The role of Fraunhofer IGB in developing the bioeconomy
My first contact with Fraunhofer IGB dates back to 2005/2006, around the time when European bioeconomy efforts began as part of the preparations for the European Union’s 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technology, which started in 2007. A few months after the official launch and publication of the concept behind the Knowledge-Based Bioeconomy (KBBE) in September 2005, with the Charlemagne building in Brussels providing the location for the event, a whole host of institute directors and employees of Fraunhofer institutes contacted me in the Brussels office thanks to involvement from the active local Fraunhofer office. These directors and employees had all been grouped together under the Fraunhofer Group for Life Sciences for a number of years and included Prof. Rainer Fischer from Fraunhofer IME and Prof. Thomas Hirth, at that time still at Fraunhofer ICT in Pfinztal. A major research institution, Fraunhofer was actually the only research institution in Germany at the time that showed interest as an entire entity in helping to shape the KBBE content in the first calls to tender for the 7th Framework Programme. This then changed abruptly between 12 and 15 months later, when the KBBE initiative, endowed with approximately two billion euros, started up as part of the 7th Framework Programme in 2007 under the German presidency. During this time, the now almost legendary Cologne Paper on the future of the bioeconomy for Europe was produced. All the major German research institutions became very actively involved from that point.
Cooperation with Fraunhofer IGB then intensified from 2007 when Thomas Hirth succeeded Herwig Brunner at its head. After my retirement, in 2009 I was successful in having Thomas Hirth appointed as a member of the first German Bioeconomy Council – then called the Bioeconomy Research and Technology Council – as a kind of representative for Fraunhofer. The years that followed saw a rapid boost to the bioeconomy in Germany, at least in the field of research and technology. Fraunhofer IGB has made a unique contribution to this with the founding of BioCat in Straubing and, most importantly, the founding of Fraunhofer CBP in Leuna, which was inaugurated by the German Chancellor in 2012 and marked the very beginnings of the first German commercial biorefinery. The naming of the Halle bioregion as Germany’s first bioeconomy excellence cluster felt like the logical next step following on from this work.
But then came more difficult times, which are now thankfully behind us. Under Markus Wolperdinger, Fraunhofer IGB has regained a key technological and scientific position for the development of the bioeconomy, both within Fraunhofer (where the Group for Life Sciences has been partially replaced by the Group for Resource Technologies and Bioeconomy, in which Fraunhofer IGB plays a leading role) and beyond. Markus Wolperdinger has become deputy chairman of the third German Bioeconomy Council, which advises the German federal government, as well as spokesperson for the Bioeconomy Council of the state of Baden-Württemberg.
Besides all these very noteworthy details, there are two things in particular that come to mind when I talk about Fraunhofer IGB.
- The strong and successful role that Fraunhofer IGB has played and continues to play in the EU’s funding programs, which is not something that can be taken for granted.
- The fact that Fraunhofer IGB is always several steps ahead in the dynamics of social and economic challenges and the technological response to this:
- When it comes to the shortage of phosphorus as a raw material, and its potential recovery from sludge and wastewater – We’re already on it.
- What about exploiting the potential of chitin and chitosan from seafood waste? – We’re already working on three projects in this area.
- Upscaling? – Fraunhofer CBP has been doing this for years.
In this way, Fraunhofer IGB has shown commitment and foresight in the work it has done – over almost two decades now – in supporting the necessary changes in the use of raw materials in our economy and on our planet by combining biology and engineering. The war in Ukraine and the Covid pandemic that came before it have made us even more acutely aware of the critical importance of this change in approach than even the climate challenges we have been facing. My 70th birthday wish from an 80-year-old supporter of the institute is to keep up the good work – and shout more about your work in Europe!