Three Questions on SDG 9 - Sustainable Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure

Agenda 2030
SDG Ziel 9: Industrie, Innovation und Infrastruktur
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Friedbert Pautzke
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Friedbert Pautzke © Hochschule Bochum

We talked to Prof. Dr.-Ing. Friedbert Pautzke who has started numerous sustainable industrial projects at Bochum University of applied Sciences. One of them was the SolarCar which his students drove around the world in 2013. Today, his focus is on helping students to turn their ideas into sustainable tech startups.

1014: How do you assess the current state of "sustainable industrialization and innovation" in Germany and the world?

Friedbert Pautzke: The big challenge for the field of industrialization and innovation are the industrial processes. How do we transform them to be sustainable? Especially those processes that are still powered by fossil fuels? Rather than trying to switch everything to renewable energy, I now believe that the focus for sustainable industrial processes should be on energy efficiency. For example, I advocate electromobility where you drive an automobile with electrical energy at a high efficiency of 60% to 70%. In comparison, a combustion engine which is powered by fossil fuels achieves only 20% efficiency. However, if both the power and heat generated by combustion engines can be used in a meaningful way, combustion engines can also be used efficiently, for example in homes.

In most industrial processes, we generate a huge amount of heat in addition to the desired product. This leaves us with two ways forward for sustainable industrialization and innovation: Either we find a usage for the generated heat or we develop other industrial processes where heat is not generated and wasted.

1014: What does everyday life look like in your projects at Bochum University of applied Sciences and what are your goals?

One of my goals is to give students responsibility, thus unlocking potential and ingenuity. While a 23 year old master craftsman might already have responsibility for a company of 30 employees or more, 23 year old students at the university are still treated like children. Our SolarCar project was run by the students themselves. They developed and built the car, they planned the round-the-world trip, and in 2013 they carried it out successfully. With the SolarCar, we demonstrated that electric mobility is possible and we visibly showed that cars can be operated with solar cells on the roof.

Another goal has become to create jobs, i.e. to help students found startup companies with the know-how they gained during our projects and help them develop products which stand the test of the market. One very successful example is Voltavision which has now – after only eight years – become the largest battery and power electronics test center in Europe. Now, we are trying to institutionalize a path: First, identifying students who have an idea and promoting this idea at the university in such a way that they can successfully found a startup. Second, giving them responsibility during their studies and providing them with the know-how that they can use to become self-employed.

At Bochum University of applied Sciences, we have been offering an MA-program in sustainability since 2013. We chose a comprehensive and holistic approach to sustainability because sustainability is more than environmental protection, it also includes economic and social aspects.

1014: In an ideal world, what would you wish for in Germany with regard to achieving the U.N. goal 9 to “build resilient infrastructure, promote sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation”?

Energy efficiency for industrial processes is important, but we also need to develop better ideas for avoiding energy consumption in the first place. For example, office hubs that enable people to work close to home so that less employees have to commute. Now, during the Corona crisis, we realize: the gasoline is cheaper, the air is cleaner. Here is a real chance to think about how to continue this practice.

We also need to get rid of regulations and hurdles that stand in the way of sustainable industrialization and innovation. For example, it is very difficult for a university to support students in founding startups because a university is not allowed to support private companies - even if they are run by its own students.

Another example are companies that have previously worked for the automotive industry and want to convert their products to electromobility or start-ups that move into existing buildings. This often requires a change in the building permit. One obstacle to the rapid conversion to electric mobility is the lengthy and complex approval process. Here, it is the responsibility of the states to provide the right regulatory framework for sustainable practices.

Think big and start small: Incentives, subsidies and laws are one thing, but the implementation in our own area of responsibility is another equally important thing! A city administration could do a lot in its own municipality. And we as citizens all can try and avoid consuming energy in the first place.

It is naive to believe that if we allow the free global market to reign, we will be able to convert our industries. There will always be someone somewhere in the world who is more competitive by producing cheaper items using the old methods. Let me give an example: I have witnessed how solar energy was built up in Europe in a very short time and I have also witnessed how this industry was completely destroyed again in an even shorter time because competition was allowed under unfair conditions. Now, I see the same thing in the steel sector: If foreign companies working under easier conditions are allowed to freely offer their products, then our industry, which is undergoing a conversion phase to renewable energies, has no chance of surviving.

It is not sustainable from a global perspective to drive dirty industries out of Germany but continue to buy dirty products from abroad. If we need products, we have to take responsibility for how they are produced. We cannot claim that Germany is clean when the products we consume are produced dirty abroad and imported. Sustainable industrialization and innovation requires a comprehensive approach.

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