Environment and Energy

Against the backdrop of the global debate on water shortage and pollution, resource scarcity and climate change, resource and environmentally friendly economies are becoming more and more important. The transition to sustainable, environmentally friendly yet reliable supplies of clean water, food, raw materials, and energy is therefore one of the major challenges of society today – also in view of the global climate protection targets.

In national and international projects with partners from research, industry and municipalities, Fraunhofer IGB is developing innovative processes, reactors and new technologies for a sustainable water supply and disposal system, especially for the treatment of industrial process water and municipal wastewater, for the reuse of residual and waste materials, and to improve energy efficiency by making use of waste heat and regenerative energy.

The business area “Environment and Energy” thus stands for a variety of advanced technological developments that help to prevent emissions being released into the environment, to recycle raw materials and to develop regenerative energy, thereby combining cost effectiveness with sustainability. Potential solutions are, in some cases, linked with major topics in the business area “Chemistry and Process Industry”.

 

Networking and cooperation

At Fraunhofer IGB we are developing integrated material flow and energy concepts for industry, municipalities and entire regions with the aim of replacing historically evolved infrastructures by system solutions using the latest technologies. We are therefore actively involved in the Fraunhofer Alliances Energy, Building Innovation, Water Systems, and the Morgenstadt Initiative. Also, Fraunhofer IGB is outstandingly networked in Germany through the national technology platforms SusChem Deutschland and German Water Partnership, and very well connected throughout Europe.

Water and wastewater technologies

Water is our most important food resource. To achieve a secure supply of water and efficient water purification, we develop innovative solutions for water extraction and water infrastructure concepts that are adapted to the geographical, demographic and regional conditions in each case. To ensure, as far as possible, the multiple use of industrial process water, we are working on technologies with which contaminations can be selectively removed and valuable substances can be recovered. We develop, optimize and combine aerobic and anaerobic biological processes with membrane and chemico-physical processes as required.

We employ various technologies, among them membrane adsorbers and electrooxidative processes, to prevent emissions of persistent substances into the environment. To purify water with persistent organic components, we develop technologies where treatment with electric current (electrolysis) or high-energy UV radiation (photolysis) result in reactive hydroxyl radicals that oxidize the organic molecules to recoverable compounds or completely to carbon dioxide, but without the addition of chemicals.

Research focus and projects

Water monitoring

Drinking water is subject to a wide range of hazards. For example, pesticides from agriculture or chemicals from industrial accidents can enter municipal supply systems via the groundwater. The release of toxic compounds brought about by criminal or terrorist attacks also represents a growing threat. To prevent the possibility of contaminated drinking water from reaching consumers, it must already be monitored in the supply network. Fraunhofer IGB develops biosensors based on living cells that are suitable as early warning systems for the municipal water supply or decentralized supply systems. We work together with other Fraunhofer Institutes on translating the cellular response into a physically measurable signal.

Research focus and projects

(Re)processing of raw and residual materials

Our primary raw materials are finite resources, yet in politically unstable regions they are frequently not exploited in a sustainable or socially acceptable way. To supply a growing world population with raw materials and to reduce the dependence on importing raw materials, we develop processes for recovering and recycling secondary raw materials from production and waste streams – in a quality equivalent to that of the primary raw materials and with comparable processing complexity and costs.

New techniques for example, enable us to selectively separate mixtures of inorganic raw materials (metals, rare earths) on a molecular or atomic level. Using new processes, important nutrients such as phosphorus and ammonium can be recovered from wastewater, sewage sludge, fermentation residues or liquid manure to be used as fertilizers. We process the residual low-nutrient organic fractions to obtain humus-forming soil conditioners.

Research focus and projects

Energy conversion and storage

To tap new regenerative energy sources, we develop innovative membrane technologies, for example for efficient ethanol fuel cells or economically viable osmotic power plants. For the energy system turnaround to succeed, storing excess power must be practicable. For this purpose, we develop catalytic processes to convert electrical energy – especially by binding and reducing CO2 – to chemical energy reservoirs, for example longer-chained hydrocarbons.

In many cases, waste heat that results from power generation and many industrial processes remains unused. To make excess waste heat available for temporally and spatially decoupled heat requirements, Fraunhofer IGB is working on thermo-chemical sorption systems for the long-term storage of heat.

Research focus and projects

Bioenergy

The efficient generation of biogas from sewage sludge using anaerobic technologies is a key issue at IGB. We have already converted several sewage treatment plants of different sizes to our high-load digestion process, thus making them self-sufficient energy operations. We also use our know-how about the fermentation of organic substances for the reutilization of residual matter from the food industry and agriculture. Small mass flows are becoming increasingly interesting as the energy sector is decentralized.

However, biogas – a mixture of methane and carbon dioxide – is not just used to generate power and heat in combined heat and power (CHP) units. We therefore investigate absorption and membrane processes that bind CO2 with high capacity to separate highly purified methane from biogas as a basic raw material or fuel.

Research focus and projects