Is it possible to produce high-quality and sustainable materials from waste? Yes, it is – and this is exactly what chemist Manuel Häußler and his team are focusing their research on. In order to shape a sustainable future, new processes are urgently needed that make it possible to use waste and residual materials to create value. Manuel Häußler’s team at the University of Konstanz has developed a process for this purpose that can be used to convert conventional plastic waste into versatile chemicals. These can then be used, for example, to produce new, more sustainable plastics. The successful research transfer project is now about to be spun off. Together with four other partners, the team is currently participating as “SymbioLoop” consortium in “Circular Biomanufacturing” challenge of the Federal Agency for Leap Innovations (SPRIND), which is funded with the 1.5 million Euros. The aim of the project is to combine the Constance process with a biotechnological approach. This will make the whole process even more sustainable and allow many other waste streams to be utilized. Manuel Häußler has now been drawn to Central Germany to pursue his vision – in addition to his role as founder of the Constanz start-up, he has recently joined the scientific team at the Center for the Transformation of Chemistry (CTC) as group leader.
From Lake Constance to Central Germany – prospects at the CTC attract young scientists
The specific aim of the SymbioLoop project is to develop plastics from waste that are in no way inferior to conventional plastics in terms of functionality, but which, unlike conventional plastics, can be recycled almost endlessly. This means that not only can petroleum-based materials be replaced, but new waste can also be avoided directly – tackling the problem from both sides. “To do this, however, we need chemicals that are almost impossible to produce economically using current processes,” says Häußler. The plan for the future is to produce these chemicals on the basis of a symbiotic co-culture of algae and yeast that feeds on old cooking oil or the plastic processed in Constance, for example. Manuel Häußler now wants to relocate to the central German region to advance his research and later put it into practice. He plans to move from Constance to Leipzig over the course of the year with his newly founded start-up and its ten-strong team. He sees the future research and cooperation opportunities at the CTC and the nearby universities as a great opportunity: “We are already working closely with Anhalt University of Applied Sciences as part of the SPRIND Challenge, and the Center for the Transformation of Chemistry is also located in the region as a future major research center. Those are ideal opportunities for us to achieve our project goal.”
CTC and SPRIND – utilizing synergies and promoting research
Facing the challenges of our time and establishing a functioning circular economy is also the focus of the CTC, which is being established as a large-scale research center in Delitzsch in northern Saxony and another location in the Saale district. Prof. Peter Seeberger, Founding Director of the CTC and Director at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, supports the SPRIND Challenge and the resulting synergies: “Young researchers like Manuel Häußler and his team are exactly the kind of employees we want for the CTC and for future settlements. The SPRIND Challenge specifically promotes forward-looking transfer projects. And consortia such as “SymbioLoop” in turn enable cooperation between regional research institutions, industry and universities – in this case with Anhalt University of Applied Sciences.”
Left to right: Dr. David Müller, Dr. Manuel Häußler, Dr. James Race (Photo: SPRIND)