Chronicles

1953 – The beginnings as interfacial institute

The roots of the IGB lie in the village of Marienthal near Kirchheimbolanden in the Rhineland-Palatinate. In 1953 the Institute for Interfacial Physics and Chemistry was founded as a private initiative in order to devote themselves of interfacial processes on powdered solids.

In 1962, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft took over the institute, initially under its previous name “Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Physics and Chemistry IGf”.

In 1969 the “Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Physics and Chemistry IGf”moved to Stuttgart, where Prof. Karl Hamann, head of the Stuttgart Research Institute for Pigments and Coatings, took over as acting director.

1976 – Expansion of bioprocess engineering

In 1976, Dr.-Ing. Horst Chmiel, then engaged in medical technology research at the Helmholtz Institute in Aachen, was appointed successor to Prof. Hamann, who retired on age grounds.

His concern was to introduce bioengineering to the institute and to steer the existing “interfacial” orientation of its work more strongly toward process engineering and its applications. Thus research was thematically expanded, and the institute received its current name, “Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology”, abbreviated in German to IGB.

A new research focus was added: the “interfacial problems of medicine”, the interface between the “interfaces” and the new field of medical engineering.

Today’s key area of environmental biotechnology dates back to 1978, when it was established to develop and optimize bioprocesses for applications such as the production of biogas from agricultural waste like manure and sewage sludge, for optimizing wastewater treatment, and for the production of organic acids by use of biotechnology.

Membrane technology kicked off in 1979 as the research focus “Transport processes through membranes” in the area of medical technology. Within a few years the institute was able to extend the membrane technology to other applications such as product recycling and develop it into a fi eld of research of significant importance to industry.

When the Fraunhofer IGB moved to a new building with state-of-the-art laboratories at today’s Fraunhofer Campus in Stuttgart-Vaihingen in 1981, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and the state of Baden-Württemberg laid the foundation for fruitful cooperation between the Fraunhofer institutes and the scientific and technical institutes of the university.

After the appointment of Prof. Chmiel to the University of Saarbrücken, Prof. Armin Fiechter from ETH Zurich initially held the post of acting director of the Fraunhofer IGB. He was followed by Dr. Herbert Bauser, head of the institute’s Interfacial Process Engineering department. Subsequently Dr. Christian Oehr, who built up the plasma technology at the IGB, was made departmental head.

1994 – The introduction of molecular biotechnology makes IGB a life sciences institute

In 1994, Prof. Herwig Brunner came from Boehringer Mannheim to the Fraunhofer IGB as director.

Intent on a solid scientific foundation for the application-oriented research at the IGB, Brunner instigated the creation of a chair for Interfacial Engineering at the University of Stuttgart, which after five years was elevated to institute status (IGVT).

One year later, in 1995, the institute took over the Department of Genetic Engineering at the then Fraunhofer Institute of Toxicology and Aerosol Research ITA in Hanover, which specialized in recombinant protein production and the design of pharmaceutical proteins.

Parallel to these activities, Brunner added further molecular biological competences to the IGB. In 1998, the “Protein screening systems” junior research team (Dr. Steffen Rupp), moved into new, dedicated premises. At the same time, Brunner built a bridge from biotechnology to interfacial engineering: with a second junior research group “Biomimetic interfaces” (Dr. Günter Tovar). The junior research group “Protein screening systems” will later be transferred to the Department of Molecular Biotechnology. Dr. Günter Tovar will initially be a group manager in the Department of Interfacial Engineering and Materials Science, before concentrating on university research and teaching as deputy director at the Institute of Interfacial Engineering IGVT.

Acting with foresight, Brunner also strengthened cell biology activities at the IGB, systematically developed them into cell system research – with the goal of tissue engineering. In 2004, Prof. Heike Walles became head of department for “human-cell interfaces”. Through cooperations with the neighboring Fraunhofer IPA, Brunner is also pushing forward the connection of natural sciences and engineering sciences.

2007 – Focusing on project groups, bioeconomy and sustainability

In December 2007, Prof. Dr. Thomas Hirth from the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology ICT took over as director of the IGB and created the business areas medicine, pharmacy, chemistry, environment, and energy. With his contacts in industrial biotechnology, he brought back to the institute a subject that the Fraunhofer IGB had researched in broad outline in the past, namely the manufacture of products from renewables (renewables conversion). At the same time he ensured that the topics of bioeconomy and sustainability became not only a key part of the research landscape at the Fraunhofer IGB and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, but also a core aspect of national German and Baden-Württemberg research policies. Hirth also oversaw the expansion of Fraunhofer IGB activities to Würzburg, Straubing and Leuna, where project groups on oncology, on chemocatalysis and biocatalysis and the Fraunhofer Center for Chemical-Biotechnological Processes CBP were established.

When the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft discontinued the Technology Development Group (TEG) in 2009, the Department of Physical Process Engineering under the direction of the process engineer Siegfried Egner was integrated into the IGB.

In July 2009, a joint Federal Government / Länder committee approved the setting up of a “Chemical Biotechnological Process Center” (head: Gerd Unkelbach) in Leuna, Saxony-Anhalt.

On August 1 of the same year, the project groups BioCat (head: Prof. Volker Sieber) and Oncology (head: Prof. Heike Walles) commenced their activities in Straubing and Würzburg.

In 2011, Prof. Trösch handed over management of the Environmental Biotechnology and Bioprocess Engineering Department to Dr.-Ing. Ursula Schließmann, previously his deputy.

On October 2, 2012 the German Federal Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel inaugurated the CBP in Leuna. For the first time, the CBP makes it possible to transfer the material use of renewable raw materials more quickly into industrial applications. It has taken a key position in German and European bioeconomy research since then.

At the University of Stuttgart, the Institute for Plasma Research was integrated into the former Institute for Interfacial Engineering IGVT at the turn of the year 2012/2013 to become the Institute of Interfacial Process Engineering and Plasma Technology IGVP. Thus plasma activities in Stuttgart are now bundled, strengthening the roots of the IGB, with which the IGVP is closely associated.

The Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB celebrated its 60th anniversary on September 25, 2013 with a commemorative symposium.

At the end of 2013, BioCat also received a notification of funding for the “Center for Energy Storage” at the Straubing site, since then, the Free State of Bavaria has been continuing to provide funding for the Center and will do so until the five-year period ends.

2013, Prof. Dr. Katja Schenke-Layland and Prof. Dr. Petra Kluger took over the management of the Cell and Tissue Engineering Department of Prof. Walles, who focuses on Würzburg after approval of a translational center for medical products and regenerative therapies.

With the start-up financing by the relevant federal states having come to an end, and with the groups having been successfully
evaluated, in 2014 all three project groups – in Leuna, Straubing and Würzburg – were transferred over to the combined federal and statelevel financing arrangements (Bund-Länder-Finanzierung) of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, thereby becoming permanent branches of the Fraunhofer IGB.

Thanks to additional funding from Bavaria, in mid-July 2014 the project group became part of the new Fraunhofer Translational Center “Regenerative Therapies for Oncology and Musculoskeletal Diseases”.

2016 – Health, chemistry and process industry, environment and energy

After the change of Hirth to Karlsruhe Institute of Technology KIT, Prof. Dr. Katja Schenke-Layland and Hon.-Prof. Dr. Christian Oehr are the interim director of the institute. They focus the topics of the institute on the business areas of health, chemistry and process industry as well as environment and energy.