In trade and industry, a variety of different materials is required for the manufacture of products. In the future, the production of and with materials - from that of a water bottle, an automobile or a skyscraper - will become a massive challenge. Especially carbon based materials are of limited availability and harmful to the climate, and, consequently, will sooner or later have to be replaced. This is one of the reasons why the technologies and solutions investigated at the Sustainability Center encompass the development of bio-based materials, their resource-efficient use, lightweight design, recyclability, sustainable manufacturing of materials and sustainable material conversion.
Bio-active and bio-inspired materials
The study of bionics deals with the analysis and understanding of natural phenomena, and with the potential use of these for us humans. Examples are the glue produced by mussels, the self-cleaning properties of superhydrophobic surfaces called the "lotus effect", or the conversion of light energy into chemical energy during photosynthesis. Today, biologically active substances are already used for specific applications, especially as pharmaceutical ingredients and agrochemicals. Through further research into such substances, more mechanisms and substances found in nature can be put to use for the production of materials. In addition to the development of new materials and substances, bionics research pursues more objectives: the reduction of animal testing, the production of materials in a resource- and energy-efficient manner, and the decrease or even avoidance of pharmaceutical residues.
Fundamentals of materials
Fundamental material research is necessary in order to extend the variety of sustainable and functional materials. To this end, different, already existing lines of research are bundled and expanded. The spectrum ranges from the theoretical description and simulation of materials to material synthesis, the utilization of renewable resources, and tailor-made surfaces and interfaces. The aim of this research is to increase the variety of materials and to improve their system integration.
Since resources are limited and numerous materials are harmful to environment and climate, it becomes increasingly important to substitute those materials with other, less harmful ones. The research first of all aims at finding appropriate substitution materials, then at integrating them into the design of existing systems, and, finally, at implementing them in new process chains. In order to apply these materials sustainably, their material characteristics have to be analyzed over a long time span. Only this way, a high level of reliability and durability can be realized, and a reduction of the properties during recycling can be avoided.
Optimization and application of materials
The fundamental and substitution research is followed by the applied sustainable materials research, investigating the utilization of new materials in practice. Here, properties and functionalization of technical and renewable materials and their use in components and systems are examined: can we go easy on resources by choosing certain materials? Can they be processed in an energy-efficient manner? How do structures and the durability, degradation, and recyclability of materials behave in practical application?
Besides the used materials, the production processes are also a decisive factor for the sustainability of a business/economy/industry/economic system. In this research field, new and modified production processes are planned to be developed in order to minimize their negative influence on the environment, to reduce the use of energy and resources, and to make them safer and economically more attractive. In a holistic approach, the entire process chain is analyzed in an elaborate manner including the use of energy and resources, their functionalization, design, property optimization, their control, and the transport chains.
Chemical processes for the production of materials are often connected with a high consumption of energy and high waste production. New, sustainable methods for material conversion that need less energy, avoid waste and by-products, ensure a safe process, and rely on the use of renewable resources are enquired into. In the research field "Chemical Reactions", one of the main issue is to develop new catalysts and biocatalysts that are essential in order to reach this goal.