Hot Seat: Dr. Dr. h.c. Christian Patermann

Last updated on: 06 Oct, 2023

Dr Patermann, your influential role in the development of the bioeconomy in Europe and Germany is undisputed, even long before the term was widely used. You have experienced the change from a side note to a new economic model at first hand. When you look back on the development of the bioeconomy, how would you assess its current status? What milestones do you think have been reached and where do you still see room for improvement?

I am very grateful that I have been able to actively observe the development of the bioeconomy from its early days in 2004 and 2005 to the present day, not only in Germany and Europe, but also worldwide.

A decisive milestone in this development was the year 2012, when the bioeconomy strategies were first adopted in Europe and shortly afterwards in the USA and Russia. This elevated the concept of the bioeconomy from a pure research and development initiative to a universally applicable economic model.

Another highlight occurred in 2015 in Berlin, when the first global bioeconomy summit with almost 1,000 participants from all over the world clearly demonstrated the global interest and attention for this seemingly new, yet tried and tested economic model.

I see a third milestone in the last 20 months, which have been characterised by an enormous and unprecedented momentum in bioeconomy development – despite the pandemic!

During this period, the USA, China, India and most recently Brazil – all giants in the biomass sector – have entered the global stage and have either presented their own strategies and plans for the development of their national bioeconomies for the first time or again, all of which are supported by substantial budgets.

President Modi, for example, wants to develop India into a bio-manufacturing hub, while President Lula da Silva is establishing a Brazilian State Secretariat for Bioeconomy and will organise COP 30 in Belém, the only Brazilian state with a bioeconomy strategy. In the USA, the Executive Order on Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation for a Sustainable, Safe, and Secure American Bioeconomy will be accompanied by a bioeconomy summit at the White House. This is an unprecedented international dynamic.

Europe is sorely missed in your list.

At this point, we need to differentiate. Europe has made impressive progress in terms of implementing the bioeconomy. No other continent is planning, building or operating as many biorefineries as Europe. Europe is also home to major global initiatives such as the Bioeconomy Summit and the World Circular Economy Forum.

Many pioneering ideas have come from Europe, but we are not fully participating in the latest momentum. This is evident in areas such as the development of biopolymers, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and the production of alternative proteins. Other regions of the world have taken on a leading role here.

It is therefore crucial that Europe remains vigilant and ensures that we do not fall behind in terms of the societal importance of the bioeconomy.

In this context, I see several challenges. Although the bioeconomy is the most value-orientated form of economic activity, it is also the most complex, as it is strongly based on scientific principles. This makes its dissemination, acceptance and implementation not always easy. In Europe, we also tend to focus more on the challenges and limitations and less on the potential of the bioeconomy. There is a need for improvement here to overcome this attitude.

I see a further deficit in the question of funding.
In the competition for innovations and new technologies, life sciences and biotechnology unfortunately do not enjoy the priority they deserve in Europe. We hear a lot about topics such as artificial intelligence, digitalisation, sometimes health and energy when we are doing badly. However, biotechnology is barely present in large parts of Europe. This is in contrast to other parts of the world, where the importance of biotechnology is increasingly being recognised.

Europe therefore has a lot of catching up to do in terms of public opinion, public debate and promoting innovation for the future.

You are part of the advisory board of the Interreg Alpine Space project INNOBIOVC, in which Chemie-Cluster Bayern has been involved since April 2023. The project aims to promote cross-border innovation by aligning existing funding programmes and identifying new value chains. Does this help to address the deficits mentioned above?

The InnoBioVC project is interesting for several reasons.
Firstly, it is a cross-border project with a clear regional focus. This is crucial, as the implementation of the bioeconomy must take place at regional level in order to be successful beyond.

Secondly, for me, the emphasis on innovation is at the centre of this project. This concerns not only the content, but also the accompanying aspects, such as the use of digitalisation, artificial intelligence and new algorithms.

In third place is the central importance of value chains. Value creation is inextricably linked to the bioeconomy and added value is the actual content of the bioeconomy.

An illustrative example of added value in the bioeconomy is the conversion of apple juice waste, which is normally incinerated, into high-quality amino acids for eye drops. Here, a high-priced product is created from waste. How algorithms can help us to identify such new value chains is very interesting for me.

What’s more, the pandemic and the Ukraine crisis in recent years have brought to light another critical aspect of value chains that we had previously given little thought to: Resilience!

Here too, the bioeconomy offers enormous potential to contribute to the resilience of value chains – both regionally and continentally. I see this as a paradigm shift that we hadn’t thought of a few years ago.

Dr Patermann, thank you very much for talking to us.
Is there anything you would like to pass on to us for the future?

I have noticed that the media often report on aspects of the bioeconomy, be it the use of microorganisms and enzymes or the development of new bio-based materials with improved properties and a longer lifespan.

However, politicians, society and, in some cases, industry seem hesitant to use the term “bioeconomy” explicitly. I would like to see more courage here so that what belongs to the bioeconomy is also labelled as such.

The INNOBIOVC project, in which Chemie-Cluster Bayern GmbH has been involved as a partner since April 2023, aims to promote sustainable developmentin the circular bioeconomy in the Alpine region. The bioeconomy, which supplies food, textiles and energy, is to be strengthened by establishing international circular value chains. The project will develop innovative solutions to identify funding opportunities and the best cooperation partners by using novel algorithms and AI. At the same time, it will measure the sustainability gains of circular products. The aim is to create a vibrant ecosystem in which companies can operate successfully and contribute to sustainability in the Alpine region. Partners from several European countries are involved in the project, including Germany, Austria, Italy and Slovenia.

Dr Christian Patermann is regarded as a key figure in the development of the bioeconomy in Europe. Dr Patermann, who holds a doctorate in law, joined the civil service in 1971 and worked in various functions in the field of research and development until 1996, including as press spokesman and head of the management staff of the Federal Minister of Research, Heinz Riesenhuber. From 1996 to 2007, Dr Patermann headed the European Commission’s Research Directorate and played a leading role in the conception of the “Knowledge-based Bioeconomy (KBBE)”, which was first formulated by the Commission in 2005. He then advised the North Rhine-Westphalian state government on the bioeconomy from 2007 to 2014 and was a member of the first German Bioeconomy Council from 2009 to 2012.