Will trees store electricity in the future? Will we eat CO2 and store it in buildings? Will we change faster than the climate? Will we generate hydrogen directly from sunlight? What sounds utopian is being worked on at full speed in Green Tech Valley. Students from Graz University of Technology and the Institute for Design and Communication at Joanneum University of Applied Sciences have visualized current research results from Green Tech Valley into eight utopias of a green future as part of Designmonat Graz.
Presentation "Green Utopia" at Joanneumsviertel Graz
Making-of "Green Utopia made in Green Tech Valley"
The Project: Green Utopia made in Green Tech Valley
Utopias are characterized by the unrealizable, the fantastic. But this is precisely where their massive power lies; these images of the future are what make revolutionary developments possible in the first place. “And the climate crisis, as well as the associated shift toward a comprehensive resource and circular economy, require almost utopian thinking in the same way,” Bernhard Puttinger, Managing Director of the Green Tech Valley Cluster, is convinced. “We have to be faster than climate change. That is the order of the day. This is where visions, this is where courage, this is where green solutions are needed.” And Green Tech Valley, as an international hotspot for green research & innovation, has a special significance in this regard, emphasizes Puttinger.
Cooperation for the green future
For this reason, forces were joined together with the Graz University of Technology, the Montanuniversity of Leoben, the Institute for Design and Communication of the Joanneum University of Applied Sciences, Creative Industries Styria and Holzcluster Steiermark. Eight interdisciplinary student teams produced green utopias here as short videos in the period from March to May 2023 as part of Designmonat Graz – visualizing a possible future of the energy, mobility and raw materials turnaround based on current research at the site. “Utopias grow into technologies here,” says Stefan Vorbach of Graz University of Technology enthusiastically of the results, which were presented in Graz on May 24. Illona Otto Wegener Center for Climate & Global Change (University Graz) points out to consider all social structures: “Green Utopia helps us to visualize and discuss the future ahead of us. If we know what the goal is, we can reach it faster.”
Visions spur innovation
The videos range from new post-consumer lifestyles and climate-positive construction to trees as electricity storage for stable grids. Utopian? From today’s perspective, quite so in some areas. “This in particular is an incentive for research and for companies in Green Tech Valley,” says Puttinger. Stefan Spirk (Graz University of Technology) also emphasizes this: “It is of immanent importance to imagine the unthinkable in order to be able to realize revolutionary technologies.” Sarah Meitz from AAE Intec – Institute for Sustainable Technologies also speaks of the courage to take new, radical paths, for example “in the production of hydrogen from wastewater and sunlight in solar reactors”: “Green utopias are needed to ensure climate-friendly and cost-effective energy supplies.”
We proudly present:
Green Utopia - aus Sicht der jungen Designer:innen
Research behind the videos
“Imagine a future, where we store green power in trees … with the newly invented ORGANIC BATTERIES for stable power grids”.
Student statement: “This video depicts how energy could be saved in tress and provide every home with it.”
Digital twin turns grids into renewable energy storage systems
The transformation of the energy system requires a gigantic expansion of the production capacities of renewable energy generation plants. Keywords here are electrification, heat demand, but also hydrogen or synthetic energy sources.
The electricity, heat and gas networks have a key role to play here. They smooth out the fluctuations in consumption and generation over the course of the day and the year. Flexibly switchable prosumers (consumers & generators) such as stationary e-cars, appliances or industrial plants help in this process.
All prosumers such as private households with PV systems or larger energy communities are actively involved.
These are complemented by point source large scale storage. Large hot water tanks bring summer heat to winter district heating. Redox flow batteries (with novel electrolytes made from paper production waste) support hourly and daily grids.
The grids interact with each other so that heat, electricity and gas help each other out. Peak load power plants, so-called “peakers,” will also be needed in the future to support the grid. With the help of hydrogen as intermediate storage, these will become climate-neutral.
