North Rhine-Westphalia

North Rhine-Westphalia, with a population of 18 million, is central to the most densely populated area in Europe and is Germany's No.1 industrial region. The strongest industrial sectors of North Rhine-Westphalia are construction, metal industries, machinery and the chemical industries. The construction industry, especially, has high potential to move towards the bioeconomy through timber use, but the chemical and biotechnology industries could also be transformed by better incorporating local bio-based resources and new technologies.

About a quarter of the land area (27%) is forest. The forest and wood cluster is a main pillar of the bioeconomy in North Rhine-Westphalia. Its contribution to climate protection amounts to 18 million ton CO2 per year. Entrepreneurs in North Rhine-Westphalia have access to more or less equal resources from forest, agricultural and urban waste biomass. There is about 0,79 ton of biomass available for every citizen, this corresponds to roughly one-twentieth of the materials consumed in the North Rhine-Westphalian economy.

The federal state of North Rhine-Westphalia is following the recommendations of the bioeconomy strategy of the European Union and the German government. The Bioeconomy Strategy of NRW is currently under revision.

North Rhine-Westphalia has a strong innovation profile within the forest bioeconomy start-up ecosystem, most start-ups function in the biotech and wood processing sectors.

A vision on the bioeconomy

North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) is one of Europe's leading locations for chemicals, pharmaceuticals and energy: this makes it particularly important to focus on how to transform a society based on fossil fuels into one which is based on renewable resources. The federal state of NRW sees high potential in the bioeconomy and is therefore following the recommendations of the bioeconomy strategy of the European Union and the German government. For the NRW government, the development of a bioeconomy is a strategic instrument to promote the transformation of the NRW economy into a sustainable economy.

The Bioeconomy Strategy of NRW is under preparation. The forest-based bioeconomy sector plays a main role for sustainable construction, biobased materials, and renewable energy. The multiple use of wood fibres and wood products in the circular economy plays a main role to expand the contribution of the forest-based sector to climate protection and sustainability. Decentral biorefinery concepts based on by products of the paper and sawmill sector as well as the use of wood for biotechnical applications are also new perspectives for the forest and wood cluster in the bioeconomy.

Research and Innovation Smart Specialisation Strategy (RIS3)

The Research and Innovation Smart Specialisation Strategy (RIS3) of North Rhine-Westphalia 2014 -2020 emphasises that in forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, food security and water protection have priority over the cultivation of technically usable renewable raw materials. Since agricultural and forestry land in NRW is limited, the available renewable raw materials should first be used as materials and then as energy (cascade use) and a corresponding circular economy should be established. The focus, then, is on which sustainable concepts of integrated biorefinery, i.e. the material and energetic (cascade) use of biomass, can be realised. Concepts for the use of large quantities of renewable raw materials must also address logistical challenges. The strategy focuses on the following eight lead markets.

New materials

Machinery and plant engineering


Information and communication technologies (ICT)

Mobility and logistics

Energy and environmental industry

Life sciences

Media and creative industries

North Rhine-Westphalia Ecosystem

The North Rhine-Westphalian forest bioeconomy ecosystem can be grouped into ten different categories.

Industrial clusters

The clusters in NRW are diverse both in terms of geographic scope and thematic focus. There are specific clusters that aim to strengthen the forest and timber industry: proHolz.NRW; Zentrum.Holz; Holzkompetenzzentrum Rheinland. Additionally, there are clusters with a focus on bioenergy (Zentrum für Bioenergie) and forestry4.0 (KWH4.0).

Leading companies

NRW counts over 20,000 companies in the forest and wood sector. The sub-sectors with the most employees and the highest turnover in the cluster statistics are the furniture industry, the woodworking and woodcraft industry and timber construction. NRW leading companies operate in those same sub-sectors and in the pulp & paper industry.

Research centres and technological centres

No other region in Europe has so many scientific institutions in such a small area. These include 70 universities, 14 institutes of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, 12 Max Planck Institutes and more than 50 research facilities located at the universities. A number of those are relevant for the forest bioeconomy.

Bioeconomy education and training

There are several university studies that can educate the NRW bioeconomy entrepreneurs of tomorrow, even if there is currently no dedicated university degree, Master or PhD course on the bioeconomy.

Public agencies supporting forest bioeconomy

There are several public agencies that support businesses in NRW. Some are focused on (a segment of) bioeconomy, others on digitisation and others are generic. The Bauen mit Holz.NRW platform supports the use of modern timber construction technologies in residential construction as well as in the field of municipal and public construction. BioökonomieREVIER networking and advisory agency focuses on bioeconomy.

Accelerators and incubators

There are many accelerator programmes and incubators active in NRW. The accelerators are a mix of private, government and university-related initiatives but the majority has relations with universities. Many are generic, others focus on technology and BIOBoosteRR focuses on bioeconomy start-ups. Several of the accelerators are funded by the State of NRW.

Investors and venture capitalists

The number of private investors and venture capitalists in NRW is limited.

Start-ups and tech SMEs

Many NRW forest bioeconomy start-ups focus on biotechnology. These are the biotech start-ups based on lignocellulose raw materials. A considerable number of those biotech start-ups produce advanced materials like bioplastics. Many other start-ups function in the market segment of wood processing.


NRW hosts several events focused on forestry and bioeconomy. LIGNA, the world's leading trade fair for woodworking and wood processing, has strong connections with the region.

Forest- or innovation-related information sourcest

There are several useful information sources for NRW entrepreneurs. Some of them focus on sustainable entrepreneurship and promote NRW start-ups and tech SMEs.