The 2nd Bioeconomy Congress – A fruitful and enlightening event

Written by Noah Weiss, Ph.D. student at KU-IGN under BioValue’s project 3

The 2nd Bioeconomy Congress was held from the 12-13th of September at the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart, Germany. This congress brought together 350 individuals from academic, public, and private backgrounds in an interdisciplinary approach to discussing the transition to a bio based economy from a fossil fuel based economy. The congress was very interdisciplinary from the point of view that both the social, ecological and technical aspects of the transition were discussed, not only the technological development of new products or processes which is often the focus of research within BioValue. There was much discussion of the environmental impact of various products and processes, as well as land use change scenarios for local regions, and research into the effects of increased agriculture intensity on local environments and societies.  This integrated approach to discussion of the bioeconomy was well received and allowed more process development researchers to build sustainability (ecological, social, and economic) into the design of future products and processes. Session topics ranged for potential for sustainable biomass supply, improving biogas efficiency, and value chains and processes for new fuels and chemicals, to societal issues of bioeconomy, and the socioeconomic transition to a new bioeconomy. From a technological perspective, there was much focus on improving biogas processes, improving biomass supply in a sustainable manner, and algae as a source of food, feed, and chemicals, with a mixture of both biochemical and traditional chemical catalysis based processes for biomass conversion.

Denmark was well represented at the congress, with Lene Lange giving the keynote lecture on the first day, and participation from University of Copenhagen, DTU, Aalborg and Aarhus Universities, showcasing technological approaches currently under development here. However, there was a lack of the more ecological and sociological based research fields from Denmark present at the conference, possibly indicating lacking areas in local research communities. One of the highlights of the conference came however from the plenary session from the second day entitled ‘Socio-economic transformation to a bioeconomy’. A comment from a professor from Aarhus University questioned the focus of the German government representatives present on the panel, that a transition to a bioeconomy assumes increased economic growth, when the general consensus among researchers in the field is that to have a truly circular and sustainable bioeconomy, flat or negative economic growth is needed, as current levels of consumption, both fossil and bio based are beyond the ecological carrying capacity of local and global environments. This comment was met with great approval from the audience and some of the panel members, and showed the disconnect between those who are trying to develop a truly sustainable and biobased economy, and those who would just supplant fossil fuels with biofuels, and whose focus is only on the pursuit of profit at the expense of ecological and social sustainability.  Thus it shows again to be important to have interdisciplinary meetings where these issues can be discussed, and where policy makers can be informed about what is necessary to build a sustainable bioeconomy.

In summary, this congress showed to be a fruitful and enlightening event, which allowed for cross disciplinary collaboration and thinking, and such congresses will make for a more holistic and sustainable approach to a transition to a bio based economy.