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The global population is expected to rise to 9.8 billion by the year 2050 - with everyone ultimately striving for prosperity. New methods must therefore be found to achieve more efficient production. Research to date shows that the biological inventory that has evolved: its products, processes, principles and tools, can spur modern technology. The development of technological innovations based on biological concepts, with the goal of particularly innovative and sustainable value creation, today is collectively known as "biological transformation". It results in highly functional products with striking properties that can be both manufactured and utilized in a resource-saving way.

In terms of taking responsibility of the good of all people, biological transformation is therefore a path that applied research will have to take. The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft has recognized the developmental technology potential of biological transformation and sees it as its task not only to drive the relevant research forward, but also to promote public awareness of the topic.



1. From Contrast to Convergence

Biological Principles Shape Tomorrow’s Technologies
Without Abstract
Reimund Neugebauer, Martin Thum

2. Biological Transformation

A Research Agenda of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft
The application of biological principles has resulted in profound changes in sectors as diverse as pharmacy, consumer goods and food production, as well as in agriculture. Renewable raw materials and the use of production organisms have long been the emphasis of biotechnology. But the focus is now on linking new biological processes and findings with other innovations in agricultural science and in information, medical or manufacturing technology, which also incorporate the circular economy. With biological transformation, the Fraunhofer‐Gesellschaft aspires to make a significant contribution to the United Nations’ goals for sustainable development.
Patrick Dieckhoff, Sophie Hippmann, Raoul Klingner, Miriam Leis

3. Biomimetics Research for Medical Engineering

Innovative Devices and Processes Modeled on Nature’s Evolutionary Solutions
Biomimetics and biotechnology are the disciplines that bring biological knowledge into biological transformation. The difference is that biotechnology uses organisms directly for the production, conversion and decomposition of substances, while biomimetics attempts to implement the derived principles in abstract form using technological means. The three levels at which we can take up nature’s ideas for a sustainable economic system are learning (1) from the results of evolution, (2) from the principles of nature, and (3) from the process of evolution itself.
The findings thus obtained can be implemented in almost all areas of research and industry. In principle, an increase in material and energy efficiency of up to 30% is possible. The field of medical engineering is particularly predestined for implementation, because the materials of the body, which nature also works with, are being manipulated. There is cooperation between biomimetics and biotechnology when it comes to cell‐covered implants (hybrids), in the use of biogenic material and in the functionalization of implants. Great potential for further synergy between bioengineering disciplines for many more applications that fall under biological transformation is anticipated.
Thomas Bauernhansl, Oliver Schwarz

4. Innovative Food Products

New Methods of Preparing Plant-Based Raw Materials Lead to Healthy Alternatives for Conventional Foods and Protein Sources
The expected increase of the global population to over 9.5 billion by the middle of this century and the rising consumption of animal food products present one of the greatest global challenges—securing humanity’s food supply. The use of new plant‐based protein ingredients instead of animal protein preparations can be an important part of the solution, as the production of animal proteins requires around five times the area of plant protein production. The following article provides an overview of the state of the art production, processing and application of plant‐based proteins in the European food industry. Not only are the opportunities and advantages presented, but also the shortcomings that plant‐based proteins have had until now, and strategies for optimization. Furthermore, current project results (Fraunhofer Future Foundation) are reported, in the scope of which new methods for the reduction of the allergenic potential of plant proteins have been developed. The article is rounded off with a discussion of technical approaches to the optimization of the taste, texture and mouthfeel of plant‐based foods and examples of the successful implementation of research results by Fraunhofer spin‐offs.
Peter Eisner, Ute Weisz, Raffael Osen, Stephanie Mittermaier