The “network as a flexible energy sponge” is made possible by the first digital twin of the European electricity and gas network, including heating networks. This prevents blackouts at an early stage through simulations and contributes to the full use of generation from renewable energies.
Highlight from Green Tech Valley:
Biobased redox float battery https://www.ecolyte.at
Research at the site:
“Imagine a FUTURE where SUN fuels life … directly with the new PHOTOCATALYTIC COLLECTOR”
Student Statement: “This video demonstrates a new technology that can be used to obtain hydrogen directly through sunlight and what areas this could be useful for.”
Hydrogen directly from the sun moves ships, among other things, in a climate-neutral manner
The use of green hydrogen is a key building block in the future energy system as energy storage as well as an energy vector also for future marine and aviation.
So far, work is underway to produce hydrogen in sunny and windy parts of the world using PV and wind power via electrolysis and then convert it, e.g. as synthetic fuels. This is costly and inefficient.
In the future, direct photocatalytic production of hydrogen without electrolysis will be used, a game changer for the important building block of the energy system of the future.
Trials are underway at AEE Intec for this purpose. This means that in addition to solar collectors (heat), PV systems (electricity), solar reactors (hydrogen) will now be possible in the future. The overall efficiency increases massively with decreasing costs.
Shipping is indispensable in the global economic and transport system, but is one of the world’s largest CO2 emitters. 90 percent of large ships still use heavy oil as fuel.
Austria, a landlocked country, has the potential to put global shipping on a new green path and reduce emissions by 97 percent: green hydrogen is used as liquid methanol on the ship, the resulting CO2 is captured, stored on the ship, and reused on land for the production of methanol (i.e., used in a cycle).
Research in Green Tech Valley:
“Imagine a FUTURE with a FAIRYTALE life … using social TIPPING POINTS for faster climate action”
Statement of the students: “This video shows an awakening of society, which entails a fundamental change. Our values and norms have been strongly in tune with nature ever since.”
Faster than climate change
For all our faith in technological progress and the problem-solving abilities of Homo Sapiens, the news about natural disasters, weather extremes, the evident effects of climate changes that can already be measured, and the warnings of science force us to ask the central question: Can we still turn the tide quickly and effectively enough?
What picture of the future shows us that we were faster than climate change? That we have got a grip on the situation and have been able to steer the climate back towards more stable and livable paths?
On the one hand, it will be a matter of having won people over to the cause. So-called social tipping elements, on which the Wegener Center at KFU conducts research, will have captured people and brought them into action in a positive sense. Psychology and sociology as sciences can be an important key, and the use of new technologies such as artificial intelligence could also be a possibility to work here in the movement or activation of people. So everyone is pulling in the same direction.
Technically, however, it is also about scaling climate protection and circular economy solutions. The enormous amounts of energy, even with increasing energy and resource efficiency, must be produced in a 100% renewable way. To do this, technologies will become radically simpler and faster to use. New business models and a new way of doing business have revolutionized the world. An opportunity for the world, Europe, Austria, and especially the Green Tech Valley.
Styria & Carinthia were early pioneers in this field. More than 100 years ago, Viktor Kaplan invented the Kaplan turbine at the Graz University of Technology, the heart of the largest hydroelectric power plants in the world. And in the field of solar thermal energy, AEE pioneered a first wave for renewables with the self-assembly groups – the neighborhood joined in. With the first separate collection in Mureck, waste separation and thus recycling was widely started, especially in schools.
Research at the site
“Imagine a future society with zero waste … powered by 100% recycled batteries, organics & textiles”
Student Statement: “This video shows how we will achieve a waste-free future utopia through a 100% circular society. Innovative technologies such as self-healing substances and advanced recycling facilities will keep materials in circulation for as long as possible.”
