The chemical industry, companies that build engines, hospitals and printing shops – they all discharge exhaust air and wastewater containing compounds that have a detrimental effect on the environment and/or human health. Researchers at the University of Stuttgart are investigating ways to counteract specific waste problems, including biological methods.
Over 20 years ago, the industrial production of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) was prohibited in order to protect the ozone layer. However, research findings by environmental physicists from Heidelberg University suggest that the ozone layer may also be damaged by natural chlorinated, brominated and possibly iodinated hydrocarbons formed in significant amounts by water plants and microorganisms on the oceanic coasts. This conjecture, recently substantiated by other research findings, is to be tested by an international field measurement campaign in the South China Sea in the framework of the SHIVA project funded in part by the European Union.
The Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Economic Affairs is supporting the establishment of a state-wide environmental technology network through the “Plattform Umwelttechnik e.V.” by providing financial support with ERDF funds. BIOPRO Baden-Württemberg is part of the network and is specifically tasked with the exploration of the development potential of biotechnology for the Baden-Württemberg environmental sector.
The BioRegio STERN Management GmbH and the Wirtschaftsförderung Region Stuttgart GmbH sent out invitations to the 7th Brüssels Background entitled Bio-energy Out of research. Into practice. Experts presented and discussed the latest figures and information on the subject of bio-energy.
For many years Prof. Dr. Klaus Kümmerer from the University Medical Centre Freiburg has been investigating how the chemical structures of drugs and other chemicals can be modified in order to enable them to be degraded more quickly in rivers and soils. There has to be a new way of thinking said Kümmerer going on to add the appropriate methods are already in place.
Ecotoxicologists from Tübingen are calling for new interdisciplinary approaches in order to improve investigations into the effect of pesticides on the living environment. They expect that a more effective and more frequent combination of field work and laboratory analyses will provide them with a clearer picture of the overall situation. This knowledge will enable all stakeholders involved in solving environmental issues to draw the right conclusions and take action accordingly.
Major accomplishments in the field of environment during the past ten years have been the extension of the Natura 2000 network to cover almost 18 of the EUs land area the introduction of a comprehensive chemicals policy and policy action on climate change.
One important way of preventing the extinction of species is to conserve and protect their habitats. In order to achieve this, some important questions need to be answered: how do new species develop and spread? How do they adapt to a new environment?
Jointly organised by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the German Federal Ministry of the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU), the recent Green Economy conference focused on how a sustainable bioeconomy can contribute to creating an environmentally friendly future. The conference participants agreed that immediate action was needed. Research programmes have been put in place to explore the opportunities, risks and general conditions associated with the establishment of a green economy, to give recommendations for action, and recommendations on how to deal with the challenges of climate change and the scarcity of energy and resources.
The Biopolymers/Biomaterials cluster was one of five clusters that won the BioIndustry 2021 competition in 2007 and that received funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The cluster’s ”Biotechnological process development for novel membranes based on collagen” research project was funded by the BMBF from 1st February 2013 to 31st January 2016. The project involved four companies and one university and aimed at improving the processing of collagen using biotechnological methods. Dr. Hans Füßer from Naturin Viscofan GmbH managed the project and here he talks with Dr. Ariane Pott from BIOPRO about how a new sausage skin prototype was developed.
Biotensidon GmbH is on the up. Rhapynal is about to be placed on the market. The company is involved in a 100-million-euro joint venture and was nominated for the German Next Economy Award in 2016. Rhapynal has three components and offers virtually unlimited possibilities for application in the agricultural, pharmaceutical and many other sectors.
Heavy metals have become a huge problem for mankind. The construction of factories and the varnishing of cars leads to the contamination of soils and waters and therefore also to the poisoning of many organisms including people. Scientists are trying to use natural means to remove inorganic chemicals from the cycle or at least make them harmless. Dr. Johannes Gescher and his team at the Department of Microbiology at the University of Freiburg have discovered a microorganism that might be able to detoxify chromium a toxic heavy metal.
The reed zones around Europes lakes are becoming increasingly smaller. The biologist Dr. Jan Nechwatal at the University of Constance is investigating the causes of reed decline and has identified a previously unknown plant pest.
Every day, we breathe in gas emitted by waste incineration plants, evaporation from chemicals in wooden furniture and particulate matter from car exhausts or office equipment. Scientists in Dr. Richard Gminski’s group at the Institute of Environmental Medicine and Hospital Hygiene (IUK) at the Freiburg University Medical Centre are investigating the components that can cause damage to body cells. The researchers are using living human cells to test what happens when airborne substances are inhaled and taken up by the human body. Molecular biology experiments shed light on the effect of the toxic gases or fine dust on human DNA.
