Biologisation as a field of research

Automation for biological transformation

Our world is changing at a rate and to an extent that is unprecedented. World population is growing and the consequences of climate change are already being felt. We will only have a liveable future if people, animals and the plant world live in harmony. This is why at Festo we consider the bioeconomy the economic system of the future. It is our aspiration to make a significant contribution to improving the quality of life of today's and future generations through the cultivation of biomass on a large scale using our automatic technology.

If we can manage to establish a circular economy, this will create innovations from which both people and the environment can benefit equally. A circular economy refers to carbon-neutral production while using as few resources as possible. The idea behind this is that living matter will be cultivated in energy-efficient processes, so that they can be used as the biological basis for extracting raw materials that can then be turned into products. They should ultimately be returned to the natural cycle.

Biology as inspiration

In the learning company that is Festo we have for years considered biology as a source of inspiration and a teacher. Over the years, our bionic engineers have created and developed a wide range of technological innovations. The experience that we have built up, our automation technology and our expertise in control technology make us the ideal partner for the cultivation of biomass on an industrial scale.

BionicHydrogenBattery: storing and transporting hydrogen with the help of bacteria

With the biotechnological BionicHydrogenBattery system, Festo is presenting a completely new, fully automated solution for the energy-efficient storage and low-risk transport of one of the energy sources of the future: hydrogen. It is converted into formic acid with the help of bacteria and, compared to previous processes, at mild temperatures and low pressure.

The energy-efficient and low-risk storage of hydrogen offers great potential. It allows us to produce and store hydrogen when enough sustainably generated energy is available – for example in summer or in windy and sunny countries – and to recover it when it is needed for generating power.

PhotoBionicCell: automated cultivation of biomass

One example of industrial biologisation is the photobioreactor we developed in 2022. The expertise, knowledge and components from Festo can be used to cultivate biomass from different types of algae in a closed circuit thanks to highly efficient and resource-saving automation. During photosynthesis, the plant algae cells convert daylight and carbon dioxide from the ambient air into both chemical energy sources and valuable organic substances.

The resulting substances can then be used as starting materials for pharmaceuticals, packaging, food, fuels or cosmetics, and ultimately recycled in a climate-neutral process. In contrast to products manufactured based on crude oil, these products only release the carbon dioxide that was previously extracted from the air and absorbed in the bioreactor.

BionicCellFactory: cultivating biomass on an industrial scale

With the BionicCellFactory, we are demonstrating a complete bioprocess scaled to 80 litres, from the optimised cultivation of algae with continuous monitoring and analysis, to the harvest and the processing and refinement of various components, all without high temperatures and pressure or toxins.

The BionicCellFactory as a model factory is the universal blueprint for complete production systems of the future. Thanks to our automation technology, it can be scaled to any size to meet future demands for renewable raw materials.

BioTech Automation: automation of bioreactors – from teaching to production

Bioprocesses are becoming increasingly important for industry, as they represent sustainable alternatives to conventional production processes and enable new products to be manufactured.

BioTech Automation is an overview that Festo is presenting of components and solutions that are already available, based on selected cultivation processes that are illustrated with two bioreactors: an algae reactor using the example of Chlorella vulgaris and a stainless steel reactor for the cultivation of microorganisms such as E. coli. Also illustrated is a training reactor as a modular training concept.

Automation enables scaling upwards

Essential parts of the biological transformation are digitalisation, artificial intelligence and quantum sensor technology. These methods can be used to optimise the data from bioreactors in a very short time. Only when the automated cultivation of biomass is reliable, economical and high-quality will bioproduction be marketable on a large scale and be able to achieve the desired environmental results. We are working on this in cooperation with other companies and institutes.

Innovation Alliance Biosurfactants

The precise measurement of biomass is a major challenge for biotechnology. It is important for the optimal regulation of the nutrition and gassing of the microorganisms. Festo is carrying out research with partners from science and industry on an economical calculator for measuring biomass in real time. The solution from Festo is a soft sensor for estimating the biomass. It uses existing measurement data such as temperature, pressure, pH value to provide important information on the status of the biomass in real time. Experts can use it to determine, for example, when to feed the biomass or when to harvest it.

Festo is a member of the Biointelligence Competence Center

Festo is also part of the Biointelligence Competence Center. This consortium of the most important research institutes and some pioneering companies is interested in advancing the biological transformation to sustainable ecosystems. We are interested in spreading this interdisciplinary approach from the Stuttgart region into the world.

New specialist fields for new technologies

However, highly qualified technical staff and biotechnologists for a large number of bioreactors are not available everywhere. With this in mind, we will, on the one hand, support system operators with remote diagnostics, maintenance and control using cloud solutions.

On the other hand, we will analyse the need for new knowledge in order to define interdisciplinary networks and to establish innovative training professions, study programmes and additional training in biomechatronics, biointelligence and sustainability. The paradigm shift will affect forward-looking business areas and professional requirements in equal measure.

That is why we are setting the stage for the biological transformation of the economy towards an environmentally sound circular economy. Education is the only responsible way to meet the global challenges of the 21st century.