Bio-economy strives for a long-term conversion from fossil resources to an economy based on biogenic raw materials, waste, and renewable energies. According to the National Research Strategy "BioEconomy 2030" the term bio-economy covers agriculture as well as all productive sectors, including the related services which develop, produce, and process biological resources – such as plants, animals, and micro-organisms – or use them in any form. Bio-economy is seen as a tool to cope with global challenges, especially population growth, climate change, and the increasing demand for materials and energy. Partly the concept met with strong support, but partly also with considerable criticism, which is less directed to the objectives pursued, but rather to the strategies for their achievement. Such a fundamental transformation process which is associated with far-reaching changes to the prevailing production systems and product lines, affecting all societal sectors, would require a detailed analysis of the potential social, environmental, economic, and political consequences which has so far only partially been carried out. Furthermore, there are many interdependencies between ecosystems, biomass production, and the markets for food, energy, materials, and chemicals. These close interactions require an agreement on the theoretical background and the objectives of bio-economy and a prospective evaluation of the possible consequences of different utilization pathways.
Research on biomass has a long tradition at ITAS, dating back to the 1980s. The work covers a wide range of topics and issues, ranging from accompanying research to potential analyzes of agricultural and forestry resources and waste as well as algae in combination with different utilization pathways and processing technologies up to their evaluation in terms of sustainability. Furthermore, ITAS deals with opportunities and risks of emerging technologies such as genetic engineering and synthetic biology, to which an important role is attributed in the context of bio-economy (see literature).
Within the framework of the program-oriented research of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers, the emphasis should henceforth not only be on case studies in the field of bio-economy research but also on conceptual and theoretical work. Based on the above-mentioned criticism of the bio-economy strategy, the project deals with the genesis of the concept, the background, overarching goals and visions in various European and non-European countries. Gaps and weaknesses in the present national concept, for example in terms of the sustainability criteria used, the estimation of the available potentials, the participation of different social groups, or the implementation strategy pursued will be shown and alternatives will be discussed. The aim of this project is to undertake a critical reflection of the bio-based economy and to contribute to the theoretical substantiation of case studies by ITAS.
There are numerous intersections and synergy effects between this project and the accompanying research carried out by ITAS under the "bio-economy research program Baden-Württemberg" regarding the three pathways biogas, lignocellulose, and microalgae.