5. Technical Homes for Human Cells

Micro-Physiological Organ-on-a-Chip Systems as Interdisciplinary Platforms for SMEs, the Pharmaceutical Industry, Medical Doctors and Technologists
Life Science Engineering (LSE) focuses on technologies at the interface between the life sciences and engineering. It covers a very broad product spectrum, from the pharmaceutical industry to biotechnology and medical technology. An essential element of LSE research is the high degree of interdisciplinary cooperation. Numerous individual technologies are introduced in this chapter that have been explored, developed and optimized separately so far. At the interfaces of these domains, there is great potential for connecting the two disciplines, but its realization is still a distant goal. These interfaces are the urgently required enablers of biological transformation, which permit the initial interconnection of the different domains. Standardized interfaces between biology and technology must therefore be developed.
Christoph Leyens, Udo Klotzbach, Frank Sonntag, Markus Wolperdinger, Peter Loskill, Thomas Bauernhansl, Andreas Traube, Christian Brecher, Robert Schmitt, Niels König

6. Phenotyping and Genotyping of Plants

Phenotyping of Crop Plants Using Spectral Sensors and Artificial Intelligence
The digitization of the economy and society naturally does not fail to include agriculture. Having a plant‐based bioeconomy as primary production for many downstream industries is a key component of digital transformation. The biological transformation of the economy, or rather of the world, derived from the much‐vaunted trend of digitization, is thereby extended by another very interesting component. This is ultimately the optimization—at least at specific points—of biology by biology. In other words, the optimization of plants as biological systems is carried out using technological processes and methods, the approach and design of which have been modeled on or inspired by various biological principles. On the technological side, bio‐inspired systems include spectral sensors and, in particular, artificial intelligence as the central component required for the phenotyping needed to achieve the aforementioned optimization.
Udo Seiffert, Andreas Herzog

7. Cells as Sensors

Effect-Directed Rather than Concentration Analysis
Cells are the fundamental base units of life and can be used as living sensors, if the reaction of the cells to an external chemical, biological or even physical stimulus can be sensitively detected and converted into an electrical signal. Physical signal transducers such as transistors, electrodes or optrodes are particularly suitable for this, because they allow cells to be examined non‐invasively and without labeling, even over long observation periods. The quantification of biological effects is thus made possible through such biotechnological hybrids of living cells and technical components, without having to rely on the use of experimental animals. This article provides an overview of the possibilities for culturing animal cells in a laboratory environment, describes the state of the art with regard to signal transducers being used for analysis and concludes with selected examples of the use of cellular sensors in drug testing and risk assessment.
Stefanie Michaelis, Joachim Wegener

8. Biopolymers – Function Carriers in Materials Research

Polymeric Materials with Biological Functions and Biomaterials for Medicine
Bionic systems that follow the approach of “learning from nature” have been around for many years. However, the fusion of biology and materials is currently being completely rethought at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP. Modern methods of molecular biology, biotechnology, polymer chemistry and materials science are enabling the development of innovative functional materials with outstanding properties and functions in interdisciplinary research projects. For this purpose, biomolecules such as proteins, peptides or carbohydrates are incorporated directly into polymers, thus transforming their natural function into a material. Filtration through protein pores, biocatalysis in thin films and sugar‐mediated diagnostics become possible. The next step is implemented based on these advances at the molecular level: Strategies are developed for bringing together labile biomolecules and thermoplastic polymer processing—seemingly irreconcilable opposites—to produce biofunctional plastics. For medical applications, the need for congruence between materials and biology has been known for a long time. New implants allow even more precise control of the interaction with tissues, made possible by accurate knowledge and modification of the material properties in interplay with cells in complex biological systems.
The biological transformation of polymers is in full swing, leading not only to future‐oriented materials that are sustainable and functional, but also to materials that enhance engineering processes and facilitate new therapies or diagnostic platforms. Plastic material designers can not only learn from nature, they also need to develop plastics that use nature and deliberately interact with it—this is the next step in the evolution of polymer materials.
Alexander Böker

9. Biogenic Plastic Additives

High-Quality Plastic Additives Made from Natural Raw Materials Benefit the Circular Economy
Additives for plastics based on natural raw materials (“bio‐additives”) are well‐known substances that have been used as such or in chemically modified form in the plastics industry for many years. However, interest in new bioadditives is increasing in line with the goal of replacing petrochemical raw materials and promoting a circular economy, as well as with the increasing demand for biopolymers. Since practically all polymers require additives to guarantee their properties, processing and application, it is logical for biopolymer formulations to also be developed entirely on the basis of renewable raw materials, i.e. both the polymer and the additive. The most important additives include plasticizers, antioxidants and flame retardants.
Rudolf Pfaendner, Tobias Melz

