CLIB International Conference 2024: Biomanufacturing a greener future

Biomanufacturing is a powerful tool to create a more sustainable industry and economy, to implement the circular bioeconomy into existing cycles and to make our future greener. Therefore, the topic of this year’s CLIB International Conference, which took place on 21 and 22 February in Düsseldorf, was “Biomanufacturing a greener future”. The conference focussed on the key challenges we are currently facing, but also presented promising solutions. In his introduction, the clusters chairman of the board Roland Breves emphasised that the past year 2023 was the warmest since weather records began, so the transformation of the fossil fuel-based industry towards a sustainable bio-based economy is crucial. More than 200 participants and speakers therefore addressed the question of how biomanufacturing can advance the transformation towards a sustainable bioeconomy and how everyone can contribute to this from different perspectives. The Firjan delegation visitors from Brazil were particularly active, with Zenit coordinating their trip to discuss the regulatory challenges of the bioeconomy and the best ways to promote internationalisation.

In her video message to the participants, Mona Neubauer, Minister of Economic Affairs, Industry, Climate Action and Energy of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia, also emphasised that sustainability requires a holistic circular approach and cannot simply mean replacing one resource with another. Industrial biotechnology has an important role to play in establishing this sustainable circular approach.

In the opening session, two outstanding keynote speakers pointed out in their presentations the central role of society in implementing a circular bioeconomy and how regulatory hurdles inhibit the successful usage of different raw materials and technologies. In his presentation, Markus Wolperdinger from the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB also discussed the central role that biofoundries can play in the implementation of biotechnological innovations and that circular design plays a key role, especially with the focus on the used feedstocks. With regard to the necessary social dialogue, he advocated focusing more on the solutions and less on the problems. Hannelore Daniel from the Technical University of Munich Life Sciences impressively demonstrated how the current eating behaviour of consumers, as well as the production processes of different foods, contribute to a large extent to the generation of GHG emissions. Not only a change in the feedstocks (e.g. algae, insects and various side streams), but also new manufacturing processes (such as indoor farming and cell-based technologies) can have a significant positive impact on the CO2 balance and contribute to the establishment of a more sustainable circular economy. However, a change in consumer behaviour can only be achieved with comprehensive and early education and information.

The two subsequent sessions, “Lowering the innovation barrier: enzymes in biomanufacturing” and “From thin air to solid value: using C1 feedstocks” on the first day of the conference focussed on the use of enzymes and C1 feedstocks for biomanufacturing processes. The speakers from industry and academia engaged in intensive discussions with the interested participants from 16 countries about the challenges and opportunities presented by the use of their innovative biotechnological production processes and catalysts or the use of non-fossil alternative feedstocks.

The first day of the conference ended with an exciting and lively panel discussion moderated by Martin Langer from BRAIN Biotech AG. Ute Schick from Evonik Industries AG prepared the participants for the discussion on “Implementing biomanufacturing: national and international effort?” in a short presentation. She emphasised the need for more intensive cooperation between government agencies and industrial companies in order to bring innovative and sustainable products to market more quickly.

Together with the other panellists Jürgen Eck from bio.IMPACT GmbH, Max Kroymann from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action, Mary McCarthy from Sofinnova Partners, and Mariagiovanna Vetere from NatureWorks LLC, she argued that, in addition to the regulatory hurdles that urgently need to be overcome in Germany and Europe, it is very important to implement bioeconomic, biotechnological and circular approaches at a very early stage in education. Consumer acceptance of alternative, sustainable products, which may not initially be price-competitive with fossil-based products, is the key to enabling the transformation of the industry by 2035.

The second day of the conference started with an exciting keynote speech on the use of enzymes, particularly in the textile industry. In their joint presentation, Karl-Erich Jaeger from Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf and Nasanin Ansari from Schoeller Textil AG highlighted the successful collaboration in the FutureEnzyme project. Prof. Jaeger presented the impressive collection of enzymes that have been investigated as part of the project and introduced the various established technologies for characterising and optimising enzymes for different applications. The use of enzymes in the textile industry is one of these applications. 10% of global GHG emissions result from the clothing and footwear industry. For a textile manufacturer like Schoeller, the use of enzymes offers opportunities to reduce water consumption in dyeing processes, for example, or to make the cleaning of synthetic materials more sustainable.

The speakers in the following session „A tasty future: biotechnology for sustainable foods“ impressively showed the importance of biotechnological processes in the production of sustainable food. In addition to the microbial production of casein and the use of microalgae for protein production, the use of technologies such as automation, data science, machine learning and gene editing was presented. Numerous questions and contributions to the discussion on the second day of the conference showed that the audience was also very interested in the topics addressed.

The last session of the conference „Closing the loop: designing circular products“ focussed on the design and manufacturing of circular products. The demand for sustainable products is high, so that a large number of companies and scientific institutions are working on utilising new or alternative feedstocks or technological approaches for more circularity. This includes, for example, the use of insects for the production of coatings and additives, or the processing of lignin, which is a complex by-product of the paper and pulp industry. In addition to production, however, recyclability is also crucial for a sustainable product. Sustainable adhesives presented by Adrian Brandt and Roland Breves from Henkel AG & Co. KGaA are an excellent example of how to improve the recyclability of a product.

The conference was framed by many networking sessions, which were used intensively by all participants to exchange ideas with known and new partners from the large CLIB community. This was intensified at the end of the conference. A new format, the “topic lounges”, offered the opportunity to exchange ideas with other interested networking partners on the specific topics of the conference sessions. CIC2024 ended after two intensive and exciting conference days with inspiring contacts and new ideas for a more sustainable, greener future.