Two Fraunhofer scientists have been awarded this year’s Ferchau Innovation Award. The first place, along with prize money of 10,000 euros, was awarded to Prof. Walter Trösch from the Fraunhofer Institute of Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart. Trösch uses photobioreactors to bind CO2 produced from flue gas plants. The second place, and 7,500 euros, went to Michael Emonts from the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT in Aachen for the development of a new laser-assisted cutting procedure. The competition, which comes with a total of 30,000 euros in prize money, is entitled “Technology for the Environment”. The prizes were awarded on 20th April at the Hanover Fair.
Melting polar caps, rising sea levels, floods and drought catastrophes - the consequences of climate change present a global threat. The main reason for the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations is the combustion of fossil energy. But there are ways to reduce the CO2 concentration in the air. Prof. Walter Trösch, head of the Department of Environmental Biotechnology and Biochemical Engineering at the IGB in Stuttgart, is a firm believer in algae when it comes to binding fossil CO2. Working with Dr. Ulrike Schmid-Staiger and Subitec GmbH, Trösch has developed a reactor platform that enables CO2 from flue gas plants to be put to good use. A smart side effect is that the algae produce vitamins, fatty acids, pharmaceutical substances and regenerative energies.
The foil reactor works on the principle of an airlift reactor. The scientists exploit the flash effect, since algae are able to grow even if they are only periodically exposed to strong sunlight. This can be achieved by the targeted conduction of the flow across static mixers. After cooling and condensate separation, the researchers supply the CO2 arising from the combustion of gas as a direct source of CO2 to the photobioreactor without causing algal growth to be impaired. “Our technology not only leads to the reduction of CO2, but also enables us to produce algal biomass under net energy yield,” said Trösch. The reactor (flat plate airlift reactor) is produced inexpensively using thermoformed flat film in the form of two half-shells. Using this twin-sheet technology, Subitec GmbH, a spin-off from the IGB, was able to considerably reduce production costs of the photobioreactor. “Up until now, algae are rarely used as one of the natural sources of raw materials that have the potential to contribute to solving global food and health problems,” explained the scientist. “Algae produce a broad range of chemical compounds that represent a huge value creation chain for the pharmaceutical and food industries.” For example, natural astaxanthin, a red dye with antioxidative and health-promoting properties, or the omega-3 fatty acid EPA which is essential for human beings. A food-related EPA deficiency is associated with an increased risk of western-style diseases such as cardiac infarction or stroke. Algae can also be used as raw materials for industrial biotechnology or alternative energy supply.
The Ferchau Innovation Award was awarded for the first time in 2007. This year, the prize focuses on one of the most important topics of the future for Germany: Technology for the Environment. The first prize comes with prize money of 10,000 euros, the second with 7,500 euros and the third place with 5,000 euros. In addition, three special prizes worth a total of 7,500 euros were awarded. Ferchau Engineering GmbH benefited from the support of a number of well-known cooperation partners, including the VDI initiative "Sachen machen!", the Fraunhofer Society and the North-Rhine Westphalia Ministry for Innovation, Science, Research and Technology.