From fossil resources to sustainable use

To conserve our resources for humans, animals and plants, we must reduce the exploitation of these resources to a level that is ecologically sustainable.

We are also witnessing a step change away from an industry dependent on fossil resources to a bio-based economy largely geared to raw materials grown in fields and forests. The material use of biomass as part of a bio-based economy is gaining importance along with the use of biomass as an energy source.

In many respects, high standards of living are still hard to imagine without fossil raw materials. Fossil raw materials 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 industry and business sectors. The scarcer oil, shale gas and coal get, however, the more expensive they will tend to become. Moreover, the use of fossil raw materials is responsible for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions and thus for ongoing climate change. The world's population will grow from almost eight billion to an estimated nine billion by 2050. This will increase the demand for raw materials even further.

The bio-based economy – key for a shift in industry and society

In order to maintain Germany's status as a leading industrial nation in the long term and to preserve the environment, the Federal Government has begun reversing the trend with a move towards a sustainable bioeconomy; the Federal Cabinet adopted the National Bioeconomy Strategy in early 2020. The bioeconomy encompasses the production, development and use of biological resources, processes and systems to provide all economic sectors with products, processes and services. These include fisheries, agriculture, forestry, food production and the use of renewable resources. The bioeconomy has the potential to foster new products and processes that contribute to safeguarding resources and generating prosperity.

With the National Bioeconomy Strategy, the Federal Government is promoting the necessary transition in industry and society toward a more sustainable and more bio-based economy. The Strategy builds on the “2030 National Research Strategy for BioEconomy” and the “National Bioeconomy Policy Strategy” and pools the political activities. One important principle is to arrive at a sustainable and circular economy based on biogenic resources.

Specific measures must be taken to safeguard sustainable production, provide biogenic resources, build and develop bio-economic value chains and networks, develop tools for marketing and establishing bio-based products, processes and services, and harness digitalisation for the bioeconomy.

Research is key to recognising and tapping the potential of the bioeconomy.

Research strategies by the Federal Government and the EU

The Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), supported by the Agency for Renewable Resources (FNR) (the project executing agency), funds research and development of biomass generation and use as part of the Support Scheme for Renewable Resources. As of February 2020, more than 3,900 projects have received funds totalling over EUR 1 billion. The projects focus e.g. on new cultivation systems, bio-refinery strategies, cascading uses, area productivity and the breeding of specific crops. The BMEL regularly announces new research focus areas, for which research institutions, companies and associations can submit project proposals.

The European Commission also considers the market for bio-based products to be one of six particularly promising markets of the future. Currently, the EU is funding basic and applied bioeconomy research to the tune of EUR 3.85 billion under the EU Horizon 2020 framework programme. For the period 2021 to 2027, a further EUR 10 billion are earmarked to fund research on food and natural resources under the new EU “Horizon Europe” research framework programme.

Adding value in the regions

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

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