Health and Environment – Environmental Technologies

Biotechnology and environmental technology are also strands of health research. Fraunhofer researchers are developing ways of synthetically producing biomolecules for the pharmaceutical, food and chemical industries. Research topics include technologies for providing clean drinking water and testing the toxicity of harmful substances – for instance nanoparticles – and looking into ways of replacing these substances in industrial production.

Gesundheit und Umwelt


Cleaning waste water effectively

Ceramic membranes by the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS.
© Photo Fraunhofer IKTS

Ceramic membranes by the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS.

Water is vital – therefore, waste water has to be cleaned as efficiently as possible. Ceramic membranes make this possible. Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems IKTS in Hermsdorf, Germany were able to significantly reduce the separation limits of these membranes and to reliably filter off dissolved organic molecules with a molar mass of only 200 Dalton. Even industrial sewage water can thus be cleaned efficiently.

Algae survive heat, cold and cosmic radiation

Experiment on the ISS

After their return from the ISS almost all samples developed into new populations. The green alga (top 2 rows) also developed orange-coloured resting stages, whilst typically blue-green pigmented colonies were developed by the cyanobacterium (bottom 2 rows).
© Photo Thomas Leya / Fraunhofer IZI-BB

After their return from the ISS almost all samples developed into new populations. The green alga (top 2 rows) also developed orange-coloured resting stages, whilst typically blue-green pigmented colonies were developed by the cyanobacterium (bottom 2 rows).

In a long-term experiment on the International Space Station, Fraunhofer researchers studied how the extreme conditions in space affect algae. Fraunhofer conducted this experiment in close cooperation with German and international partners. Research findings could benefit industrial applications and perhaps a mission to Mars.

  • Experiment in space: algae spend two years on the outside of the ISS.
  • CCCryo organisms from the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology IZI in Potsdam, Germany were subjected to extreme temperature fluctuations, the vacuum of space, and cosmic radiation.
  • Practical application in the food and cosmetic industries.

Microalgae – produced on a commercial scale

© Photo Fraunhofer IGB

180-liter reactor module installed at Fraunhofer CBP’s outdoor facility in Leuna.

Many products, including food supplements, cosmetics and biodiesel, are made from substances derived from microalgae. A fully automated pilot plant operated by Fraunhofer in Leuna is capable of producing microalgae on pilot scale. The concentration of algae in its reactors is five times higher than in conventional closed reactors. 

Cleaning purification using UV light – Light4CleanWater

Wastewater from industry or from processing may contain organic components that cannot be removed in sewage treatment works. Fraunhofer IGB offers a range of oxidative processes and mobile plants for cleaning water from such sources. Fraunhofer researchers have developed a reactor system for processing water reliably and efficiently with the help of UV light, but without the need for chemical catalysts.

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Producing drinking water from air humidity – WaLu

In regions with a dry or mainly dry climate the production of drinking water is an existential problem. On average, more water evaporates here than is compensated as a result of precipitation. The ground is therefore dried out and the generally salty groundwater is often only found at great depths. Additionally, in many cases the groundwater level is steadily dropping or so-called fossil, non-renewable aquifers are used. A sustainable production of drinking water from groundwater that can also be used for future generations is thus not possible. The use of surface waters is also difficult in these regions, especially at a great distance from the sea. The Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB is working on a new process concept. The entire process consists of two parts. First, the humidity from the air is absorbed by a highly concentrated saline solution (brine) and thus bound. Then this diluted saline solution is distilled and the water separated from the saline solution is condensed as drinking water (desorption).

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Decentral urban water and wastewater management of the future – DEUS 21

Fraunhofer IGB is investigating affordable and ecological alternatives to conventional wastewater cleaning systems as part of the DEUS 21 project (DEcentralised Urban infrastructure System). This will help communities not yet connected to central sewage treatment works, as well as developing and emerging countries, where water is still often in short supply.

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Nutrient recovery for fertilizers

Demand for nutrients has grown the world over, while mineral reserves such as phosphate ore are becoming scarcer. Fraunhofer IGB is developing technologies to recover nutrients from waste water and discarded organic materials such as sewage, slurry or waste from the food industry. Here nutrients are precipitated or made into pellets, giving farmers a direct source of fertilizer.

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Biowax particles as alternative to microplastics

Microplastics are, in the truest sense of the word, on everyone’s lips. Abrasion particles in toothpaste are only one example of the most diverse applications of microplastics in the cosmetics industry. However, the material has been criticized for some time now, since it accumulates in the environment and very often absorbs harmful substances that can enter the human body via circuitous routes. According to the IKW, the German Cosmetics, Toiletry, Perfumery and Detergent Association (Industrieverband Körperpflege- und Waschmittel e. V.), the cosmetics industry wants to forego the use of microplastics in the near future. Fraunhofer UMSICHT is creating market-ready alternatives in an innovative process; the researchers from Oberhausen (Germany) are focusing on natural materials.

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Environmental specimen bank – human samples

The German Environmental Specimen Bank generates important information on internal exposures of humans by initial real time monitoring. Therewith, it provides the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety (BMU) a scientific basis to take appropriate measures concerning environment and nature conservation as well as control their success. The Fraunhofer Institute for Biomedical Engineering IBMT samples are taken on behalf of the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) since January 2012. On an annual basis blood and urine samples of 120-150 volunteers are being collected at 4 locations in the Federal Republic of Germany (Münster, Halle, Ulm, Greifswald).

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Frauhofer Research Units

Fraunhofer Group for Life Sciences

The Fraunhofer Life Sciences Alliance offers support in the testing and evaluation of chemicals and advises on the introduction of new technologies, including technology assessment and risk evaluation.

Fraunhofer Water Systems Alliance SysWasser

Fraunhofer Institutes have been pooling their expertise in the research and development of effective water infrastructure systems and technology.

Fraunhofer Nanotechnology Alliance

The activities of the Alliance focus on multifunctional coatings for use in such areas as the optical industries, the design of special nanoparticles for use as fillers and functional materials in biomedical applications, and a novel type of actuator based on carbon nanotubes.  

Fraunhofer Center for Chemical-Biotechnological Processes, Leuna

The Fraunhofer Center for Chemical-Biotechnological Processes CBP in Leuna makes it possible for cooperation partners from research and industry to develop and scale processes for utilizing renewable raw materials up to an industrial scale.