100% circular society – A waste-free world through revolutionary approaches
Circular innovation is essential for a sustainable future. Consumption and modern life today are inextricably linked to waste. Packaging, surplus products, defective goods, food scraps and end-of-life products all contribute to the waste problem. However, waste is just a recyclable material in the wrong place. To enable a sustainable future, raw materials from the waste garbage can must be returned to the material cycle to enable a waste-free society.
No materials are disposed of after only a short period of use, but are kept in the cycle as long as possible through reuse, rethink, repair, remanufacture and also recycling processes.
In addition to the central, social dimension of a circular society, innovative technologies are also a building block: modern sorting plants that can ensure efficient separation of the various fractions, filter out materials that can still be reused, and allow the remaining substances to be used again in new ways through efficient chemical recycling.
Also, the development of self-healing materials that can repair themselves when damaged can extend the primary life of the product, contributing to a circular society. An extension of tracking individual materials is offered by digital product passports. These summarize all information about a product from components and materials to information about repairability & reuse.
New business models and distribution access such as leasing and sharing business models, product-as-a-service systems or performance-based contracting, can enable better maintenance and higher efficiency of use.
The renovation of buildings and the efficient recycling of construction waste are major contributors to the circular society. With digitalization as an important driver, e.g., through digital twin, which is updated throughout the life cycle, enabling a basis for later conversion and deconstruction measures.
Research from the Valley:
“Imagine a future, where CO2 is on the plate, not in the atmosphere … powered by new bioreactors using recycled CO2 for sustainable food“
Student Statement: “The video showcases the dual potential of CO2: accelerating plant growth and transforming into protein powder for food production.”
Capture, store & use CO2 from various sources.
Climate change requires rapid and comprehensive reductions in CO2 emissions. In order to achieve the goal of “net zero emissions”, it is absolutely necessary to also bind CO2 emissions in order to cancel out remaining emissions in the balance sheet.
CO2 capture, especially from industrial or power plant waste gas streams, is already helping to reduce emissions. Andritz is currently scaling up a pilot plant for CO2 capture at cement plants. If biomass is burned instead of coal, a CO2 sink is created in the balance sheet.
Research at Graz University of Technology and the COMET Center BEST is investigating methods for additional production of green hydrogen from this process (bio-looping). Residual materials such as sewage sludge are also used in this process.
If the CO2 is then used as a material, emissions from the substituted products are again avoided. For example, acib and several startups are working on the extraction of proteins from CO2, which replace more climate-intensive animal feed. Methanation of CO2 via synthesis or hydrogenation processes also enables a sustainable energy carrier.
But farmers are also changing once again. With biogas & large PV plants they became “energy farmers”, in the future they will probably become CO2 sinkers: with the active build-up of the humus layer as carbon storage in the soil (especially by avoiding plowing, pilot region Kaindorf), with the introduction of biochar, i.e. charred biomass into the soil (research by BEST) as well as sustainably optimized forestry (special CO2 storage plants?).
Geological storage (cf. current prototypes in Denmark) will also be a building block on which little research is being done in Austria and which is not currently permitted here.
Highlights from the Valley:
Econutri – extracting proteins from CO2: https://econutri.com/
Research at the site
From Slurry to high-purity Hydrogen: https://www.tugraz.at/en/tu-graz/services/news-stories/tu-graz-news/singleview/article/von-guelle-zu-hochreinem-wasserstoff0
Protein research for industrial applications: https://acib.at/de/home/
“Imagine a FUTURE of climate-active BUILDINGS … that STORE CO2 in new materials and timber constructions”
Student statement: “This video shows how building with natural materials and modular wood structures could reduce construction waste and collect CO2 to release into the atmosphere.”
Buildings as CO2 reservoirs
Buildings are currently seen as part of the problem rather than part of the solution to a climate-neutral future. Many building materials such as concrete, bricks, etc. contain a lot of gray energy and thus also CO2 emissions. More than 10 percent of the climate-relevant emissions in Austria can be attributed to the building sector.
