Bioeconomy - Projects 2022

Sensor systems with tiny micro-batteries to combat bee mortality

Konzept eines bienengetragenen RFID-Sensors, der unterstützt durch eine miniaturisierte Batterie des Fraunhofer IZM die Forschung zur Bienengesundheit vorantreiben soll
© Micro-Sensys GmbH
Concept of a bee-carried RFID sensor supported by Fraunhofer IZM's miniaturized battery to advance bee health research

Bees do more than just provide us with honey; they also ensure the preservation of species by pollinating herbs, shrubs and trees. As a result, honeybees and wild bees generate about 1.6 billion euros for agriculture and food production in Germany, according to a study by the University of Hohenheim. With funding from the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL), the consortium of the “Sens4Bee” project is studying bee health against the backdrop of environmental and agricultural monitoring. Among other things, this involves fitting bees with a miniaturized, integrated sensor system in order to investigate the causes of global bee mortality.

Various sensor systems will be included to record parameters such as temperature, humidity, vibration, flight movement, brightness and acoustic signals in the hive and on individual bees. The data acquired will then be analyzed alongside environmental events and parameters. To this end, Micro-Sensys GmbH and the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration IZM are developing sensors that combine an extremely small micro-battery and micro-energy harvesting in a single system. The resulting module needs to be so small and light (weighing less than 10 milligrams) that it can be carried by bees on their backs after being attached in an animal-friendly manner using a biocompatible adhesive. A miniaturized lithium battery, a solar module and tiny sensor data loggers will be integrated into the module. The battery is to be charged by daylight when the bees are out flying and by infrared light in the hive.

The data collected will be processed by the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), supplemented with environmental event data and analyzed in an intelligent cloud solution. The ultimate goal is to create a smart data processing system with recommended actions for beekeepers. Other partners involved in the project are the Julius Kühn Institute, Heinrich Holtermann KG and the German Beekeepers’ Association. 


Press release »On the trail of bee mortality «

Plactid® production line up and running

Dr. Gerald Hauf, Geschäftsführer der Polymer-Gruppe und Dr. Antje Lieske, Leiterin der Abteilung »Polymersynthese« am Fraunhofer IAP eröffnen mit innovativen PLA-Copolymeren neue Anwendungsfelder für Biokunststoffe.
© Polymer-Gruppe
Dr. Gerald Hauf, managing director of the Polymer Group and Dr. Antje Lieske, head of department "Polymer Synthesis" at the Fraunhofer IAP open up new fields of application for bioplastics with innovative PLA copolymers.

SoBiCo GmbH (Solutions in BioCompounds), a subsidiary of the Polymer Group, opened a production line for Plactid® in 2022. These flexible polylactide copolymers are a new class of bioplastics. They emerged from a cooperation between the Polymer Group and the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP. The development was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL).

The Polymer Group has now founded another subsidiary, SoBiCo GmbH (Solutions in BioCompounds). Its activities will focus on flexible PLA copolymers, a new class of bioplastics marketed under the name Plactid®. This successful development is the fruit of several years of collaboration between the Polymer Group and the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP, which was funded by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture. On July 5, 2022, the first production line in Pferdsfeld was commissioned with 150 guests in attendance.

The bioplastic polylactide, or PLA for short, is derived from lactic acid and has considerable market potential in the bioplastics sector. The downside of conventional PLA materials, however, is that they are often stiff and brittle. SoBiCo GmbH uses a copolymer to give PLA, which is already widely used today, new mechanical properties such as high tensile strength. With this, the company is aiming to open up new areas of application, including, for example, for flexible packaging films, in injection-molded parts for automobiles and in thermoplastic elastomers for the construction industry.

Polymer experts from Fraunhofer IAP are providing support in the development of the PLA copolymer and its manufacturing process. The manufacturing process, which is novel for PLA, is based on reactive compounding. In this process, a PLA copolymer is synthesized from lactic acid and another comonomer. The partners have been able to combine the polymerization and compounding steps into a single process, saving time, energy and money. Both partners are aiming to increase the bio-based content of PLA to 100 percent and replace petroleum-based plastics in as many applications as possible


Presse release »Production plant for novel bioplastics starts operation«

Eco-friendly superwood for (interior) architecture

Superwood offers a variety of design possibilities
© Studio Sofia Souidi
Superwood offers a variety of design possibilities

Many items of furniture are manufactured out of medium-density fiberboard (MDF), because it is not susceptible to damp or temperature fluctuations, which makes it easy to work with. However, MDF is often treated with binding agents that contain formaldehyde. This is why designer Sofia Souidi and the Fraunhofer Institute for Wood Research, Wilhelm-Klauditz-Institut, WKI have teamed up to develop eco-friendly, recyclable MDF consisting of recycled waste wood fibers and binding agents made from milk protein.

One of the main challenges in this project was finding a suitable biobased binding agent. The project team decided on a glue made from casein (milk protein), which the ancient Egyptians used as an adhesive for building furniture and boats. Casein can be extracted from milk. To avoid conflicts with food production, the raw materials are obtained from milk that cannot be used on the food market due to hygiene requirements. When casein is combined with waste wood fibers, it forms a material that can be pressed and then processed like MDF — “superwood,” as the project partners like to call it. It can be pressed to form boards and molded parts. Pigments and granulates can also be added to the material, which allows for a wide range of design possibilities. Superwood represents an opportunity for wood material industries and sectors such as the furniture, interior architecture, exhibit stand construction and event management industries to comply with the ever stricter requirements regarding sustainability and formaldehyde emissions. In addition, this recycled and recyclable “superwood” construction material can also be used as an alternative to plasterboard in interior architecture and the interiors of vehicles such as RVs and trailer homes. To begin with, this collaborative initiative between Fraunhofer WKI and designer Sofia Souidi was funded by the Fraunhofer Science, Art and Design network. The IKEA Foundation provided follow-up funding until mid-2022.

More about the research project

Technologies for adapting to climate change

Initiative Morgenstadt  - Quartierslösung in Kochi, Indien
© Fraunhofer
A district-wide solution in Kochi, India

In multiple projects under the umbrella of the Morgenstadt® (City of the Future) initiative (a registered trademark of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft), researchers are investigating the consequences of climate change and developing measures for adapting to them. For example, in Kochi (India), Saltillo (Mexico) and Piura (Peru), scientists are working to adapt city analysis measures to the conditions in newly industrialized countries. This project is being funded through the International Climate Initiative by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV).

The effects of climate change are already being felt on a massive level in the coastal city of Kochi in south-west India. The incidence of heat islands in this concrete jungle is increasing, along with flooding due to severe precipitation events. In 2018 and 2019, flooding and landslides caused many deaths and significant damage across the entire city. This is why one of the 15 proposed measures suggests developing a sustainable district with integrated solutions for generating renewable energy, reducing flood risks and treating sewage on a decentralized basis. The district would have green infrastructures for storing rainwater, reducing the strain on sewage systems during severe precipitation events and providing cooling through evaporation. As part of a demonstration project at a government higher secondary school in a district of Kochi, Fraunhofer researchers and regional partners are testing out specific technologies. A special cool roof coating is being applied to sections of the school’s roof, greenery is being planted on parts of the facade and a pavilion with rooftop foliage is being constructed in the schoolyard for the students’ break times. The sewage from the school, which used to seep out at the site, is now being treated with an eco-friendly process so that it can be used to water the green spaces. In a neighboring district of the city, photovoltaic modules are being installed on 20 rooftops and connected using smart technology, so that the energy supply is more self-sufficient and climate-friendly.

More about Morgenstadt