Competence area 3: Renewable Raw Materials and New Technologies
Research is carried out into the (bio)chemical, microbiological and physical transformation of renewable raw materials, as well as new bio-based materials and the uses of their sub-materials and structure. In addition, development is ongoing into resource-efficient technologies including new recycling processes to reduce residues (waste), as well as the consumption of raw materials and energy. This field is closely linked to agriculture and forestry, however the research projects presented here do not deal with primary production in forestry and farming (non-food & non-feed), but rather with ancillary possibilities which lead to possible cascading uses (in raw material and energy) with the aim of a sustainable and high-quality circular economy.
With this area of expertise, BOKU emphasizes its position as the primary partner in Austria in the field of biorefineries (use of primary and secondary raw materials, e.g. wood and plant biomass) as well as in the development of new sustainably produced recyclable and composite materials. Particular areas of research include lignocelluloses, further development and production of biogenic materials (pulp, paper and cellulose fibres), new development and (biotechnological) production of biogenic matrices (bioplastics, bio-composites, functionalised fibres such as textiles, bundled fibre materials, wood products and wood hybrid materials as the basis of sustainable building systems) as well as the generation of feedstock chemicals, complex chemicals, and active ingredients from renewable raw materials (green chemistry). Another field of expertise at BOKU involves the analysis of materials at various industrial scaling levels, as well as the development of new analysis methods.
At BOKU, technological solutions are researched, developed and evaluated in order to contribute to sustainable social and human development by the efficient use of resources. One element of research examines chemical, physical and procedural aspects such as separation technologies in addition to analysis and value-adding with regard to complex material flows in biorefinery processes, the optimization of cascading uses and material reuse – such as recycling – the use of bio-based materials in sustainable construction (green building materials) and the implementation of green-inspired building principles in the design and fitting out of buildings, including building technology. Highly specific chemical, biotechnological and enzymatic processes are being developed for the extraction, modification and processing of bio-based materials.
Research into the management of municipal residential refuse and waste also contributes to this field of research. To this end, concepts are being developed to reintegrate residential waste into the cycle in the most realistic and sustainable manner as a secondary resource or to find technologies which on the one hand could transform them into raw materials for new, high-quality products or on the other hand to safely exclude contaminated waste from the process.
This area of expertise also includes research on and the provision of renewable energies (hydro-electric, wind power, solar energy, biomass) and the development of energy-efficient conversion processes and manufacturing processes, as well as efficiency improvements in the demand-based provision of useful energy in both transport and residential sectors (vehicle engines, lighting, heating). Resource efficiency and adapted technology design is continually being analysed through sophisticated life cycle studies and technology impact assessments. When developing new technologies, BOKU follows its typical systemic approach and employs classic engineering disciplines (mechanical engineering, civil engineering, chemical process technology) in conjunction with the natural sciences, economics and the social sciences (spatial planning, risk analysis, business studies and economics) to ensure a holistic view of technological development.
The cross-linking of departments researching in this field of competence is carried out by the Centre for Bioeconomy and the BOKU Energy Cluster as well as through collaboration across these graduate schools (i) Advanced Biorefineries: Chemistry and Materials (ABC & M), (ii) Biomaterials and Biointerfaces (BioMatInt), (iii) Bioprocess Engineering (BioproEng) and (iv) Human River Systems in the 21st Century (HR21).
Projects in this area are financed by national as well as European and international sponsors. BOKU is involved in four competence centres and two excellence initiatives, which are conducting research in the field of renewable raw materials: Wood Kplus, FFoQSI, acib and BEST as well as the European Polysaccharide Network of Excellence (EPNOE) and the Global Center of Excellence in Fiber Science (GcoE-FS). Other ongoing and future major projects include the Austrian Biorefinery Centre at Tulln (ABC-T), Christian Doppler Laboratories (e.g., Lignocellulosic Hightech Products), as well as Horizon 2020 (including Biobased Industry) and Horizon Europe projects. Several projects are also funded by FWF, FFG, WWTF, local authorities and industrial partners. BOKU’s membership in the European Bioeconomy University Alliance (EBU) and the prominent role of the Centre for Bioeconomy in this association of six European universities will, in coming years, support and encourage the formation of research consortia as part of the portfolio of Horizon Europe projects in Pillar 2 Cluster 6 (Bioeconomy, Natural Resources, etc.).