Interview with Professor Weidner, Director of Fraunhofer UMSICHT

The Green Talents 2017 have been selected by a high-ranking jury of renowned German experts. Prof. Dr Eckard Weidner, Director at Fraunhofer UMSICHT is one of these German experts and member of the Green Talents jury in 2017. After this year’s jury decision, the Green Talents Team talked to Prof Weidner about sustainability, research and the Green Talents Competition.

Good Afternoon Prof. Weidner and thank you very much for being part of the Green Talents jury in 2017. First of all we would like to know, if there is any news on sustainability and environment that recently surprised you in a very positive or negative way?

The Paris Climate Agreement is one integral aspect of sustainability. Thus, it was a negative surprise when in 2017 the United States announced to withdraw from the agreement. However, the positive aspect related to this severe setback for climate protection is that no other nation followed suit. All other nations who had signed the Paris Agreement remained steadfast and continue to pursue the targets of the agreement.

Fraunhofer UMSICHT is constantly working on technical innovations in the fields of environmental, material, process and energy technology. Which of your institute's innovations will mostly affect our everyday life during the next years?

One of our recent developments is a polymeric bipolar material that can be used in batteries for energy storage. Storing energy has become ever more important since the share of volatile renewable energies, i. e. solar and wind energy, in the power system is continually increasing. Currently the material is used by Volterion, one of UMSICHT’s spin-offs, in very compact and efficient redox-flow battery stacks. These are especially interesting for house owners who can combine them with a photovoltaic plant in order to store the self-generated solar energy. At the same time – since redox-flow-batteries can be scaled up easily – the material can also be used in large stacks to store energy in large energy plants, such as wind farms for example.

In your opinion, what is currently the greatest challenge we have to face regarding sustainability?

The greatest challenge is that sustainability is really taken seriously and is lived up to instead of paying a mere lip service to it. Unfortunately, however, profit and short term success are often put above everything else instead of thinking and acting sustainably and in view of long-term achievements. A very recent example is the diesel affair where the well-being of people and an intact environment have been recklessly disregarded for the sake of greater profits. We need a profound change of thinking here.

How would you assess the interaction between politics, economy and research in the field of sustainability?

Demands for sustainable solutions on the part of politics, society and consequently from industry have become very concise and determined. So we scientists make every effort to meet these demands and develop sustainable solutions.

It is always challenging to introduce new and sustainable technologies into the markets. From my point of view Germany takes advantage from a well-established ppp-system (public-private partnerships). This system enables first movers to transfer sustainable development into an industrial context. Fraunhofer both develops new technologies and has the capability to support industrial partners in initiating ppp-projects for implementing those technologies.

Sustainability is of vital importance regarding the future of our planet because…

… we are not its owner but guests who are allowed to live on it. And we want it to stay the way it is so that in the future we and our offspring can go on enjoying the life on this gorgeous planet.

Fraunhofer UMSICHT actively engages in international project development and is therefore closely interacting with researchers from India, Indonesia, Chile, Vietnam, Korea, China, Mozambique and Columbia. What kinds of skills are required of young scientists and junior researchers to establish long-lasting (working) relationships within the German research landscape?

We have to look at this from a larger angle. Not only have the young international scientists to contribute – we, too, have this obligation. Both sides have to show their readiness to enter into a scientific and intercultural exchange, to build up interpersonal relationships, to share experiences, to show understanding for the concerns of their counterparts and to use the freedom we are blessed with here as a chance to work in a creative way for the benefit of mankind.

What induced you to accept the request of becoming a jury member of the Green Talents Competition in 2017?

I do feel honored to be part of the Green Talents jury – for me this request was a sign of appreciation for the work Fraunhofer UMSICHT has delivered over nearly three decades now. And, of course, I was quite curious to learn about the brilliant candidates and their fascinating projects and new ideas.

In your opinion, why is the Green Talents Competition exceptional and where is the difference to other competitions?

In fact, it is the topic of sustainability that makes this competition so special. It is characterized by a broad range of scientific areas and the vast transdisciplinarity of the candidates. There are young scientists from all over the world and from nearly all disciplines – natural and engineering sciences as well business studies and social sciences. And that is what is at the core of sustainability – it affects all aspects of our life and is not just focused on one singular scientific topic.

Which aspect impressed you the most during the selection process of the Green Talents Awardees 2017?

First of all, the huge number of applications and the countries they come from. The Project Management Organizations surely had a lot of work in preselecting them. This shows that the competition has a very good and far reaching reputation and secondly, the amazing biographies of the candidates. The large variety of their experiences and the things they have already achieved in their careers as well as the wide range of their topics were very impressing.

Assumed you were elected as a Green Talent, which expert would you chose for your one-to-one interview and which topics would you discuss?

My preferred partner for an expert interview would be a CEO of a chemical company and I would like to discuss with him/her the topic of how to reach a sustainable circular plastics economy. Circular economy has already started to come to the fore and will soon become a major topic in all fields of science, business and society. For Fraunhofer UMSICHT – rethinking plastics will be one very important aspect of our future tasks.

Is there any special advice you would like to give the current Green Talents winners to take along?

You are on the right track! Please, carry on and in spite of all the obstacles never give up preserving our wonderful planet and improving our life on it.

Thank you very much!