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Alternative Biomass

New biomass sources for bioeconomy applications

The Alternative Biomass group develops biomass production systems in close collaboration with downstream processes of biomass conversion in biorefineries. Besides optimizing quality and the yield of biomass, we try to minimize competition for land resources. The close interaction with innovative, plant-based products generates novel opportunities for products and value networks.

While, in recent years, alternative biomass crops have mostly been grown for bioenergy purposes, we focus on generation of novel products that generate higher value.

In addition, we target circular processes in systemic approaches including production, conversion and re-cycling phase.
Such alternative biomass systems and cascaded use of biomass sources aim to minimize potential conflicts between use of biomass for food and non-food purposes. We concentrate on

Based on this mission we focus on

  1. Microalgae production and use,
  2. perennial plants,
  3. circular flows in bioeconomy and
  4. integrated biorefinery concepts.

One focus is the flexible usability of biomass for various products and the generation of a wide spectrum of valuable (side) products.

Focus Areas

Microalgae production and use

Exploring and expanding boundaries of biomass production in large scale algal photobioreactors

Mass production of algae is an option for production of alternative biomass for material, chemicals and biofuels and to sequester, on a large scale, nutrients from waste water effluents. Perspectives of growing microalgae as a crop highlight some of the exceptional (energy) storage properties of microalgae regarding commercial exploitation. Large scale algae production techniques and concepts up to downstream processes are based on the BMEL project AUFWIND.


C. Schreiber, D. Behrendt, G. Huber, C. Pfaff, J. Widzgowski, et al., Growth of algal biomass in laboratory and in large-scale algal photobioreactors in the temperate climate of western Germany. Bioresource Technology 234: 140-9 (2017).

Lipid metabolomic pathways and exploring genetic diversity in micro-algae

Membrane lipids as well as storage lipids are energy rich compounds with high potential as technical lubricants, emulsifiers for food applications and necessary ingredients of cosmetic products. Algal lipids are rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids which are easily biodegradable and essential for human diet. Since algal mass cultivation is often limited by suboptimal environmental conditions, we also focused on growth behavior and lipid alterations under several stress conditions like light limitation, excess light and nutrient depletions.
In particular, we investigate the lipid metabolism of some biotechnological attractive Chlorella strains.


Widzgowski, J., Zenner, J., Vogel, A., Schurr, U. and Pfaff, C., et al., High light resilience is reflected in the membrane lipid composition of Chlorella (2017; in preparation)

Capacity of microalgal biomass to fertilize nutrient poor soils

Algae, with their capability to sequester nutrients from waste streams, have potential to become alternative fertilizers of future. With respect to growth of wheat, algae and mineral fertilizer amendments were delivering to soil equal amounts of phosphate and growth. This demonstrates that algal biomass is a viable option for delivering nutrients to support agriculture on marginal soils.


Š. Moudříková, P. Mojzeš, V. Zachleder, C. Pfaff, D. Behrendt, et al., Raman and fluorescence microscopy sensing energy-transducing and energy-storing structures in microalgae. Algal Research 16: 224-232 (2016)

Š. Moudříková, L. Nedbal, A. Solovchenko, and P. Mojzeš, Raman microscopy shows that nitrogen-rich cellular inclusions in microalgae are microcrystalline guanine. Algal Research 23: 216-22 (2017)

A. Shebanova, T. Ismagulova,  A. Solovchenko, O. Baulina, L. Nedbal, et al., Versatility of the green microalga cell vacuole function as revealed by analytical transmission electron microscopy. Protoplasma 1-18 (2016)


Prof. Dr. Ulrich Schurr
Dr. Christina Schreiber
Dr. Dominik Behrendt
Dr. Christian Pfaff
Janka Widzkowski
Dr. Ladislav Nedbal
Bärbel Ackermann
Varun Loomba
Isabel Meuser

Perennial plants

Perennial plants have a significant potential to produce on marginal soils and to deliver novel biomass composition. Tailor-made processes for adaptive lignocellulose processing can then be established to identify high value bio-based chemical compounds from the biomass sources.


