The dawn of industrial biotechnology and the bioeconomy
With my appointment and move to Stuttgart in December 2007, a unique opportunity arose for me to combine basic and applied research at one location, first in the field of industrial biotechnology and later in the bioeconomy.
The conditions for this were very good, as the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft had recognized the importance of industrial biotechnology as early as 2005 and subsequently developed it as an area for innovation. We have now seen several projects on white biotechnology at Fraunhofer IGB, such as the production of lactic acid from whey. These were initiated by my predecessor Professor Herwig Brunner and his deputy Professor Walter Trösch. At the University of Stuttgart fundamental scientific work on bioprocess technology has been carried out since the 1980s, initially under the leadership of Professor Horst Chmiel and, since 1994, under the direction of Professor Herwig Brunner at the new Institute of Interfacial Process Engineering which I had the privilege of heading in a combined position from 2008 to 2015 and was renamed the Institute of Interfacial Process Engineering and Plasma Technology at the turn of the year 2012/2013.
Building on the strategic process executed in 2008 together with all the employees at Fraunhofer IGB, and with financial support provided by the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and the University of Stuttgart within the context of my appointment plus the significant dedication shown by employees at both institutes, we succeeded in developing the subject of industrial biotechnology and closely related topics as a starting point, working with partners from industry and other scientific institutions and firmly anchoring these subjects at both institutes for the long term. On this basis, we then jointly developed the area of the bioeconomy.
I am particularly grateful for the opportunity I was given to be a member of the first Bioeconomy Council of the German federal government and participate in developing the first bioeconomy strategy for Germany. Later, I was also able to help shape the Bioeconomy Baden-Württemberg research program by chairing the steering committee. This generated valuable momentum that has had a decisive and lasting influence on the development of not only Fraunhofer IGB, but also the IGVP. The establishment of the Fraunhofer Center for Chemical-Biotechnological Processes CBP at the Leuna chemical site, which was officially opened in 2012 by then-German Chancellor Angela Merkel, was another major milestone. The activities in Leuna and Stuttgart formed the basis for the success achieved in the German Federal Parliament’s Leading Edge Cluster Competition and the launch of the BioEconomy Leading Edge Cluster, which also led to the establishment of bioeconomy companies at the Leuna site.
In addition to bioeconomy matters, which were certainly the central building block of Fraunhofer IGB’s strategic development from 2007 to 2015, we also developed and expanded on other topics, such as water treatment and nutrient recovery, membrane processes, electrochemistry, pharmaceutical biotechnology and plasma technology. As a result, Fraunhofer IGB has become a beacon for science that has international visibility and sustainable funding.
When I look back on my time at Fraunhofer IGB today, I do so with gratitude, as I was able to develop and implement important subjects for science and industry together with the employees there. I was also able to ensure that the institute was prepared for the future and, most significantly, give a wealth of young people something to take with them into their professional futures.
I would like to wish Fraunhofer IGB all the very best on the occasion of its 70th birthday and hope it achieves every success in its development along its future path, combining biology, engineering and the development of processes, technologies and products for health, sustainable chemistry, the environment and climate protection.