The Bioeconomy Council, based at acatech – the German National Academy of Science and Engineering – presented the priorities that it has set out for its research fields in an initial expert report in Brussels on 14 June 2011. In the Council’s estimation, this setting of priorities will make it possible to achieve the objectives of the Federal German Government’s “National Research Strategy BioEconomy 2030”. According to this the most pressing need is to breed new crop plants and farm animals, secondly to develop more efficient cultivation technologies and reduce harvesting losses, and thirdly to utilise soil as a resource on a more sustainable basis. State Secretary Dr Georg Schütte from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research explained the National Research Strategy, the European Commission called for building a strong policy framework at EU level to support innovation, growth and employment with the development of the bio-based economy in Europe.
A sustainable bioeconomy is inconceivable without adequate production and effective use of biomass, because without a coherent overall concept biomass becomes a limited resource: even today, it is used both for power generation as a substitute for petroleum- based products and as fodder and food.
In the words of State Secretary Georg Schütte, Germany is one of the first countries to have a bioeconomy research strategy at all. When presenting the findings of the Bioeconomy Council at the offices of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia in Brussels, he said: “The German Government not only sees the immense economic importance of the bioeconomy, it also sees the responsibility of the industrial states to create a sustainable bioeconomy which overcomes global conflicts of interest surrounding biomass as a resource as well as assures that the interests of industries are in line with feeding the world. For this we need excellently placed research – which we will support with the necessary funding.”
The German Government set up the National Research Strategy BioEconomy 2030 on the recommendation of the Bioeconomy Council in November 2010, and is providing 2.4 billion euros in research funding.
The European Commission stated that Germany’s efforts in developing the bio-based economy are remarkable, and underlined the fact that the forthcoming European Commission Strategy for the bio-based economy in Europe strives to organise a coherent governance framework with the Member States, for which national experiences serve as example. The Strategy under preparation, whose motto is to enhance innovation in the bio-based economy to support sustainability, will set targets and actions to advance towards five main objectives: sustainable primary production and food security; building competitive bio-based industries; providing safe, affordable and healthy food; fostering strong knowledge base and necessary education and skills; and creating a governance framework for the bio-based economy.
Reinhard Hüttl, Chairman of the Bioeconomy Council and President of acatech, drew attention to a parallel: “In much the same way as with renewable energy, Germany can and should assume a pioneering role in the bioeconomy. The German model for the interaction of scientific policy advice and government in the bioeconomy could also point the way at European level. The National Academy will be happy to make its experience and the results of its work available to help shape a European bioeconomy dialogue.” Referring to the prioritisation of the German strategy, he said: “We can now approach the important research topics in the right sequence. The factual basis is there, and we should act quickly.”
The Council had identified 35 important research topics in its first expert report. To work out the priorities, the experts at the Council assessed the topics in terms of their economic relevance, sequence over time, priority and financial cost. Three topics are in the spotlight:
- The breeding of crop plants and farm animals that are less susceptible to disease and allow the achievement of higher yields or alternatively reduce the use of fertilisers and pesticides.
- Reducing post-harvest losses. The Bioeconomy Council therefore recommends researching innovative technologies and improved methods as a matter of urgency. These can greatly improve the yields of biomass production.
- Soil, the substrate for biomass production, is already subject to considerable threat of degradation. The impacts of eco-agriculture on soil fertility, for example, are still largely unknown.
The Council points out that basic research – for example into artificial photosynthesis or synthetic biology – and cross-cutting themes must not be neglected in a research strategy that is set up for the long term.
The objective of the German Government’s National Research Strategy and that of the Bioeconomy Council is to increase the sustainable production of biomass and to improve its quality for the various purposes to which it is put, as well as making efficient use of the natural resources needed for the biomass. The bioeconomy encompasses all industrial and economic sectors and services that produce, process, work with or otherwise utilise biological resources (plants, animals, microorganisms).
About the Bioeconomy Council
The Bioeconomy Council of acatech – the National Academy of Science and Engineering – was founded in 2009. Its purpose is to identify future research needs through recommendations, to accelerate the development of technologies and methods and to improve the parameters for business and science. The range of tasks undertaken by the Council includes the analysis of strategic scientific goals at the level of Germany as a whole, individual German Länder, within the EU and in other international partner countries. It also analyses the state of the German research landscape and formulates questions about implementing the results of research in practice.
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Source: Bioeconomy Council, press release, 2011-06-14.