken, Forschungszentrum Jülich, Speaker Topic 7

It is one of the key questions that will shape our future: How can we build a sustainable economy that meets humanity’s needs while at the same time not putting the Earth’s natural resources under excess strain? And moreover, how can we achieve this when, in 2050, there might be almost ten billion people living on our planet?

The answers to these questions could lie in a sustainable bioeconomy and thus in an intact circular economy. Instead of consuming food, chemicals, and energy sources based on natural resources to excess, as has been the case up to now, we must find ways of using natural resources sustainably. This means handling raw materials and products with care, using them for as long as possible, and recycling them at the end of their service life to recover materials or energy. Taking these steps helps ecosystems to continue to provide their functions and services and reduces the pressure on the atmosphere, water, and biodiversity.

It is therefore our goal to develop new technologies in the field of plant genotypes, bioinformatics, and biotechnology. This means, for example, studying plant genotypes that can be used to increase agricultural yields but at the same time require less fertilizer and less irrigation. We also want to analyze the genetic and biochemical properties of microbes and microbial communities, for example, in order to grow CO2-fixing bacteria or break down biomass in biorefineries to produce usable raw materials.

In addition, we formulate concepts to realize this shift toward a sustainable economy from both economic and technical perspectives, in particular with the help of digitalization and data science.

For this to be successful, knowledge about biological systems must be integrated into engineering developments. One area of focus involves agroecosystems, which, on the one hand, are important locations for the production of food and, on the other, have a key role to play in terms of biodiversity. We aim to develop practical solutions and technologies for these systems that farmers can use to protect the environment and at the same time produce sufficient yields from their fields.