From the start of phase 2 on, the development of the NRW Strategy Project BioSC is defined by scientific key topics. Three Focus Topic Areas and a Competence Platform set the frame for all funded activities.
Plants are of major importance for the establishment of a sustainable bioeconomy. They are the key to meet the growing demand for food and feed and to ensure the supply with renewable energy sources and feedstocks in a sustainable way. World-wide research efforts concerning breeding, plant protection, fertilization and improved cultivation methods have already contributed significantly to the improvement of agricultural production and the increase of yield and quality.
Concept of the Focus Topic Area: Increasing the amount of available biomass requires interdisciplinary, sustainable and visionary concepts that allow resource-preserving and environmental-friendly enhancement of plant performance, adaptation of quality to the respective utilization pathway and minimization of yield and post-harvest losses. Modern interdisciplinary concepts offer opportunities that reach far beyond those of plant research to improve efficiency in water and nutrient use, to increase the yield potential and to enhance disease resistance and abiotic stress tolerance (e.g. against drought or salinization). The immediate connection between plant breeding, innovative cultivation methods and the production of high-value products is an essential element of this Focus Topic Area.
The development of biorefinery concepts and systems which integrate the provision of biomass and its conversion to products is a key element to achieve the transformation of an oil-based economy to a bioeconomy. This requires a paradigm shift: So far, the cultivation of crop plants mainly serves the provision of a primary final product. Now, in addition to the main product (e.g. food), the production of additional products ( e.g. proteins, terpenes, fibers or secondary metabolites) has to be optimized in an integrated biorefinery process. The development of integrated and flexible biorefineries (e.g. the research biorefinery NGP2) is of high relevance for this transformation process and for the development of efficient conversion processes for a wide range of educts.
Concept of the Focus Topic Area: A biorefinery has to process a broader range of educts than a conventional oil refinery, concerning mechanical properties, chemical composition and water content. The integrated and interdisciplinary approach of the BioSC offers a broad expertise to work on the different problems regarding choice, optimization and production of plant biomass (educts) as well as conception and combination of biorefinery processes in a holistic and flexible way.
Biotechnology in a sustainable bioeconomy will be characterized by new process chains where, due to biogenic raw materials, biotransformations will play an important role. Industrial biotechnology will have to move from the traditional way of thinking „One substrate – one product“ to a flexible integration of biotransformations in complex process chains. This integration needs a significantly enhanced flexibility and modularity in order to deal with varying amounts and qualities of raw materials and to tackle whole product classes. Biotransformations have to be combinable to classical chemical transformations and to the use of non-biogenic carbon sources. The engineering of raw material processing and downstream processing need to be kept in view.
Concept of the Focus Topic Area: Synthetic biology as a pulser for molecular biotechnology offers a variety of new concepts to meet these altered demands. The biggest chances of success lie in the field of high-value substances: fine chemicals, natural products or proteins. Since these substance classes have complex synthesis pathways, modular multi-step processes are most promising. The utilization of side streams offers considerable additional value creation, if, besides the main products, other high-value fine chemicals or pharmaceuticals can be obtained.
The scientific analysis and early incorporation of socio-economic questions into the development of technical solutions are essential to a successful development and implementation of an economically, ecologically and socially sustainable bioeconomy. Economic sciences build links between technological developments, products and processes, markets, politics and society. Therefore, the possibility to integrate economic research approaches and to include socio-economic expertises from the respective Core Groups is of high relevance for the BioSC and especially for research in the Focus Topic Areas. In addition to central economic questions, strategic and conceptual questions in bioeconomy are of high relevance, such as elaboration and scientific comparison of different research, implementation and regulation topics as well as structural aspects, how bioeconomy can efficiently contribute to solutions to the global challenges of the 21st century.