Catalysis for a Flexible Multidimensional Circular Economy


A RWTH team led by Regina Palkovits and Jürgen Klankermayer receives a research award from the Werner Siemens Foundation


A team led by Professor Regina Palkovits from the Chair of Heterogeneous Catalysis and Technical Chemistry and Professor Jürgen Klankermayer from the Chair of Translational Molecular Catalysis at RWTH Aachen University has been awarded a WSS Research Prize of one million Swiss francs by the Werner Siemens Foundation (WSS) for its project idea "catalaix: Catalysis for a Circular Economy", thus making it to the final of the ideas competition for a WSS research center. A total of six teams from Germany and Switzerland are in the finals of this competition to research technologies for sustainable resource use. The WSS research center will be provided with 100 million Swiss francs over a funding period of ten years. Based on their ideas, the winners will develop their detailed concepts by the end of October 2023 and the final decision will be announced in January 2023. The Werner Siemens Foundation initiated the competition to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

The project "catalaix: Catalysis for a Circular Economy"

The chemical industry produces a wide range of products, such as packaging, insulating materials, textiles, fertilizers or pharmaceuticals and these are indispensable for our daily lives. A large proportion of these products end up in waste at the end of their useful life. The researchers led by Professor Regina Palkovits and Professor Jürgen Klankermayer want to explore new chemical recycling processes that will ensure that these mostly unused waste streams become valuable recyclable resources for the chemical industry in the future. This is to be achieved by developing customized catalyst systems and integrating renewable raw material and energy sources into the recycling process.

In a WSS research center, the researchers plan to focus on the plastics market, which has particular potential for action due to its low recycling rates to date. Between 2000 and 2019, only nine percent of the plastic produced worldwide was recycled. The idea is therefore to convert plastics into reusable primary materials by combining chemical, electrochemical and microbial processes. The basic feasibility of this idea has already been demonstrated for various classes of plastics.

The researchers' idea goes beyond individual and isolated material cycles. The team wants to further develop the circular economy according to the "open-loop principle". This means that the molecular building blocks that are created as versatile starting materials according to the new recycling concept can, for the first time, also be fed into other value chains and material cycles. This is intended to create the basis for a flexible, multidimensional circular economy that supports the sustainable transformation of the chemical industry.