10. Organisms as Producers

Production of Value-Added Compounds Using Microorganisms, Algae and Plant Cells
One aspect of bioeconomy is the use of biological resources such as plants, animals and microorganisms to produce value‐added compounds and active ingredients. Thus, this biomass not only serves as fodder and foodstuff and as a source of energy, but also as a supplier of important bio‐based industrial products such as specialty chemicals, bio‐based plastics, surfactants, colorant or pharmaceuticals. Furthermore, individual biological systems such as animal or microbial cells and even plants can be optimized or genetically modified to produce proteins, oils or metabolites for different industrial applications.
In this chapter, the efficiency of biological production systems is illustrated by means of three examples: the production of a dietary protein in genetically modified bacteria, the preparation of plant stem cells for the cosmetic industry and the production of proteins and valuable lipid fractions such as carotenoids from microalgae. These three scenarios demonstrate the efficiency of biological systems in general. This approach can be applied to a variety of other classes of products, placing biological production at the heart of bioeconomy.
Stefan Rasche, Stefan Schillberg, Felix Derwenskus, Ulrike Schmid-Staiger, Ursula Schließmann

11. Biologized Robotics and Biomechatronics

Opportunities and Challenges in Human-Robot Collaboration
In this chapter, after introducing the topic of “biologized robotics and biomechatronics”, the authors begin by discussing the opportunities and challenges of human‐robot collaboration. They consider the potential applications, forms of interaction as well as hazards and how to avoid them, among others, by defining load limits. After looking ahead at the future of human‐robot collaboration, they go on to present medical technology applications such as endoprostheses and exoskeletons. Here they start by describing the transition from the mechanical to the mechatronic human‐technology interface. The chapter is rounded off by looking at new approaches to recording biosignals, and the combination of functional electrostimulation with actuators, and concludes by introducing the concept of hybrid exoskeletons.
Norbert Elkmann, Roland Behrens, Martin Hägele, Urs Schneider, Susanne Oberer-Treitz

12. Future AM

The Next Generation of Additive Manufacturing Processes
Additive manufacturing (AM) is a technology with high disruptive potential that is currently undergoing heated discussion. The combination of Industry 4.0 and AM makes it possible to print industrial products directly based on digital data. This can result in sustainable change in industrial value creation chains throughout the whole spectrum of manufacturing engineering. Universities, research institutes and young companies recognized the potential of additive manufacturing processes at a very early stage and have developed them into marketable systems that have found their way from their applications in prototyping into the manufacture of end products. A new branch of industry has emerged that radiates throughout the entire value chain—from materials production and machine technology and additive manufacturing processes as a service up to the integration of additively manufactured components into new products.
There are still various “links” missing along the process chain, however, before the comprehensive and cross‐sector use of additive manufacturing processes can occur. These include universal data formats, the uninterrupted linking of digital and real process chains as well as concepts for the scalability of AM processes with regard to build rate and component size, so that production of larger quantities also becomes economically viable. Suitable concepts are also lacking for the manufacture of multi‐material components with AM‐adapted materials or the universal automation of the process chain up to and including the postprocessing of components.
Numerous initiatives are working on solving these problems. For example, in the “futureAM” focus project two strategic goals are being addressed, namely, securing and expanding Germany’s technological leadership in the area of metal AM, as well as establishing a comprehensive cooperation platform for highly integrated collaboration, which makes use of the decentrally distributed resources of the Fraunhofer‐Gesellschaft and interested partners in the field of AM. Technological leaps are needed to ensure this technological leadership and any significant further development. These required leaps in technology may be subdivided into four dimensions. Specifically, these are Industry 4.0 & the digital process chain, scalable & robust AM processes, materials and system engineering & automation.
The cooperation platform is not only created through the intensive collaboration within and between the individual fields of action, but especially through the development of a “Virtual Lab”. Out of this collaboration, with the participation of all partners and using the newly developed technologies, cross‐industry and cross‐sector demonstrators are built, which indeed come from a range of industrial sectors important to Germany.
Johannes Henrich Schleifenbaum, Christian Tenbrock, Claus Emmelmann, Christoph Leyens, Frank Brückner, Alexander Michaelis

