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Rauch Schornstein

More than one hundred million tonnes of carbon-rich biowaste are produced in Europe each year, not to mention the carbonaceous ash generated during waste incineration or fermentation gases from the production of bioethanol. The ZeroCarbonFootPrint (ZeroCarbFP) Innovation Alliance has been put up to explore how these residue and waste streams could be converted into new materials and be used in industry – a prime goal of bioeconomy and the concomitant biologisation of part of the industrial sector. 

In their different subprogrammes, the ZeroCarbFP Alliance partners identify and develop enzymes, biocatalysts and microorganisms applicable for the synthesis of material used for industrial production. There is a broad range of potential target products from additives for the production of high-tech oils and fats or bioplastics, as well as de-icing fluid and coolant. Furthermore, functional biomass can be used in modern ore processing. The ultimate aim is to establish intelligent material cycles in which building blocks – having been converted to materials of industrial value – are not disposed of once they have fulfilled their purpose but are recycled instead, thereby remaining in the material cycle.

At present, carbon used for industrial purposes such as the production of plastics is predominantly of fossil origin. With the new approach carbon could be fixed in materials for the long term and thus prevented it from being released into the atmosphere as gaseous CO2. The idea of recycling CO2 is also known as “Carbon Capture & Utilisation” (CCU), as opposed to “Carbon Capture & Storage” (CCS) like the injection of CO2 into underground rock formations – a method which is facing problems of acceptance and insufficient storage capacity.

There is an abundance of carbon in secondary streams and waste streams such as fumes, sewage and effluents. The ZeroCarbFP Innovation Alliance coordinated by BRAIN relies on new technologies to transform these resources into new components for industrial production.

Within the framework of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research's programme (BMBF) programme “Innovation Initiative for Industrial Biotechnology”, six strategic alliances are at present exploring different value chains in order to evaluate the potential of industrial biotechnology in climate and resource protection (see infobox). ZeroCarbFP is one of these alliances. Its crucial task is to develop new, competitive products and sustainable procedures which are able to compete with established solutions on the free market. 

To this end, the ZeroCarbFP Alliance is structured in 3 three-year phases –  namely a research, a development and a pilot phase - with interim evaluations between each stage. Funding for the ZeroCarbFP Alliance began in July 2013. At the beginning of 2016, after the first phase, ZeroCarbFP underwent a scientific and economic assessment by an expert panel established by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The panel recommended transferring to the development phase, which began in October 2016 and will finish in September 2019. There will be a further evaluation before entering the pilot phase in which the bioprocesses that have been developed will be optimised for their market launch.

Currently, ZeroCarbFP consists of eleven partners from the fields of industry and research, including Südzucker AG, FUCHS Schmierstoffe GmbH, Emery Oleochemicals GmbH and Bioeton Deutschland GmbH besides BRAIN AG. BRAIN has been involved from the start and assumed the role of ZeroCarbFP coordinator in the second phase of funding. This work is embedded in the BRAIN “Producer Strain Development” unit, which is led by one of the members of the BRAIN executive committee, Dr. Guido Meurer. He coordinates the alliance and the in-house research in partnership with Dr. Birgit Heinze and Dr. Jörg Mampel, both research scientists and project managers at BRAIN. Within ZeroCarbFP, BRAIN contributes its expert knowledge on the search for special microorganisms and the optimisation of these organisms for specific technical applications (see the other articles in this BLICKWINKEL).

Innovation Initiative for Industrial Biotechnology

The BMBF launched the “Innovation Initiative for Industrial Biotechnology” in 2011 as the first funding measure by the “National Research Strategy BioEconomy 2030”. The aim of the initiative is the biologisation of industries, whereas the innovation alliances are intended to accelerate the shift towards a bio-based industry. Alliances under the leadership of a company with potential commercial interest in the research results were invited to participate in the first round of the application procedure. The initiative especially aimed at the establishment of collaborations between previously unlinked sectors of industry, thus creating synergies and efficiently closing technological gaps. ZeroCarbFP and NatLifE 2020 were two of the first three strategic alliances presented at the ACHEMA in Frankfurt in June 2016. BRAIN AG has so far actively participated in their coordination.

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