T. Damm, S. Pattathil, M. Günl, N.D. Jablonowski, M. O'Neill, et al., Insights into cell wall structure of Sida hermaphrodita and its influence on recalcitrance. Carbohydr Polym. 168, 94-102 (2017).

N.D. Jablonowski, T. Kollmann, M. Nabel, T. Damm, H. Klose, et al, Valorization of Sida (Sida hermaphrodita) biomass for multiple energy purposes. GCB Bioenergy, 1-13 (2016).


Dr. Silvia Schrey
Moritz Nabel
Lucy Harrison
Marion Roeb

Marginal fields

Circular flows in bioeconomy

Biogenic residues from agricultural processes contain considerable amounts of carbon and plant nutrients. Re-introduction to soils increases soil fertility while reducing dependency on mineral fertilizers.
Perennial energy crops like Sida hermaphrodita allow for a continuous energy-crop production without the need of soil cultivation and its accompanied disturbance of soil fertility. Following the idea of closed nutrient-loops, biogas digestates are applied as fertilizer and soil amendment.


D.B.P Barbosa, M. Nabel, and N.D. Jablonowski, Biogas-digestate as nutrient source for biomass production of Sida hermaphrodita, Zea mays L. and Medicago sativa L. Energy Procedia, 59, 120–126 (2014).

M. Nabel, D. Bueno, P. Barbosa, D. Horsch, and N.D. Jablonowski, Energy crop (Sida hermaphrodita) fertilization using digestate under marginal soil conditions: a dose-response experiment. Energy Procedia, 59, 127-133  (2014).

M. Nabel, V.M. Temperton, H. Poorter, A. Lücke, and N.D. Jablonowski, Energizing marginal soils – The establishment of the energy crop Sida hermaphrodita as dependent on digestate fertilization, NPK, and legume intercropping. Biomass and Bioenergy, 87: 9–16 (2016).


Dr. Nicolai D. Jablonowski
Dr. Ana Alejandra Robles Aguilar
Charlotte Dietrich
Vitali Dombinov
Limbania Aliaga

Integrated biorefinery concepts

Sustainable conversion of biomass dictates the full valorization of all major components, following the principles of green chemistry and engineering. Modern integrated biorefinery concepts combine adapted unit operations for the conversion of a diverse variety of biomass feedstocks, arching from lignocellulosic land plants to lipid producing microalgae. Besides the fractionation of the biomass components, separation and purification steps have to be adapted for the desired products. This leads to innovative, sustainable and economic biomass conversion systems that are adaptable to the different types of biomass and enable straightforward downstream processing.


T. vom Stein, P. M. Grande, H. Kayser, F. Sibilla, W. Leitner, P. Domínguez de María. From biomass to feedstock: one-step fractionation of lignocellulose components by the selective organic acid-catalyzed depolymerization of hemicellulose in a biphasic system. Green Chem. 2011, 13, 1772–1777.

P. M. Grande, J. Viell, N. Theyssen, W. Marquardt, P. Domínguez de María, W. Leitner. Fractionation of lignocellulosic biomass using the OrganoCat process. Green Chem. 2015, 17, 3533–3539.

T. Damm, P. M. Grande, N. D. Jablonowski, B. Thiele, U. Disko, U. Mann, U. Schurr, W. Leitner, B. Usadel, P. Domínguez de María, et al., OrganoCat pretreatment of perennial plants: Synergies between a biogenic fractionation and valuable feedstocks. Bioresour. Technol. 2017, 244, 889–896.

T. Damm, S. Pattathil, M. Günl, N. D. Jablonowski, M. O’Neill, K. S. Grün, P. M. Grande, W. Leitner, U. Schurr, B. Usadel. Insights into cell wall structure of Sida hermaphrodita and its influence on recalcitrance. Carbohyd. Polym. 2017, 168, 94–102.


Prof. Dr. Ulrich Schurr
Dr. Philipp Grande