13. Insect Biotechnology

Insects as a Resource
Insect biotechnology can be described as the development and application of biotechnological methods to make insects or their derived molecules, cells, organs or associated microorganisms available as products or services for applications in medicine, plant protection or industry. This emerging field, also known as yellow biotechnology, is rigorously pursuing translational research approaches with considerable value creation potential. The Bioresources Division at the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME) is one of the world’s leading research institutions in insect biotechnology. Researchers here are establishing technology platforms that systematically identify and characterize natural products and enzymes from insects and make them utilizable. Innovative technologies for the use of insects in the bioconversion of organic waste into valuable raw materials are also being developed here. In addition, biological and biotechnical processes for the sustainable and environmentally friendly control of insect pests and vector insects are being developed at the Fraunhofer branch in Giessen.
Andreas Vilcinskas

14. The Resource Principle

Utilization and Intelligent Reprocessing Routes for Wood-Based Materials, Natural Fibers and Organic Residues
From time immemorial wood has been used for a very wide range of applications on account of its mechanical properties. Its uses range from static applications in the construction industry and interior design, where for the most part load‐bearing structures are maintained, and extend all the way to energetic use—in other words, its complete degradation to water, minerals and carbon dioxide. There are numerous intermediate levels of physical and/or chemical treatment between these extremes.
In Sects. 14.2 to 14.5, applications are described where all statically significant structures are retained and combined with other materials such as glass fiber or even concrete to optimize mechanical properties. Here, chemical processing is limited to the bonding of wood components with each other or with other materials. These diverse combinations allow new mechanical properties to be achieved. If a hierarchical structure that results in an anisotropic distribution of mechanical properties is broken down, a near‐isotropic distribution profile, with respect to mechanical properties, can be achieved in composite materials.
If the focus is on the chemical components rather than the mechanical structure, then wood can be broken down and fractionated using a variety of methods. Nine of these processes are described and evaluated according to their respective technical maturity. To this end, it should be noted that there are different stages of development: from an established need for pure research through to industrial applications that have already been implemented. A distinction should be made between those processes which preserve the chemical structures—where lignin, hemicellulose and cellulose are regarded as fundamental structures worthy of preservation—to those which break down these structures. While many mature applications already exist for cellulose and hemicellulose, lignin, apart from a few applications, still requires a great deal of research in order for the synthetic efficiency of nature to be optimally exploited. When methods are used that degrade the above‐mentioned target structures further, the end products are small molecules, which can be introduced into the gas network to store energy as fuel (bioethanol) or as methane, or can serve as raw materials for other processes of the chemical industry. An essential criterion for all these processes is that no residues remain, but rather that residues from other processes can even be included in the cycle. It is of interest to the chemical industry that components can be discharged at the different stages of digestion, which can in turn be used for further production and replace fossil resources. Should further use no longer be meaningful after various product cycles, then thermal utilization is still possible and the resulting carbon dioxide can be reintroduced into the resource cycle by using catalysts and energy.
Bohumil Kasal, Moritz Leschinsky, Christian Oehr, Gerd Unkelbach, Markus Wolperdinger

15. Cognitive Biological Sensors

Learning from Nature for Nature
In biology, the targeted observation of the environment through organs of sight, smell and touch is closely linked with the simultaneous steps of cognitive processing of the data for acquisition of information and knowledge. In the digitized economy, a variety of sensors are also used and networked with one another to acquire information and make automated decisions. This chapter addresses this duality between biology and technology from a variety of perspectives. Biological transformation has implications for technical systems, especially in the field of networked and cognitive sensor technology, where it has an impact on the construction of novel sensors, on methods of establishing efficient communication channels between them and not least on the objects being observed themselves, which are increasingly plants as natural resources. This chapter discusses research questions and recent findings in networked sensor technology as part of the development of the Internet of Things, which can ultimately also be used to learn new things about biology as well as to advance technology in this area.
Albert Heuberger, Randolf Hanke, Claudia Eckert

