At the end of May, the first German-Chinese workshop on the role of biotechnology in a future bioeconomy was held at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) with generous support from the Baden-Württemberg government. Researchers from Chinese Academy of Sciences institutes (Tianjin, Dalian, Tsingtau) and from the Chinese Universities of Beijing, Nanking and Shanghai met with Baden-Württemberg experts to discuss the current state of research in China and Germany as well as concepts related to future biobased industrial production.
Baden-Württemberg has had close ties with the Eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu in the field of biotechnology for several years. Since both Germany and China are heavily backing the transition from a fossil-based to a sustainable, biobased economy, the “Biotechnology in a Bioeconomy” workshop was jointly organized by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the Nanjing Institute of Technology, the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts and supported by BIOPRO Baden-Württemberg GmbH with the aim of enabling the exchange of information and experiences.
A top-class scientific delegation from China participated in the workshop and was able to exchange experiences and information with their German colleagues through a total of 33 scientific lectures. The German participants contributed information mainly from projects funded under the Baden-Württemberg government’s new “Baden-Württemberg Bioeconomy” funding programme.
Germany is specifically focused on the sustainable production of bioenergy and chemicals and therefore specifically interested in raw materials for achieving this. Potential solutions were presented by Iris Lewandowski (University of Hohenheim, Stuttgart), whose work focuses on turning Miscanthus species into high-yield energy plants, Robert Greb from badenova AG & Co. KG, a supplier of biomethane in the Freiburg region, and Thomas Hirth (Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB) who is working on the pilot-scale production of isobutene from straw and wood waste at the Fraunhofer Centre for Chemical-Biotechnological Processes in Leuna. China has a huge volume of raw materials that can be used for bioeconomic processes: every year, around 700 million tonnes of straw accumulate from the cultivation of rice, wheat and corn, much of which is burned, thereby contributing to a large extent to China’s air pollution. On the other hand, large quantities of food waste accumulate, which can be turned into biogas and biodiesel. In addition, the Chinese coast has a great deal of space for the cultivation of algae that can be processed into biomass and triglycerides. Reports on the production of biogas from straw (Xiaohua LU and Honghua JIA, Nanjing Tech University), the production of triglycerides and alkanes from biomass and algae (Zhongbao ZHAO, CAS Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics; Xuefeng LU and Shiqi JI, CAS Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology), and the synthesis of succinic acid from biomass (Min JIANG, Nanjing Tech University) highlighted Chinese competence in these fields.
The Jiangsu province has a similar population to Germany and plays a key role in the field of industrial biotechnology in China, as the workshop clearly showed.
The workshop provided excellent insights into the current state of research in Germany and China as well as into concepts related to future biobased industrial production. Sufficient availability of inexpensive ‘non-food’ raw materials for use in biotechnological production and the importance of CO2-neutral process management were identified as key issues as both countries move towards a biobased economy. The cultivation of microalgae (“CO2 to lipids”) as well as fermentation methods based on synthesis gas (the use of CO and H2 as carbon and energy source for non-phototrophic microorganisms) will play an important role.
The workshop also provided an interesting platform for exchanging information on research structures and research funding concepts and new education and training concepts in the bioeconomy field. In order to facilitate scientific exchange in the field of biotechnology, Baden-Württemberg runs a scholarship programme that enables up-and-coming scientists from Baden-Württemberg to spend some time in China (see link on the right-hand side).
Overall, many common themes were identified and have the potential to be used for intensifying German-Chinese cooperation. The workshop participants agreed that biotechnology will play a key role in the bioeconomy. Another workshop, organized by the Chinese partners, is already planned for 2015.