They want to be the generation that prevents a climate catastrophe. Urged on by the Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg, hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren across the world have been taking to the streets every Friday for months now. They demand that politicians take action. António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations, showed his solidarity by calling upon all heads of state and government to present concrete and realistic plans at the climate change summit that will be taking place in New York in September 2019.
Resource-friendly products, processes and services
In the 2016 Paris Agreement, the international community committed to limiting global warming to below two degrees Celsius. A more sustainable economy is needed if the resulting climate plans are to be implemented. In other words, products, processes and services must use our planet's resources more sparingly, for example by using microorganisms and plants rather than petroleum as before. If such changes are to be achieved, green technology is required.
Green tech from Germany
The green tech sector, which encompasses everything from mechanical and plant engineering to electrotechnology, vehicle manufacturing and the chemical industry, is thriving in Germany: while German companies as a whole accounted for 4.6 percent of global economic output in 2016, the proportion in the cross-sectional area of environmental technology and resource efficiency is at 14 percent – more than three times as high. This is shown by the Environmental Technology Atlas for Germany which is compiled by the Federal Environment Ministry. This success is partly due to companies investing in research: green tech firms spend on average three percent of their turnover on research and development.
From research lab to market
To make green tech even more productive and innovative, Germany believes that transferring knowledge from universities and research institutions to business and society is the way forward. One example is the Sustainability Center Freiburg, launched in 2015 by the University of Freiburg in cooperation with five Fraunhofer research institutes. Following a phase of basic research, eight projects are to be developed over the next few years to the point where they are ready to be trialled in industry.
Start-ups and spin-offs accelerate the process
These include solutions for climate-friendly LED lights that are good for your health, as well as wear and tear parts needed in industrial production that now, through the use of sensors, should last longer. Another project is creating composite materials that can be produced using a 3D printer and are recyclable. Teams of scientists wishing to start a business to market their products receive financial support. In addition, they are accompanied through the start-up process in regional business accelerators.
Ideas that become reality
Another good example of knowledge transfer is the Bioeconomy at Marine Sites project (only in German). Coordinated by Kiel University, the project brings together 79 partners from research, industry and administration. The goal is to use nutrients from the sea and from waste water to create a sustainable aquaculture. A closed loop system with freshwater and saltwater organisms at its heart is to be set up on the North Sea coast. In future, high-quality ingredients are to be extracted from seaweed for the cosmetics industry, for example, and methods of producing fish feed from seaweed developed. "Researchers already have many good ideas about how to successfully transition to a biobased and sustainable economy", German Research Minister Anja Karliczek observed when she promised to provide 20 million euros to fund the project for the next five years. "I believe it is important for these ideas to become a reality in the near future."