Replacement, not abstinence

Fifth “enter the future” event: “Biological transformation – what is it good for? And what have mushrooms got to do with it?“


20.10.2022



Around 200 guests at the TauberPhilharmonie in Weikersheim or taking part via a live stream witnessed the fifth event in the Wittenstein Foundation’s “enter the future” series on Thursday, October 13. The speakers – Professor Vera Meyer and Professor Thomas Bauernhansl – showed how principles of nature are increasingly being integrated into modern economic sectors and areas of life, engaging subsequently in a fruitful dialog with the audience – both online and in-person.


Referring to the 2022 “Earth Overshoot Day” last July 28 – the date when humanity used all the biological resources that Earth regenerates during the entire year – Dr Manfred Wittenstein, initiator and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Wittenstein Foundation, opened what is meanwhile the fifth “enter the future” event at the TauberPhilharmonie in Weikersheim. “Since 1970, humanity’s annual consumption has exceeded globally available resources earlier and earlier. In other words, if we ‘carry on regardless’, we’ll need several Earths in the foreseeable future. This is anything but taking responsibility for future generations. The challenges facing us here are huge. Fundamentally different approaches are a must.”


Sustainability – not a synonym for abstinence


Professor Thomas Bauernhansl, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (Fraunhofer IPA) in Stuttgart and Director of the Institute of Industrial Manufacturing and Management (IFF) at the University of Stuttgart, who spoke first, fully shared this view with the evening’s host. He alluded to the threatening situation in which humanity currently finds itself with questions such as “Can we eat what we like and what we need without destroying the environment and indeed ourselves?”, “How can we cure diseases effectively and affordably?” or “Can we live sustainably and does sustainability automatically mean doing without?”. According to Bauernhansl, 25 percent of all environmental impacts are due to the way food is produced and consumed, while 10 percent of the gross domestic product of all OECD countries is spent on healthcare and the cement industry alone is responsible for 8 percent of greenhouse emissions worldwide. This excess demand can only be countered with innovations that ensure sustainable supplies to people in all areas of need. The key to this lies in biological transformation, i.e. the combination of the three disciplines of production technology, information technology and biotechnology in a common system architecture. “We look at what nature can do particularly well, take inspiration from it and then integrate those principles into our value creation. That way, we can keep our resources in circulation and develop new materials, production processes and products. From decentralized food production in your own kitchen through customized cancer treatment to green hydrogen, all kinds of possibilities are opened up – and they’re all about replacement and new ways of thinking, not abstinence”, Bauernhansl explained.

Mushrooms as artists of transformation

Professor Vera Meyer, visual artist and Head of the Chair of Molecular and Applied Microbiology at Technische Universität Berlin, attributed a particularly significant role in this biological transformation to fungi. “The Earth would not look the way it does today without the world of mushrooms. Fungi have changed continents, made vegetation possible and enabled the evolution of wildlife. There’s a lot we can learn from the kingdom of fungi that can help us live sustainably.” The first fungal product in the form of citric acid came onto the market as early as 1919, and since then a variety of organic acids have been manufactured in biotechnological laboratories. They form the platform technology for the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, for example, as well as for textiles and fuel production. The next big revolution that is currently taking place in fungal biotechnology, Meyer added, is the development of new material sciences to include living fungal materials – once again, as part of a circular economy. For instance, compostable composites that can be used both as insulation and as composite material are now being produced in laboratory processes from fungi and residual materials arising in agriculture and forestry. Meyer outlined a fascinating future vision: “Construction materials, furniture, clothing, food – all made from mushrooms: by 2030, we’ll even have the know-how to build an entire house with fungi thanks to this disruptive technology”. In order to make this vision tangible today, she is already exhibiting her first projects as an artist at the Futurium in Berlin, among other places. “Art has traditionally bridged the gap between ideas and society”, said Meyer in conclusion.


Both speakers and Dr Manfred Wittenstein were in agreement on the need to involve society in this transformation process as early and as fully as possible: “You can’t research and experiment an issue like this behind closed doors and then assume that your solutions will meet with comprehension and acceptance. Communication, understanding and participation are enormously important here.”


Next “enter the future” event

This is precisely where the Wittenstein Foundation is aiming to make a contribution with the “enter the future” event series. Plans are already underway for the next event: in spring 2023, the focus will be on the state of our society.


For a recording of the complete event, including the discussion with the audience, see www.wittenstein-stiftung.com/enter-the-future.


Downloads

pm-wittenstein-stiftung-nachbericht-enter-the-future-05-20221020-en
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Image source: Wittenstein Foundation / Michael Pogoda


The speakers (from left to right): Professor Thomas Bauernhansl (Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (Fraunhofer IPA) in Stuttgart), moderator Benedikt Hofmann (Editor-in-Chief of MM MaschinenMarkt), Professor Vera Meyer (Head of the Chair of Molecular and Applied Microbiology at Technische Universität Berlin) and Dr Manfred Wittenstein (initiator and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Wittenstein Foundation).

pm-wittenstein-stiftung-etf-05-nachbericht-01
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Image source: Wittenstein Foundation / Michael Pogoda


Professor Vera Meyer is a visual artist and Head of the Chair of Molecular and Applied Microbiology at Technische Universität Berlin.

pm-wittenstein-stiftung-etf-05-nachbericht-02
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Image source: Wittenstein Foundation / Michael Pogoda


Professor Thomas Bauernhansl is Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (Fraunhofer IPA) in Stuttgart and Director of the Institute of Industrial Manufacturing and Management (IFF) at the University of Stuttgart.

pm-wittenstein-stiftung-etf-05-nachbericht-03
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Image source: Wittenstein Foundation / Michael Pogoda


The two speakers engaged in an active exchange with the audience – both online and in-person.

pm-wittenstein-stiftung-etf-05-nachbericht-04
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Image source: Wittenstein Foundation / Michael Pogoda


Host for the evening: Dr Manfred Wittenstein, initiator and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Wittenstein Foundation.

pm-wittenstein-stiftung-etf-05-nachbericht-05
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