Residual materials from the region as raw materials for high-tech products

The production of high-quality biobased products from organic residues and waste from regional agriculture, forestry and industry - this is the concept with which the Kaiserslautern University of Applied Sciences, PFI and Zukunftsregion Westpfalz e.V. have convinced the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and have been accepted into the concept phase of the nationwide "WIR!" funding programme. In the course of this 9-month preparatory phase, the collaborative partners have fleshed out their concept and involved more than 50 partners from industry, research and civil society and submitted a detailed strategy concept to the BMBF for the implementation phase. If the implementation phase with a duration of three plus years is successful, project funding of up to €16 million can be expected. This represents a unique opportunity for innovation dynamics and the establishment of new technologies in the Western Palatinate.


Background - The WIR! programme of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research

The aim of the BMBF's "WIR!" funding programme is to provide new impulses in structurally weak regions that contribute to strengthening regional innovation capacity and also create prospects for value creation and employment in the long term. In doing so, it is important that the region's existing competencies are taken into account and further developed so that new innovation paths can be developed on the basis of existing strengths. It is also important that the change is supported by a broad base and is based on the commitment and active cooperation of a wide range of regional actors. This is where the "WIR!" funding programme comes in. It is intended to encourage the formation of broad regional alliances that take on the challenge of driving innovation-based structural change in their regions. It supports these alliances in the development of regional strategic innovation concepts and offers the best of them the opportunity to subsequently turn their forward-looking ideas into reality.

The "WIR!" concepts are intended to relate to fields of innovation that are defined by the alliances themselves and are of particular importance for innovation-based structural change in the respective region. These are usually areas in which the region already has economic, scientific, technological or social competences and which also have a high innovation potential.

hese concepts are to be developed and supported by broad-based regional alliances that are interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral. New cooperative relationships between companies, universities and research institutions, clubs, associations and civil society organisations are to be stimulated.

Microorganisms change the Western Palatinate - the Waste2Value concept

In light of the framework conditions and general objectives of the WIR! programme, the project partners have developed a regional concept that aims to use the traditional competences of the adhesives and plastics industry to initiate new developments and innovations in the areas of bio-based materials.  The central goal of the project is the development of fermentation processes for the production of valuable materials from waste and residual materials. The focus is on the production of bio-based basic materials (green building blocks), their use in innovative plastics and adhesives, for smart material composites and the production of high-quality additives and extracts for the cosmetics and food industries as well as pharmaceuticals.

The resulting by-products are to be optimally utilised for energy, especially by converting them into chemical energy carriers such as methane or methanol. This will both improve the utilisation of the raw materials and reduce the often still too high costs of bio-based materials through the additional revenues.

The following figure shows a schematic summary of the overall concept. The individual process steps are to be developed and brought to market maturity in cooperation with appropriately specialised companies from the region or, if necessary, from neighbouring regions.

The project benefits from the fact that Kaiserslautern University of Applied Sciences and the PFI are able to tie in with current research on the extraction of raw materials from renewable raw materials and residues. In the Department of Applied Logistics and Polymer Sciences at the university's Pirmasens campus, research is being conducted under the direction of Dr. Michael Lakatos, particularly on terrestrial cyanobacteria and their potential uses, from energy production to the extraction of dyes and the development of new active substances. Lakatos, who also heads the collaborative project, sees great potential here to promote existing competences in a new sustainable direction. The PFI also has many years of experience with microorganisms and the development of fermentation processes based on residual materials. Numerous biotechnological processes and procedures developed at the PFI are based on the diverse metabolic capacities of specific bacteria and fungi. "We use microorganisms, for example, in the optimisation of biogas plants, in the production of biomethane from CO2 as part of power-to-gas processes or in the conversion of food residues into fuels and basic chemicals," says Dr Stefan Dröge, project manager at the PFI. Waste to Value" links the circular economy with the bioeconomy and climate protection.

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