Research Award of the Werner Siemens Foundation for Prof. Dr. Regina Palkovits and Prof. Dr. Jürgen Klankermayer

  Research Award of the Werner Siemens Foundation Copyright: © ITMC

"catalaix - Catalysis for a Circular Economy" is one of six finalists in the competition for a new WSS research center "Technologies for Sustainable Resource Use", each of which will receive a WSS research prize of 1 million Swiss francs. A total of 123 idea sketches from mostly excellent researchers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland were submitted in the ideas competition for the "Project of the Century" of the Werner Siemens Foundation (WSS). Based on their ideas, the winners will develop their detailed concepts by the end of October 2023. The final competitive decision will be announced in January 2023. The WSS research center will be endowed with 100 million Swiss francs over a funding period of ten years. The Werner Siemens Foundation initiated the competition on the occasion of its 100th anniversary.

Packaging, insulating materials, textiles, fertilizers, pharmaceuticals: The chemical industry produces a wide range of substances that are indispensable to our daily lives. However, a large proportion of these products still ends up in waste at the end of their life. The catalaix team wants to ensure that such waste streams become valuable, reusable resources in the future - turning linear value chains into integrated cycles. This is to be achieved by developing customized catalyst systems and integrating renewable raw material and energy sources into the recycling process. With this approach, existing residual materials can be converted in a targeted and flexible manner into valuable raw materials for the chemical industry and thus into new products.

One example of such a value cycle that the catalaix team would like to address in a WSS research center is the plastics market. Between 2000 and 2019, just 9 percent of the plastic produced worldwide was recycled. So the researchers' idea is to convert plastics into reusable feedstock by combining chemical, electrochemical and microbial processes. They have already demonstrated that this works for various classes of plastics.

The catalaix team's idea goes beyond individual and isolated material cycles. The researchers want to further develop the circular economy according to the "open-loop principle". This means that the molecular building blocks that are created as starting materials through recycling can be tailored and used in such a versatile way that they can also be fed into other value chains and material cycles as needed. The aim is to create the basis for a flexible, multidimensional circular economy that supports the sustainable transformation of the chemical industry.

The Werner Siemens Foundation

The Werner Siemens Foundation (Zug, Switzerland) has been supporting outstanding innovations and talented young people in technology and the natural sciences since 2003. The foundation was established in 1923 by Charlotte von Buxhoeveden and Marie von Graevenitz, née Siemens, the daughters of Carl von Siemens, who together with his brother Werner von Siemens had built up what would later become the Siemens Group. The two founders were later joined by three other women from the Siemens family as benefactors.