Hot Seat: Dr. Christian Patermann

Last updated on: 05 Oct, 2023

Dear Dr Patermann, your significant contribution to the advancement of the bioeconomy in Europe and Germany is well recognized, even predating the widespread use of the term. You have observed firsthand the evolution of the bioeconomy from a marginal concept to a new economic model. With regards to the progress made in the bioeconomy, what is your evaluation of the current situation? Which milestones have been achieved, and what areas are still in need of 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 worldwide.

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

Another high point occurred in Berlin in 2015, when the first global bioeconomy summit, with nearly 1,000 participants from all over the world, clearly demonstrated the global interest and attention for this seemingly new, but nevertheless well-tried economic model.

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

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

For example, President Modi wants to develop India into a Bio-Manufacturing Hub, while President Lula da Silva is establishing a Brazilian State Secretariat for Bioeconomy and is going to host the COP30 in Belém, the only brazilian state with its own bioeconomy strategy. In the US, the Executive Order on Advancing Biotechnology and Biomanufacturing Innovation for a Sustainable, Safe, and Secure American Bioeconomy is accompanied by a White House Bioeconomy Summit. This is an unprecedented international dynamic.

Europe is sorely missed in your list.

At this point we must differentiate. Europe has made impressive progress in implementing the bioeconomy. No other continent plans, builds or operates as many biorefineries as Europe. Moreover, Europe is home to major global initiatives such as the Bioeconomy Summit and the World Circular Economy Forum.

Many groundbreaking ideas come from Europe, but we are not participating fully in the recent momentum. This is evident, for example, in areas such as the development of biopolymers, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) or the production of alternative proteins. Here, other world regions have taken a leading role.

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

In this context, I see several challenges. Although the bioeconomy is the most value-oriented 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 additionally tend to focus more on the challenges and limitations and less on the potentials of the bioeconomy. There is a need for improvement here to overcome this attitude.

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

In Europe, there is therefore a considerable need to catch up in terms of public opinion, public discussion and the promotion of innovations 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 it help to address the deficits mentioned above?

The project InnoBioVC 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 has to be accomplished on a regional level in order to be successful beyond that.

Secondly, for me, the emphasis on innovation is at the heart 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. After all, value creation has always been a core aspect of the bioeconomy from the very beginning.

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 identify such new value chains is highly interesting to me.

In addition, recent events such as the pandemic and the Ukraine crisis have highlighted a crucial aspect of value chains that was previously overlooked: resilience.         
The bioeconomy possesses vast potential to enhance the resilience of value chains, both within regions and across continents. This represents a paradigm shift that was not previously considered a few years ago.

Dear Dr. Patermann, thank you very much for the interview! Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

I observe 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 longer lifetimes.

However, politics, society and to some extent industry seem hesitant to use the term “bioeconomy” explicitly. Here I would like to see more courage so that what belongs to the bioeconomy is also referred to as such.

The project INNOBIOVC, of which Chemie-Cluster Bayern GmbH has been a partner since April 2023, is focused on promoting sustainable investments in the circular economy within the Alpine region. By constructing international circular value chains, the bioeconomy – which supplies food, textiles, and energy – will be reinforced. The project will create pioneering methods to showcase available financing prospects and to pinpoint top collaborative partners. The project aims to measure the sustainability benefits of circular products, as well as establish a thriving ecosystem that fosters effective and sustainable operations for companies across the Alpine region. Partners from various European nations, including Germany, Austria, Italy, and Slovenia, will collaborate to achieve this shared objective.

Dr Christian Patermann is considered 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 Research Directorate of the European Commission and was in charge of 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.