On October 6, 2020, the 5th NRW-wide PhD student day „Future Bioeconomy“ took place. At the virtual event, nearly 50 students discussed with representatives of small and medium-sized industry, with managers of research infrastructures and with founders of start-ups, both in plenary sessions and in intensive form in small groups in the afternoon.
As in previous years, the NRW PhD Day was organized by various graduate schools and bio-economic networks, which were presented at the beginning of the event (CLIB, CEPLAS, BioökonomieREVIER, Theodor Brinkmann Graduate School Uni Bonn, MPIPZ Graduate School, BioSC). Prof. Dr. Ulrich Schurr (Executive Board BioSC) combined introductory words with a short overview of the bioeconomy in the region. Afterwards the students were welcomed by RBr Dr. Steffen Krätzig, also on behalf of the Ministry of Culture and Science. Dr. Krätzig particularly emphasized the positive development of the BioSC as a co-designer of the bioeconomy in recent years and the exemplary character of this joint event under the coordination of the BioSC.
The scientific lecture part „Plant Biomass: Selection, Breeding, Cultivation“ was opened by Dr. Jens Freitag (IPK Gatersleben). He spoke mainly about the necessity that research institutes of basic research should always have contacts towards application in order to keep in focus what is really needed with regard to bioeconomy development. The subsequent presentation by Dr. Viktor Korzun (KWS SAAT SE & Co. KGaA) supplemented this with an overview of KWS' tasks for the preservation and improvement of seeds and showed that different strategies are sometimes pursued on different continents. The CRISPR/CAS gene scissor is a tool with which plants can be optimized in a targeted manner, but whose products are not approved as food on the European market. This topic was taken up and intensively discussed in the following discussion round. After a short break, the second series of lectures followed with the title „Biomass: Sustainable use, Processing and Products“. The first lecture was given by Dr. Arne Kätelhön (carbonminds), who shared his experience with the students about the foundation of a start-up company with a focus on Life Cycle Assessment. He emphasized the importance of aligning the product of a start-up company with the needs of the market and accordingly to seek contact with potential buyers and users at an early stage. In her presentation, Dr. Henrike Gebhardt (Evonik Industries) used various examples to show how important it is also in the development of biopolymers to consider the entire production process chain, i.e. from biomass cultivation to the entire upstream and downstream processing to the degradability or recyclability of the product. In the last presentation of the day, Dr. Timm Wagner (Adidas AG) gave an overview of the sporting goods manufacturer Adidas from the perspective of an innovation manager and its contribution to the conversion of the apparel industry to new products made of renewable raw materials and recycled plastics.
The afternoon was made very interactive with world cafés in smaller groups of 7-10 participants. The students were assigned to the speakers of the morning according to their wishes. In these rounds, the development of the bioeconomy and its relevance and acceptance in society were controversially discussed, including related areas such as biotechnology, genome editing, and land use issues. However, as always at the NRW PhD Days, not only science was in the foreground, but also the personal background or personal experiences of the speakers were discussed. This year's NRW PhD Day was concluded by Prof. Ingar Janzik, who thanked all participants for the extensive discussions and interactions and announced that there will be another NRW PhD Day „Future Bioeconomy“ in 2021.