Bioeconomy Science Center
Research and cooperation for a sustainable bioeconomy

Bioeconomy Science Center
Research and cooperation for a sustainable bioeconomy

Silphium Perfoliatum - Resource Evaluation And Development


Until today, just a limited number of crop species, predominantly silage maize, is used for renewable energy production from biomass in Germany. This trend resulted in extended monoculture cultivation in combination with an increased susceptibility to crop diseases/pests and a reduced biodiversity of insect and animal populations. Silphium perfoliatum L., a perennial plant from the family Asteraceae, represents an especially promising alternative. In addition to a biomass yield comparable with that of maize, this non-food plant possesses a highly ecological value due to its long blooming period, ability to grow in low-input agriculture and positive influence on soil structure.
The goals of the SPREAD project are (1) laying the cornerstone for the establishment and future breeding of this crop in Germany and (2) evaluation of the Silphium potential as renewable raw resource for new industrial applications. To meet these goals, the narrow European gene pool of cultivated S. perfoliatum will be enriched by new genotypes/ecotypes that will ensure sufficient germplasm diversity for crop improvement. First molecular tools, useful for breeding of the new crop, will be developed. To make the resource utilization more sustainable, cascade usage of the material is of advantage. For hundreds of years, Silphium has been known for its medicinal properties, mostly due to its high flavonoid content. In this project analytical methods for extraction of flavonoids from Silphium biomass will be developed with the long-term goal of integrating the corresponding value-added chain in the biorefinery process. Furthermore, the potential of Silphium for material use will be exploited. The long, up to three meters, quadrangular stalks of S. perfoliatum are filled with spongy parenchyma making this unique raw resource very attractive for the development of insulate building material and peat substitute.

Impact on bioeconomy

The project SPREAD makes an important contribution to the National Bioeconomy Strategy 2030 for environmentally sustainable agricultural production with the claim for “integration of crops with novel traits and cultivation techniques“. Accumulation of broader genetic resources for Silphium, screening of the newly collected genotypes for early vigour and the subsequent field trials will ensure adaptation and optimisation of this crop already in the beginning of introduction processes. Silphium biomass will be evaluated with regard to possible cascade utilisations in the biorefinery process. Increasing the overall efficiency of the biorefinery will contribute to the politically and economically driven energy transition from mineral oil to renewable raw resources.

Expected results/ project products

The introduction of a novel non-food biomass crop Silphium will increase biodiversity in agriculture, improve the agrarian landscape of NRW and is expected to get a wider social acceptance in comparison to silage maize. Analytical methods developed in SPREAD project open the way for cascade utilisations of Silphium biomass through the extraction of economically valuable flavonoids for chemical and pharmaceutical industry. Building materials developed from this crop (e.g. insulant) should find a niche on the market of the sustainable products. Thus, these practical applications, accompanied with an improvement of plant material will make the cultivation of this ecologically valuable crop more profitable.

Participating Core Groups

Prof. P. Westhoff, Dr. E. Pestsova
, Entwicklungs- und Molekularbiologie der Pflanzen, Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf

Prof. R. Pude
, Nachwachsende Rohstoffe, Universität Bonn
Dr. N. Anders, Prof. A.C. Spieß , AVT – Enzymprozesstechnik, RWTH Aachen

Dr. Elena Pestsova
Entwicklungs- und Molekularbiologie der Pflanzen
Universitätstr. 1, Geb. 26.03.02
40225 Düsseldorf
Tel.: 0211 8112344
Fax: 0211 8114871

Project duration

01.11.2015 - 31.10.2018

Funding budget
The total budget of SPREAD is € 656.739. SPREAD is part of the NRW-Strategieprojekt BioSC and thus funded by the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Research of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Press releases:
From medicinal plant of the American Indians to reproducible raw material; HHU Magazin, 03/2015
Suche nach der „Durchwachsenen Silphie“ - Forschungsreise in die US-Prärie; HHU online, 16.08.16