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Q&A: Tackling environmental and climate challenges through interdisciplinary applied sciences

Sustainable energy is a truly interdisciplinary topic, reaching across engineering, materials science, chemistry and beyond.

Benjamin Balke, head of division functional materials at the Fraunhofer Research Institution IWKS in Hanau, Germany tells us about the work they are doing on sustainability and the importance of looking at sustainable energy from an interdisciplinary perspective. Balke also shares information on a forthcoming topical collection on sustainability planned in SN Applied Sciences, a new multi-disciplinary journal from Springer Nature. 

What is the role of the Fraunhofer Research Institution in contributing to sustainability?

The Fraunhofer Research Institution for Materials Recycling and Resource Strategies IWKS focuses on securing resources for the future. This is done through looking into innovative recycling technologies to close the gap in any material’s life cycle, and finding adequate substitution materials for scarce resources. 

What are the challenges of working on solutions for sustainability and how is Fraunhofer tackling them?

The complex nature of this multi-functionality requires an interdisciplinary approach, bringing together those from fundamental science, engineering, politics and economics to logistics and social sciences as well as different services and industries to ensure proper evaluation and validation is done to prove that a Circular Economy with new concepts is in fact more sustainable. 

Fraunhofer IWKS’ goal is to bring these disciplines together and pool knowledge in order to develop and apply these technologies on a large with only minimal adaptation. In order to tackle the emerging challenges in the bigger context of sustainable energy and resource strategies, research results have to be made available to big industrial players – which means that new technologies and concepts also have to be commercially competitive. 

Why is the forthcoming SN Applied Sciences Topical Collection important for researchers working in this field?

Fraunhofer IWKS researchers are delighted that Springer Nature Applied Sciences is launching a new Topical Collection on resource protection and recycling. 

The aim of the Topical Collection is to build bridges across all areas of research that strive to protect our environment and increase sustainability. With a particular focus on recycling and resource protection, researchers need to look at the big picture and take into account potential interrelations. 

In order to develop more sustainable alternatives to scarce resources for example, researchers must not only look at the chemical properties of the material, but take into account the environmental and social impact a new material would have; how it performs during its application and how a circular economy can be achieved at the end of its life. 

Coming together is essential for tackling some of today’s biggest challenges, such as climate change, sustainable energy and environmental protection. Materials are at the core of every technology and every innovation. If we understand their properties, we can think about developing new and smart materials that fulfill also environmental criteria, such as non-toxicity, no use of scarce resources and recyclability. Or in short: Tackling the challenges of the energy transition will not be possible without a materials revolution.

Prof. Dr. Anke Weidenkaff
Executive Director of Fraunhofer Research Institution for Materials Recycling and Resource Strategies IWKS

Topical Collection: Call for papers now open

The topical collection will examine technologies and materials for a practical circular economy, and we are looking for papers which cover recycling and substitution of valuable materials, waste management and recycling technologies and new sustainable and multi-purpose materials. 

Outline of papers:

Recycling and substitution of valuable functional materials 

  • Magnetic materials
  • Rare earth elements in catalysts, glasses and lighting applications
  • Valuable metals recycling and substitution

Innovative recycling methods and technologies

  • Battery recycling
  • E-Waste recycling
  • Waste to energy
  • Bio-waste to energy
  • PV module recycling

Validation of recycling efforts

  • Standards for sustainability evaluation: ecological, economic, social and technical standards 
  • Physical process and material flow analysis
  • Specific materials management
  • Digitization and its impact on recycling
  • Materials criticality research

Material Revolution - New Sustainable and Multi-Purpose Materials for:

  • Design
  • Architecture and construction (future buildings)
  • Clothing
  • Bio-based materials (e.g. for barrier coatings, packaging materials, Additives in paints/construction products etc.)

© SpringerSN Applied Sciences

SN Applied Sciences is a multi-disciplinary, peer-reviewed journal for the disciplines of Chemistry, Earth and Environmental Sciences, Engineering, Materials Science and Physics. It fosters sound scientific discovery to solve practical problems. 

Benefits of publishing in this journal include no colour or page charges, free to submit and free to access for the first two publication years. We are pleased to provide rapid publication of high quality articles with high visibility.

For more information on submitting your paper, contact:
Nastaran Ranjbar
Managing Editor of SN Applied Sciences
Chemistry and Material Sciences

Benjamin Balke 

Benjamin Balke © Benjamin Balke​​​​​​​Benjamin Balke finished his PhD in material design for Heusler compounds for spintronic applications under the supervision of Prof. Claudia Felser at the Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz in 2008. Thereafter, he worked as a Feodor Lynen Research Fellow in the group of Prof. Fadley (Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory) and in the group of Prof. Ramesh (UC Berkeley) in Berkeley, CA, USA. From 2009-2014 he was Groupleader for Thermoelectrics, Solarcells, and Solid State Chemistry in the group of Prof. Felser in Mainz. From 2015-2018 his research focused on the design of thermoelectric Heusler compounds for industrial applications, in particular the design of intrinsic phase separations and nano-composites to enhance the thermoelectric figure of merit within his own research project, founded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). Since December 2018, he has headed up the division of functional materials at the Fraunhofer Research Institution IWKS in Hanau, Germany. His current passion is the material design for thermoelectric and caloric applications, the recycling of magnets and batteries and the additive manufacturing of functional materials.

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