16. Prevention of Biofouling

Electrochemical and Anti-Adhesion Technologies to Protect Ship Hulls and Membrane Modules from Biofouling
Biofouling is one of the key problems that many technical systems face. It weighs down ships, clogs filtration modules for water treatment and causes hygiene problems in clinical environments. At the Fraunhofer Institute for Microstructure of Materials and Systems IMWS, material science solutions have been developed to prevent the adhesion of foulants. An electrically conductive coating system applied to ships keeps the surfaces free of fouling effectively for an extended time. Thin hydrophilic layers on the components of filtration modules reduce the adsorption of microorganisms and can thus contribute to increasing efficiency and energy saving.
Ralf B. Wehrspohn, Ulrike Hirsch

17. Urban Agriculture

The Future of Agriculture – Local, High-Quality and Value-Adding
At the Fraunhofer Institute for Environmental, Safety and Energy Technology UMSICHT research into new forms of agriculture has been ongoing for several years. At UMSICHT, the concepts of “Indoor Farming”, “Urban Agriculture” and “Smart Farming” encompass not only the development of technology building blocks for illumination new plant breeding systems, new materials and non‐destructive analysis or nutrient recovery, but also include the adaptation of plants to cultivation without soil. This chapter presents examples of approaches that can shape a future, transformation‐oriented agricultural economy.
Eckhard Weidner, Görge Deerberg, Volkmar Keuter

18. Digital Villages

How Digital Ecosystems Are Structured and What They Can Do
The Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering IESE demonstrates, in its “Digital Villages” project, how digitization is opening up new opportunities for rural regions. The project began in summer 2015 with the aim of examining the challenges of modern life in rural areas in terms of digitization. Since then, concepts and solutions have emerged that reveal the possibilities inherent in taking a holistic view of the topic of digitization, in the sense of a digital ecosystem. The project, funded by the Rhineland‐Palatinate Ministry of the Interior and for Sport, Fraunhofer IESE and the Rhineland‐Palatinate Development Agency, is considered a pioneer for many other initiatives that have since emerged in Germany. Their mutual aim is to put digital services in rural areas to the test and make them sustainable.
Mario Trapp, Steffen Hess

19. Alternatives to Growth

Climax Economy Modelled on Ecology
In any consideration of biological transformation, it is worthwhile to include a perspective on how populations manage the habitats in which they live, as described by population ecology. Strategies for growth and capacity can be understood in this context as extreme ways of responding to the fundamental question of how to make limited resources of energy and materials available to the next generation. In ecological succession research, the term climax designates a final state, which represents the hypothetical end stage of the developmental succession in plant, animal and soil communities. This is only achieved under stable environmental conditions and resource availability. Current globalization trends require that resources must also be considered globally. When we consider the human population and its demands, we are heading towards a climax situation with regard to our planet’s carrying capacity. This steady‐state situation will require a paradigm shift in the way we think about economy, if we want to avoid or at least attenuate the cyclical collapses observable in nature in rapidly growing populations. The global system as a whole exists under quasi‐constant conditions and at the limits of its capacity it requires a circular economy, which grows in stability by networking as many niche‐adapted economic entities as possible.
The present text describes the concept of climax economy, which can serve as a model for optimal resource utilization. Its principles may also be transferred to the current developments and challenges of the modern economy—such as increasing digitization and customization. Intelligent value networks that are based on diversity and occupy all available niches are prerequisites for a climax economy. These are illustrated using examples in agriculture and agroforestry as well as new developments in the automotive industry.
Christoph Schäfers, Kristina Bette, Florian Herrmann, Georg Nawroth
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