What resources are people very wasteful with

23.04.2012 16:31

Hannover Messe: For a future worth living in - use resources responsibly

Britta Widmann Press and public relations
Fraunhofer Society

Water, food, oil, raw materials - up to now we have been wasteful with these valuable resources. New technologies can help build a more sustainable economy. A statement from Professor Hans-Jörg Bullinger about the Hanover Fair

In the next 40 years the world population will increase by two billion people to nine billion people. The global economy is expected to almost quadruple by 2050. And almost two thirds of all people worldwide will be living in cities by 2050. This is what the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) expects. But how can we meet future demand for food, water and energy under these conditions? This can only succeed if we use our resources much more responsibly. The OECD sees a solution in a greener industry and greener energy supply.

Research and development and R&D play an important role here. It can make a decisive contribution to ensuring that future growth is achieved with a fraction of the current consumption of resources. This is one of the reasons why the Federal Ministry of Education and Research BMBF has put the 2012 Science Year “Future Project ERDE” under the motto Research for Sustainable Developments. Researchers at the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft have been developing products and processes that are directly or indirectly related to sustainability for years. The focus is on raw material efficiency, resource and lifecycle management, bio-based raw materials, renewable energies, sustainable mobility and water management. At the Hanover Fair we will present some current research results.

Water is a precious commodity
Everyone has the right to clean drinking water and basic sanitation. That is what the United Nations decided. However, more than 780 million people worldwide still have no access to drinking water and around 2.6 billion people live without sanitation - that is well over a third of the world's population. Water is also an important economic factor: Agriculture and industry already consume more than four fifths of the precious water. According to a UN study, water will in future be strategically more important than oil. The rapid population growth and steadily advancing urbanization mean that global water resources are coming under increasing pressure.

So far we have been very wasteful with the valuable resource water. In Europe, everyone uses around 120 liters of water a day - they only drink three of them. A third, on the other hand, is flushed through the toilet. However, clean water is far too precious to be wasted transporting feces. Modern techniques such as vacuum sewer systems can drastically reduce water consumption. In new sewage treatment plants, the carbon-containing wastewater components are converted into biogas and the nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus are converted into usable fertilizer salt. Rainwater is collected separately and filtered through a modern membrane system. The result is sterile maintenance water that even meets the requirements of the Drinking Water Ordinance. The "DEUS" project has already shown in some municipalities in Germany that such new technologies also prove themselves in practice. Fraunhofer researchers are now working on adapting the DEUS technology in an industrial park in the city of Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, to the conditions in China in the “Advanced wastewater treatment in Guangzhou” project.

It will be a major challenge to supply megacities such as Beijing with water. In the “Bejing Water” project, Fraunhofer researchers investigated which factors influence the water supply in a megacity, how bottlenecks can be predicted, which alternatives are available and what impact they have. The result is a simulation program that the Beijing City Water Authority can use to predict and plan future developments.

Energy: Renewable, efficient and compact
In the past few weeks, the price of crude oil in Europe has risen sharply again. The politically unstable situation in some delivery regions, the weak euro, the effects of the crisis and the enormous energy requirements of the emerging countries are driving up the costs of warm homes, driving a car and transporting goods. According to the results of the Energy Concept 2050 study, renewable energies can gradually reduce the use of coal, crude oil, natural gas and nuclear energies in the electricity and heating market and even completely replace them in the long term. Researchers are working on solutions for the energy transition. They rely on a mix of all renewable energies - i.e. wind and water power, photovoltaics, solar thermal power plants in southern Europe and in North Africa, solar thermal heat generation, biomass waste use, geothermal energy and wave energy to enable a robust energy supply. However, high-performance electricity storage systems that compensate for the fluctuating energy supply are also needed. In addition, a decentralized, intelligent, load and supply-oriented supply structure is required (SmartGrids). An essential element of the energy concept is also a significant increase in energy efficiency. There is still a lot of untapped potential here: For example, clever renovation could reduce the energy requirements of buildings by up to 80 percent.

Chemistry from nature
The chemical industry is also suffering from the rise in oil prices. After all, it still mainly uses crude oil as a raw material for its countless products such as plastics, detergents, cosmetics and medicines. But the scarce fossil resources are forcing a rethink here too. An alternative source of carbon is biomass. A few years ago, eight Fraunhofer Institutes joined forces to advance the topic of "Industrial Biotechnology - Nature as a Chemical Factory" and to lay important foundations for the use of renewable raw materials in the chemical industry. Fraunhofer is currently building the Center for Chemical-Biotechnological Processes CBP together with other research institutes and industry in Leuna. We want to close the gap between laboratory and industrial implementation.

The transition from an economy based on fossil resources to an economy based on renewable materials is worthwhile: The EU Commission estimates that investments in research, innovations and skills in the bioeconomy add value of 45 billion euros and 130,000 Could create jobs in the bioeconomy sector in the European Union by 2025.

Goal: Production without raw materials
Another important task of the future is to increase resource efficiency in production and in the product. Producing with little use of resources opens the door to responsible, sustainable management. The big advantage: raw material and energy savings not only pay off for the environment, but also for the company. Because in many industries, material and energy costs have long determined the price of the end product. In manufacturing, for example, more than 40 percent of manufacturing costs are due to material consumption. If the use of raw materials were only reduced by seven percent, 48 billion euros could be saved each year. This was the result of a current study by the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research ISI.

However, resource-efficient production is only the first step. In the future we have to go further and decouple economic growth from resource consumption. Researchers are working to enable production without the use of new raw materials. This requires consistent recycling - especially in industry. By constantly reusing secondary raw materials in cascades and returning them to the production process, enormous amounts of natural resources can be saved.

Morning city
Half of the world's population already lives in cities. Ascending trend. The consequences are, among other things: traffic jams, noise and bad air as well as enormous amounts of waste. The Fraunhofer researchers develop system solutions for the urban life of tomorrow. The focus of the »Morgenstadt - Vision of a CO2-neutral and liveable city« project is mobility, information technology, building and trade. Crucial for these developments: Technology should adapt to people, and not people to technology.

The growing world population, dwindling raw materials and increasing environmental protection requirements are serious challenges for politics, industry and consumers. We need to switch to a sustainable economy. But what do we mean by sustainability? The Brundtland Commission set up by the United Nations describes it as follows: "Sustainable development is development that satisfies the needs of the present without risking future generations not being able to meet their own needs." If we want to follow this principle, it is necessary to redesign our systems in the direction of environmental and social compatibility. We are convinced that the provision of environmentally friendly technologies and processes can make an important contribution to this. We see it as our research assignment - together with politics, business and society - to set the course for our future here.

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