For decades, the Rheinische Revier area has been shaped by lignite mining and agriculture. Against the background of structural change, an entire region now aims to transform from an economy based on lignite to a more sustainable economy, the bioeconomy. The unique characteristics of the region provide opportunities but also challenges. In the competence platform project Transform2Bio, we are investigating how a regional transformation can nevertheless succeed.
Germany plans to phase out lignite mining for energy generation by 2038. This implies far-reaching structural change for the regions concerned: The Lausitz, Mitteldeutsche, Helmstedt and Rheinische mining areas. The largest lignite mining region in Germany is the Rheinische Revier in North Rhine-Westphalia. It currently comprises three opencast mines: Garzweiler, Hambach and Inden. Accordingly, new employment opportunities need to be created to compensate for the jobs directly (approx. 9,000) and indirectly (approx. 93,000) affected. At the same time, the transformation also calls for the development of a common vision for a sustainable economic model based on biological resources and knowledge. This requires the involvement of a large number of relevant stakeholders from the region.
The Rheinische Revier consists of several districts: The districts of Düren, Euskirchen, Heinsberg, Rhein-Erft, Neuss, the city-region Aachen and the city of Mönchengladbach. Economically, the region is strongly interconnected with the surrounding metropolises (including Cologne, Bonn, Düsseldorf). A clear demarcation of the Rheinische Revier from the surrounding districts and cities is therefore not appropriate. For the analyses of the project, we thus consider the project region according to the concept of breathing boundaries. Depending on the object of investigation, either the core region (defined by the municipalities bordering the lignite-mines), the extended project region (defined by the above-mentioned districts), or beyond this, a complete value chain is considered.
Regional strengths for the bioeconomy
Today, the Rheinische Revier is economically, ecologically and socially shaped in many different ways. Because of the favorable climate and fertile soils, agricultural production plays an important role in large parts of the region. Due to the immediate proximity to the large metropolitan areas along the Rhine and the previously inexpensive supply of energy, many large industrial companies have settled here. The chemical industry, in particular, is of high significance, as 30% of Germany's capacities for cracking and refining are located in North Rhine-Westphalia. The Rheinische Revier itself is also home to numerous innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Furthermore, it is characterized by a robust research landscape due to the numerous universities and non-university research institutions.
In our project, we analyze in close cooperation with affected stakeholders from the Rheinische Revier, which bio-based value chains are particularly suitable for the region. Especially due to the large-scale protests concerning the Hambacher Forst, the region received notable attention, both nationally and internationally. Following the Federal Government's decision to phase out lignite mining, there is still a dynamic involvement of a large number of societal actors and interest groups who want to actively contribute to the future development of the region. Unlike almost any other region, the Rheinische Revier is thus suitable to successfully shape the transformation to a sustainable bioeconomy and analyze the related social dynamics. For this analysis, we not only conduct own workshops and surveys with stakeholders, but we also engage with them in direct exchange during the official participation process for the structural change.
Organization of the structural change process
The Economic and Structural Program (WSP) 1.0, published on December 12, 2019, provides the basis for the structural change process and future projects funded within this framework. This program was formally adopted by the Zukunftsagentur Rheinisches Revier, which is responsible for identifying suitable projects to be funded. The program was developed in a participatory process in which representatives of the regional players were able to contribute through written statements and by participating in conferences each dedicated to a specific topic (Revierknotenkonferenzen). Here, the bioeconomy was part of the subject area "agribusiness and resources" for which around 170 representatives from local politics, associations, agriculture, industry and research institutions, among others, came together in October 2019 in order to provide content impulses. The WSP 1.0, developed based on these conferences, sets out a long-term vision, including an integrated bioeconomy in which food as well as biological resources and bio-based products are produced regionally and are part of a closed cycle. At subsequent subject area conferences, the WSP 1.0 received stakeholder feedback in the form of written statements and surveys, which will feed into an updated version 1.1. Within the framework of Transform2Bio, we are scientifically accompanying and evaluating this process.
Prof. Dr. Jan Börner
ILR – Economics of Sustainable Land Use and Bioeconomy
Prof. Dr. Joachim von Braun
ZEF - Economic and Technological Change
Dr. Wilhelm Kuckshinrichs
IEK-STE – Systems Analysis and Technology Evaluation
Prof. Dr. Ulrich Schurr
IBG-2 – Plant Sciences