From a carbon-based to a bio-based economy

Step by step, we are witnessing the fundamental shift from an industry dependent on fossil resources to a bio-based economy largely geared to raw materials grown in fields and forests. Alongside the use of biomass as a source of energy, its use as a material is also becoming increasingly important.

In many respects, high standards of living are still hard to imagine without fossil raw materials. Apart from providing fuel, they supply the basis for many chemically manufactured products such as plastics, detergents, lubricants, medicinal products, building materials, cosmetics and textiles. A secure supply of raw materials is indispensable for all sectors of industry and business. But petroleum, natural gas and coal are becoming steadily more expensive. This is partly the result of the slowly dwindling resources. But it is also due to the massive technological efforts and enormous costs involved in tapping new sources. The use of fossil raw materials is responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions and thus for ongoing climate change. Furthermore, the world's population will grow from seven billion to an estimated nine billion by 2050. This will increase the demand for raw materials even further.

In order to maintain Germany's status as a leading industrial nation and to preserve the environment in the face of these global developments, the Federal Government has begun reversing the trend with a move towards innovative forms of sustainable economic activity in line with national climate protection policy. The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) launched the "action plan on the material usage of renewable raw materials" in 2009 – a package of measures with twelve areas of action.

The focus lies on innovative technologies which aim to make a crucial contribution to mastering the upcoming challenges. The most important task is to safeguard the global food supply, e.g. through crops with high yields. Special species are able to withstand diseases, pests and adverse climate conditions. In addition to that, the rising worldwide demand for industrial products must be covered. We thus need alternatives to fossil raw materials which can be produced and processed without negatively impacting on the environment and the climate. The bio-based economy is characterised by natural materials cycles. It is based on the scientific knowledge and chemical-technical use of biomass. The agricultural and forestry sectors increasingly serve not only as sources of nutrition for humans and animals, but also as the raw materials base for sustainable, bio-based economy and industry.

Regionally valuable

The bio-based economy also offers possibilities for broadening the spectrum of cultivated crop species: the range of industrial crops is much wider than the spectrum of the major food and forage crops. If renewable raw materials are furthermore processed and consumed in the region where they are cultivated, transportation distances are kept short and new jobs are created in the locality. Bio-based economic activity thus offers new prospects for the future - especially for rural areas in Germany.

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© Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture