In the last 25 years, mankind has extracted the same volume of solid raw materials as was extracted in the entire prior history of mankind. To reduce the resulting impact on the environment and lower consumption of resources in general, we need new approaches and a new mindset.
TU Wien is supporting this process with basic research and interdisciplinary applied research. Protection, use and management of our primary resources (such as water, minerals and biological raw materials) is equally as important for our experts as the optimal use of the stocks of material generated by humans over extended periods of time (secondary resources).
The future is renewable
True sustainability is only achieved when raw materials can keep up with demand in the long term with no irreversible changes to our environment. New methods for prospection, material extraction and substitution, as well as renewable raw materials are of huge importance here – and research teams at TU Wien play a key role in this respect. Alongside the generation of environmentally-friendly CO2-neutral energy from biomass using new technologies, in future valuable chemicals will be generated for industry from plant-based source materials via lignin and cellulose (it is all about the biorefinery). It must be stressed that our experts use biological by-products and therefore do not compete with food production.
Ecological building materials (such as wood, clay, straw, reeds or composite materials) and biological base materials are developed at TU Wien from renewable raw materials and used in special constructions to create buildings with healthy indoor environments. The aim is to align technology with human needs and resources and not vice-versa.
We need to learn to understand material consumption cycles better to prevent the loss of valuable material resources and the accumulation of harmful substances around us. At TU Wien, we analyse and evaluate how substances spread in nature and in the anthroposphere – in soil, water, in the air, but also in buildings and settlements. It is about recyclable and harmful substances, nutrients and fertilisers, just as much as metals and trace elements: when used correctly, they are decisive for prosperity; but if we do not take care of the side effects, these can have disastrous long-term consequences. The TU Wien experts are therefore developing an understanding of the anthropogenic metabolism as a whole, that means across all the material flows and storage created by humans (from the source to the last sink). Analysis, evaluation and design of material flows is needed to achieve the social aims of “preserving resources” and “protecting people and the environment”. Mathematical models and knowledge bases give us not only an understanding of the current state of play, they also enable early detection, prioritisation and allow future developments to be predicted.
Application examples include optimisation of waste management systems, the development of a basis for urban mining, the development of new technologies and concepts in the water and sewage industry, and the creation of concepts for environmentally friendly nutrition and agriculture.
Substance flow analysis is essential, especially as a basis for optimum water management. Water is vital for life – at TU Wien, we investigate the principles and measures needed for an ecologically optimised water cycle. Surface water and groundwater are characterised and represented by theoretical models, while sociological and health aspects are integrated and new methods for evaluation and monitoring are developed.
Waste is valuable
In a life cycle, it is the extraction of raw materials that requires the most energy and this is also the point which has the biggest impact on the environment. Efficient disposal and preparation are therefore important for protecting the environment and reducing energy demand. Whether it is building materials, electronics, metallic materials, waste water or textiles – experts at TU Wien are paving the way for the ecologically oriented, economically successful use of secondary raw materials. Useful materials, such as vital phosphorus, can even be obtained from sewage sludge. In future, the dividing line between waste that needs to be disposed of and valuable raw materials will need to be constantly re-drawn.
TU Wien has been a driving force in wastewater treatment and disposal for some time now. Its world-renowned expertise ranges from planning to construction and optimisation to operation of wastewater treatment systems, both from a mechanical and biological perspective. Unwanted substances can now be separated out and filtered using a range of methods and technologies and drinking water purification is also an important aspect.
Austria's technological leadership in urban mining (as an antonym to “mining”, the extraction of mineral resources) is largely based on the work by researchers at TU Wien. It has to be achievable to recover raw materials at the end of their service life. To do so, we need to be able to intervene at the product design stage and also systematically record and catalogue anthropogenic raw material stores. Both private and public constructions, infrastructure (such as landfill sites and sewage treatment plants) and everyday products harbour an enormous amount of potentially recyclable materials (phosphorus, iron, aluminium, copper, zinc, lead, lithium and much more).
The whole world – and beyond
There are many aspects to resource management: not only ecological, but also political, economic and sociological. What does the future hold for the availability of raw materials? What do the upcoming changes mean for different regions, for businesses, for waste and water management? Resource management plays a central role at TU Wien – our experts look at more than the details; they keep the bigger picture in mind. To ensure that the many smaller pieces of the puzzle fall into place, we must begin by thinking about how we want the overall picture to turn out.
Water management (usage)
- Aquatic ecology
- River basin management
- Groundwater management (incl. water and health)
Anthropogenic resource maintenance and substance flow analysis
- Material balances of (heavy) metals, toxins, nutrients, air pollutants/substances
- Resource-saving material cycles
- Water/waste water
Recycling/urban mining (anthropogenic deposits)
- Mineral and metallic resources (P, Fe, Cu, Pb, etc.)
- Construction materials, building site rubble
- Fibre production (textiles, vehicle parts)
- Metallic materials
- Electronics, etc.
- Waste water (collection systems and sewage treatment plants)
- Recycling waste (primarily food waste)
- Safe final sinks of harmful substances
Renewable raw materials
- Ecological construction materials (wood, straw, composite materials, etc.)
- Biological base materials (biomass in general, sugar/starch, cellulose/hemicellulose/lignin)
Ecological and economic aspects
- Operational and regional resources and waste management
- Resource economics
Civil Engineering and Technical Chemistry are the main faculties represented in this field. Research activities are in applied research, stemming from basic research activities. Research groups at over 20 institutes are researching the material resources provided by our environment from a whole range of perspectives.
Approximately 2 million euros is invested in around 70 research projects per year. Academic output has remained unchanged in recent years – with a slight increase in SCI publications.
All data and information provided relates to the research period 2016-2018 (based on the period of the Performance Agreement).