The future image “Building as CO2 storage” shows the building as CO2 sink instead of CO2 emitter. More CO2 is stored in buildings than is emitted during the production of building materials or the entire construction process. The building becomes climate positive.
Forests and trees store carbon in biomass, for example in wood. When wood is installed in the building, this carbon continues to be stored, provided that the entire timber industry is also managed sustainably, in a cycle. Wood construction is therefore an already existing lever. Through buildings, the raw material wood can be kept in the cycle for hundreds of years.
There is still a big lever in the CO2-free production of concrete and bricks. With energy efficiency and the use of renewable energies in production, the first step succeeds, the use of CO2 captured in the industry and the storage in these building materials themselves creates the actual sponge function. The building surfaces (facades & roof) themselves are active, either green or generating electricity & heat.
Research at the site:
Capture of CO2: https://www.vtiu-unileoben.at/en/news
Humus build-up in the soil as a CO2 sink: https://www.humusplus.at/
“Imagine a FUTURE where cities are FORESTS … with organic surfaces producing green ENERGY”
Student Statement: “This video depicts the fusion of Graz with nature through various innovative developments and technologies, including sustainable energy production and vertical farming.”
Nature and the city will no longer be mutually exclusive in the future. People are already aware that regeneration and health are to be sought in nature and that urban environments, as we know them today, tend to lead to stress and also health side effects.Green cities, or nature cities, can be thought of as forests in which nature and especially trees are given a very large space.
Furthermore, it is about area-wide organic, bioactive & energy-active surfaces (soils, facades, roofs, traffic routes) instead of sealed and passive surfaces. Here energy, food & oxygen is produced as well as water is stored.
CO2 sequestration is one function that the Nature City fulfills. The other is that of a city in which people feel comfortable because innovative and natural surfaces have a climatizing effect and produce oxygen. There are no more heat islands and the city is a CO2 sponge.
Energy efficiency and energy production including intelligent storage and distribution is part of the natural city. Food can also be produced directly in the city. On roofs and facades, in public spaces and through vertical farming, integrated into the other use functions of a city.
Nature is once again becoming a part of the reality of life for residents, and a sense of it is also being rekindled in schools. This additionally leads to more awareness for the protection of nature.
Research from the Valley:
“Imagine a FUTURE with relaxing MOBILITY … enabled by research on AUTONOMOUS and ELECTRIC mobility”
Student statement: “This video shows an autonomous transport system that makes the vision of a car-free city come true. The Modular Transportation System offers the benefits of a private vehicle and allows individual or shared use of the capsules. These integrate seamlessly with public transportation.”
Electr(on)ically mobile – “Beam me up, Scotty”
The transport sector is one of the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions. The highest share of emissions in the transport sector is attributable to road traffic, and in particular to passenger car traffic. In Austria, the transport sector is responsible for around 25% of CO2 emissions. But we also want to be mobile in the future. Travel also broadens horizons and connects us. So what does the mobility of the future look like beyond public transport, cycling, energy efficiency and electrification?
Digitization is a big key to making a certain kind of travel obsolete. Video conferencing has already become part of everyday life. Virtual and augmented reality applications can certainly make a difference here. New worlds and meeting spaces can be a way of traveling.
Research at Graz University of Technology helped make the Microsoft Hololens possible. Paired with the appropriate hologram technology, “holoportation” – that is, 3D travel from home – becomes possible. Or will Anton Zeilinger’s quantum research lead to “real” beaming after all? Crypto research from Graz will probably be in future quantum computers.
Electric mobility and other forms of propulsion can be a bridging technology to completely new, today still science fiction, approaches. Ecological lightweight hybrid materials may play a role here (Wood Vision of Mobility). From fossil-based materials to renewable materials with cycle-based eco design. CO2 storage with negative CO2 footprint of the materials used in mobility solutions. New design languages and regional value chains from the forest to mobility.
Highlights from the Valley:
Research at the location: