Prof. Dr. Ulrich Schurr (Forschungszentrum Jülich) stated in his introduction that the solutions to the global challenges - population growth, increasing consumption and the replacement of fossil fuels by renewable resources - must be worked out regionally, since each region has different natural spaces, actors and resources. In the course of the structural change caused by the phase-out of coal, the Rhenish mining area has the opportunity to become a living lab for bioeconomy as part of a sustainable economy. The region's strengths are agriculture, which benefits from good soil and climate conditions, a strong industry and a high density of educational and research institutions, including three scientific excellence clusters and the BioSC.
In the first session "New integrated agricultural production systems", Prof. Dr. Heiner Kuhlmann (University of Bonn) presented the PhenoRob excellence cluster, which develops digital technologies for the management of agricultural land. This involves the detection of plant characteristics or the investigation of the root area, but also the development of autonomous field robots, for example for sowing or weed control. Erich Gussen (farmer and chairman of the Rheinischer Landwirtschaftsverband) then gave a lecture on the possibilities of modern plant breeding to adapt crop plants to changing climatic conditions and presented the vision of a Rhenish "food valley" based on science and agriculture. Prof. Ulrich Schwaneberg (RWTH Aachen/DWI) presented the greenRelease technology, which allows the controlled and economical release of fertilisers and pesticides over a longer period of time using biodegradable microgel containers that adhere to the plant surface with the aid of anchor peptides.
In the second session "Biorefineries as the basis for new agricultural value creation concepts", Dr. Holger Klose (Forschungszentrum Jülich) presented various concepts for the use of alternative biomass, such as the fertilisation of biomass plants with fermentation residues from biogas plants, the use of lignin from solubilised vegetable biomass as a starting substance for high-quality chemicals and materials and the recovery of phosphate and nitrate from wastewater with the aid of algae. Dr. Jörn Viell (RWTH Aachen) presented the NGP2 biorefinery, which makes it possible to test and further develop new research methods on a pilot scale and thus bridge the gap between research and commercialisation. Andreas Dering (farmer and managing director of the Maschinenring e.V.) reported on the numerous projects of the agricultural association Maschinenring e.V., such as the construction and operation of biogas plants in Baesweiler and Ameln or the development of a tracking software for agricultural vehicles.
In the third session "Regional implementation and value creation potentials" Prof. Dr. Ralf Pude (University of Bonn) informed about the ecological advantages of the cultivation of perennial plants such as Miscanthus or Silphium in agricultural hem areas. He presented impressive examples of the use of these plants, such as the production of lightweight concrete or peat substitutes. Prof. Dr. Stefanie Bröring (University of Bonn) described the massively changing industry logic in the agricultural sector, in particular the progressive integration of the IT and agrifood sectors, and discussed the options and risks that arise for start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises. Heiko Thomas from the Ministry of the Environment, Agriculture, Nature and Consumer Protection of NRW presented the "Platform for Food and Agriculture, Innovation and Sustainability in the Rhenish mining area (PLAIN-RR)", which will initiate and support processes and projects for the (further) development of the region. PLAIN-RR involves numerous stakeholders, from associations such as the Rheinischer Landwirtschaftsverband to universities and research institutions to various state and federal ministries.
In the lively discussions at the end of the sessions, it was repeatedly discussed that agriculture is already making a major contribution to value creation in the Rhenish mining area and that a discussion on current social ideas and demands on agriculture is urgently needed. Ecology and biodiversity were seen as central topics, as were digitalisation and new value creation models. The participants, who came from such diverse fields as science, (agricultural) economy, politics, administration and civil society, used the event intensively to network.