As a chemistry student in the 1980s, Thomas Class focused on the investigation of environmental toxins such as dioxin and PCB under the supervision of Professor Karlheinz Ballschmiter. Back then, everybody was talking about the “environment”. The public as well as students and professors at the University of Ulm were all fascinated by the subject. Ulm University institutes were renamed to reflect this interest in the environment. While some of the institutes’ names later changed once again, Dr. Class has retained the same interests and has even stayed in the same place, at the “Eselsberg” site, which also houses the University of Ulm campus. However, rather than pursuing an academic career, in 1992 Class decided to establish PTRL Europe GmbH, a contract research company.
Reducing energy consumption by 8,000 kWh and being able to generate 15,000 kWh of electrical power per day can save 500,000 euros operating costs in a year, as a project carried out by WEHRLE Umwelt GmbH on behalf of a pharmaceutical company found. WEHRLE Umwelt has been working with environmental technologies for over 30 years, principally focussing on plants for industrial wastewater treatment. The company offers intelligent solutions that are far removed from conventional wastewater treatment plants.
Toxaphene is a mixture of more than 1000 halogenated compounds. The pesticide has been banned in Western countries since the early 1970s, while the Eastern Bloc continued to use it up until the 1990s. Huge amounts of toxaphene that have been used as insecticide or simply deposited at dilapidated storage sites continue to pollute the environment. Researchers from the University of Hohenheim are analysing the complex substance and looking for economical microbiological and abiotic solutions to degrade it.
The German city of Stuttgart purifies 27 million litres of wastewater every hour thus eliminating up to 95 per cent of the organic compounds. Scientists are now trying to find ways to use wastewater treatment plants for purposes other than the purification of wastewater. Besides making the purification of water more effective and complete the scientists are investigating whether fertilisers and hydrogen can be produced during the reclamation process.
The chemical element phosphorus, which is mainly used as a fertiliser in agriculture, is a key building block for all life forms. Phosphorus cannot be substituted by other elements or produced synthetically. In addition, it is scarce on Earth and the majority of phosphate rock preserves are located in just a handful of countries. A European-wide research project on phosphorus recycling now presents ways of producing the precious raw material from sewage sludge and wastewater.
Smog, chemicals in rivers, particular matter from copying machines in offices – human beings are exposed to many toxic influences. Environmental medical specialists are investigating the effect that these kinds of substances have at the same time as trying to find ways to reduce their influence on human health as much as possible. Molecular and cell biologists and even biotechnologists all have a key part to play in these efforts. On the one hand, they particpate in the investigation of the biological effects of environmental toxins on the cellular and molecular levels. On the other hand, they develop tools – so-called biosensors - for the early detection of environmental toxins.
Biotechnologists are increasingly learning how to apply the knowledge about biological metabolic processes in the field of environmental protection including waste management and environmental rehabilitation. Environmental biotechnology is a field with great potential. In future bacteria and other microorganisms will most likely also contribute to sustainability and cost efficiency in other areas including the cosmetics and detergent industry as well as in the production of fine and bulk chemicals.
Although drinking water is monitored more strictly than almost anything, our water supply network is still not immune to accidents, wear and tear or targeted attacks. A one-minute warning system for toxins and other substances in water hazardous to health could set off alarms in future if there is a danger.
The German Minister of Agriculture, Ilse Aigner, has launched the pilot phase of the world’s first lignocellulose biorefinery to be set up by a research consortium at the Leuna chemical location. Speaking in Berlin, Aigner presented the decision of the German government to grant more than 8.5 million euros to a consortium that also includes researchers from Baden-Württemberg as part of the “Renewable Resources” programme of the German Ministry of Nutrition, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV).
Most developed countries are “throwaway societies”, i.e. societies where people simply throw away defective articles and purchase new ones. However, our resources are finite. This is not only true for oil but also for many other raw materials such as precious metals or rare earths. Scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart are working with researchers from other Fraunhofer institutes with the aim of developing technologies that enable raw materials to be sorted at the molecular level and returned to the production process. The ambitious project is focused on using specific separation technologies to extract any residual minute traces of valuable raw materials from waste streams.
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons found in particulate matter in our environment are currently being studied by a network of institutes and research institutions, both in Germany and around the world. The impact of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other toxic components of particulate matter on human and animal health is not yet known in detail. However, their impact on the development of lung diseases such as asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases as well as cancer of the respiratory system is relatively well known. The Human and Environmental Toxicology research group at the University of Konstanz is working on establishing new methods to assess particulates polluted with environmental toxins with the overall objective of identifying potential consequences for humans and animals.