Institute of Energy and Environmental Technology (IUTA e.V.)


Energy and environmental technology is a very broad field and many research institutions operate within it. For this reason, IUTA has focused on five main thematic areas, Aerosols & Fine Dust, Sustainable Nanotechnology, Functional Surfaces, Future Energy Supply, and Highly Toxic Compounds. This choice was based on an analysis of market potential and on the technological expertise and capabilities that have been developed systematically at the Institute. These especially include expertise in the areas of particle technology and filtration, adsorption and absorption, measurement technology, and chemical analysis. The research areas and a selection of the highlights of 2014 and 2015 are presented in the following sections.

Aerosols & Fine Dust

In Aerosols and Fine Dust, the IUTA researchers are concerned with gasborne particles and droplets on the micrometre scale. Their work ranges from measurement device development and measurement campaigns on various (also large) scales (e. g. highways or power stations), CFD simulations and dispersion calculations to the development of practical reduction measures (e. g. filters).

There has been growing interest in recent years in the harmful effects of fine particles on health. It has been shown that size and number are not the only contributing factors, and the chemical composition of the particles also plays an increasingly important role. A particular concern is particles that are so minute that they can pass through the respiratory “filter systems” and into the lungs, where their chemical reactivity can trigger an inflammatory response. This is especially the case for components that produce reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the fluid found in the lungs. Researchers at IUTA therefore developed and tested in extensive studies a measurement system with which they were able to determine the ROS activity of airborne particles and illustrate the differences in potential risk between rural regions and those with high traffic volumes.

Sustainable Nanotechnology 

There are two main strands to the research conducted at IUTA in Sustainable Nanotechnology. Firstly, IUTA operates the only pilot plants of their kind in the world for nanoparticle synthesis on a kg/h scale using flame, hot wall and microwave plasma methods. These plants are used in close collaboration with the relevant main research area of the University of Duisburg-Essen (CENIDE) to fabricate novel nanoparticles for technical applications and optimize the synthesis processes. The second strand relates to the risks and environmental impact of nanoparticles. Here IUTA researchers study the dispersion of nanoparticles released from products or processes in air, water and soil and lead large interdisciplinary consortiums at national and EU level. Their work also addresses issues relating to occupational safety (including on the pilot plants mentioned earlier). 

Nanoparticle synthesis plant at IUTA

Whether and how nanomaterials have harmful effects on health is not only a question of their size but also their surface composition. This is an important finding of the consortium project “Nanostructured Materials – Health, Exposure and Material Characteristics” (nanoGEM). The results show that “nano” does not automatically mean toxic. Many factors other than size go into determining whether a material is damaging to health. The IUTA-led project delivered important insights for identifying relevant characteristics. Another central interest of the research into nanoparticle safety is whether the nanoparticles contained in nanocomposite materials are actually released. Because only released particles can be absorbed by humans, the project also included tests, e.g. abrasion and weathering, on plastics containing nanoparticles. The results showed that the nanoparticles originally contained in the material are released almost exclusively still bound in the plastic, and separate toxicological tests therefore found no evidence of specific toxicity. 

These and other findings, which have been published in one book and many peer-reviewed publications, were made possible by a research consortium of 19 partners from universities and research institutes, authorities and industry.  

Future Energy Supply

In the field of Future Energy Supply IUTA has been concentrating in recent years on treatment (i. e. removal of contaminants/pollutants) and storage of gases that are produced or utilized in energy technology applications. These include carbon dioxide, hydrogen, methane, biogases or flue gases from combustion plants, which are treated or separated by filtration, absorption, adsorption or chemical processes. 

IUTA also has pilot-scale plant on which absorption and desorption processes can be tested simultaneously on raw gas flows of up to 2500 kg/h under pressures up to a maximum of 25 bar. The absorption and desorption towers have a total height of 4.70 and 5.76 m and an internal diameter of 0.31 m. 

This plant gives IUTA a unique opportunity to conduct scientific and technical absorption trials on an industrially relevant scale. It is an opportunity one major German chemicals concern has used intensively in recent years in a number of major projects to test new scrubbing agents (absorbents in the specialist terminology) for gas treatment. The collaboration is to continue in the future so that other newly developed absorbents can be tested under practical conditions on the IUTA plant.

Highly Toxic Substances

An important and unique feature of IUTA is its work in the field of Highly Toxic Substances. This area encompasses the full range of organic and inorganic toxins that play a role in environmental technology. Current examples include mercury, hydrogen sulphide, cytostatic agents or mycotoxins. IUTA’s interest here is not confined to observation of the production processes, it also extends to the products and their life cycle; subjects investigated include contamination of pharmaceutical packaging or green recycling of electrical goods containing large quantities of toxins. The scope of work in this area ranges from measurement device and technique development and monitoring studies to planning and design of safety equipment and separating or destructive processes and plant.

As the analytical requirements for reliably determining environmental contamination increase, there is a need for increasingly high-performance analysis based on liquid chromatography that can be combined with different detection methods. Cooperation with Axel Semrau GmbH produced a two-dimensional separation technique based on a combination of liquid chromatography and gas chromatography with mass spectrometry (known as LC-GC coupling). Both partners brought their own specific expertise to the project, which culminated in an initial prototype of the LC-GC coupling. The results of the project and the prototype were presented during the 22nd SME Innovation Day of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). The applications to detect sterols in oils, mineral oil contaminants in foodstuffs and packaging and aromatic hydrocarbons (MOAH) in cosmetics attracted particular attention. The newly developed technology has already proven itself in many food inspection laboratories, and standardization procedures are currently underway at German and European level to establish the technology in the relevant codes. 

Another highly successful project was the development of a textile that is capable of filtering valuable material from industrial effluents. The joint work of a team of researchers from the Deutsches Textilforschungszentrum Nord-West (DTNW) in Krefeld and IUTA received the Raw Material Efficiency Award of the BMWi and the German Mineral Resources Agency (DERA) in 2014. The research team fixed polyelectrolytes on various textiles to bind valuable metals such as gold, silver, platinum and palladium present in waste solutions from metalworking plants. With this method they succeeded in recovering e. g. 20 grams of palladium per kilogram of textile from several hundreds of litres of effluent from the printed circuit board industry. The results of the research project indicate other potential applications for the innovative adsorber textile. For small and medium-sized companies in the German textile industry, for instance, there is the possibility of manufacturing and marketing a special textile product at low cost. Their counterparts in the metalworking industry meanwhile have an incentive to use the textile material to also recover valuable metals from low-concentrate waste solutions, potentially even in areas where treatment has hitherto not been worthwhile or possible using conventional methods.