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Food for thought

14 August 2019

The urgency of global challenges - climate change, resource scarcity, food safety - is accelerating. How can a growing world population of 9 billion by 2050 access healthy food? How can we make travel and commuting safer with less environmental impact?

One-sided fixes have failed. Industry contributes to the global economy - and in Europe provides 36 million jobs, But its products are also the third biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and deplete resources, and cause pollution and biodiversity loss. Disruptive and sustainable technologies are needed to comply with the Paris Agreement.

Swiss company Bühler is well placed to address pressing global challenges as two billion people enjoy foods produced on the company's equipment. The Bühler Networking Days, held at the end of August, focuses this year on finding business solutions that are both sustainable and commercially successful. The dialogue between 800 industry leaders, researchers, academics and start-ups will address sustainable value chains in food and feed, and in mobility.

Among the speakers are Gro Harlem Brundtland, the first female Prime Minister of Norway and a leading voice on climate change and champion of sustainable development; Peter Bakker, the President and CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD); and John Harthorne, Founder of MassChallenge, a start-up accelerator designed to connect high-potential startups.

The next industrial revolution may even be from nature. Bio-based innovation is key in setting up circular industrial economy models. "Using biological waste or renewable resources to manufacture chemical, pharmaceutical, packaging or various consumer products is just the beginning”, explained Markus Wolperdinger, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology (IGB), at the ManuFUTURE workshop in Brussels. “There is no time to lose, we need to act now."

Wolperdinger sees three progressive stages of the Biological Transformation: bio-inspired, bio-integrated and bio-intelligent. In the inspiration stage, biological principles and phenomena that have emerged in the course of evolution are converted into new value-adding systems. Biointegration links these into manufacturing processes or products. Bio-intelligence is a merging of biology, IT and engineering.

The ManuFUTURE workshop anticipates the Strategic Plan for the forthcoming Horizon Europe research framework programme. It recognises the potential of Biological Transformation, focusing on how this can influence the sustainability of industry and what it calls the "technological sovereignty" of Europe. This September, biological transformation will be a priority at the “Research and Innovation Days” of DG Research and Innovation in Brussel (24-26 September 2019) and at the ManuFUTURE 2019 Conference – Sustainable Smart Manufacturing in Helsinki (30 Sept to 1 Oct 2019).

During a politically volatile autumn period, these events will provide time for reflection on how humanity and technology can and must work together for a sustainable future.

Andy Pye Consulting Editor