We look back at our CLIB International Conference 2023

On the CIC2023, a well-balanced mixture of SMEs, academia, investors, and large enterprises took a closer look at this motto from different perspectives, countries, and circumstances. In her opening speech, Dr. Kirsten Bender from the North Rhine-Westphalian Ministry of Economic Affairs, Industry, Climate Action and Energy once again emphasised the importance of industrial biotechnology for NRW. Following the recent announcement that CLIB has strengthened its cooperation with the Austrian biotech cluster acib, CLIB also signed a MoU with our Italian friends from Cluster SPRING at the CIC2023 (read more).

This year’s keynotes were given by Alexander Pelzer (BRAIN Biotech) and Christian Lenges who represented IFF, one of CLIB’s newest members. As expert in the heterologous production of proteins, Alexander Pelzer introduced the audience into BRAIN’S production strain development projects and highlighted what measures have been taken to improve protein and enzyme production. Christian Lenges provided insights how biotechnology in sustainable material innovation can help to “Do More Good” for people and planet but also how poor regulation can be a headwind for the bioeconomy.

In the subsequent session, “Feedstock-agnostic processes”, solutions were presented on how biotechnology can use the future resource mix of recycled materials, CO2, and biomass as comprehensively as possible. Nick Wierckx and its group at Forschungszentrum Jülich have developed a Pseudomonas strain into a plastic monomer-metabolising workhorse. In the next phase, they aim to convert plastic hydrolysates into value-added chemicals. In the following talk, Babette Pettersen demonstrated that LanzaTech is building several production facilities all around the world, each of them having its own challenges to overcome. For Corbion, fermentation is a key technology that delivers the building blocks for most of Corbion’s product portfolio. Accordingly, Peter Baets elaborated how a transition to non-food feedstock for chemicals and materials applications can be realised.

The second session focused on “Innovative production systems”: Some of them can be found in nature if you just look for them properly, as Cornelia Welte from Radboud University presented and applied for innovative wastewater treatment. As shown by Peter J. Punt of Ginkgo, others of them can be engineered to match new challenges in weeks using modern foundry approaches.

To set the scene for the panel discussion on future carbon cycles, Kathrin Rübberdt of DECHEMA gave an overview of existing and future technologies to close carbon loops, pointing out that at the moment only 0.4% of plastics are recovered via chemical recycling and that the areas of logistics, pre-treatment, and scale up still need substantial improvement. She was joined on the panel by Lars Börger from Neste Germany, Thomas Haas from Evonik, Helmut Schmitz from Der Grüne Punkt, and Babette Pettersen of LanzaTech as moderator.

While the panellists came from different organisations and sectors, they all agreed that regulation is key to increase recovery of carbon into the feedstock mix. Incoming legislation on extended producer responsibility (EPR) as well as circular economy is taking a step into this direction, but mandates for renewable carbon, such as exist in fuel standards, would lead to faster uptake of new technologies. Consumers also have an impact, as the concept of “emotional sustainability” was raised. The panel pointed out that consumers are showing their strong interest in sustainability by choosing products in sustainable-looking packaging. While this can cause problems such as mixed packaging, combining plastic and paper, it is also an incentive to develop new, measurably sustainable products.

As in 2022, CLIB will donate a share of the ticket revenues from the CIC to Doctors Without Borders. Considering still ongoing man-made conflicts and recent natural disasters, selfless helpers are important beyond measure. For people affected by these threats, Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) provides health care in more than 70 countries (read more).