Clusters4Future approval for Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz to translate electro-organic synthesis

German Federal Ministry of Education and Research will provide up to EUR 45 million in funding to regional research network / Cluster at the Mainz University Medical Center studying cardiovascular diseases also successful in national competition

25 July 2022

The Electrifying Technical Organic Syntheses (ETOS) research network coordinated by Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) is among the winners of the second round of the Clusters4Future competition funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). A total number of 117 research networks had participated in the competition. As one of the seven new so-called national Clusters4Future, ETOS will be funded from BMBF to the tune of EUR 45 million over the next nine years. Also among the seven winners is the Cluster for Atherothrombosis and Individualized Medicine (curATime), in which both the Mainz University Medical Center and TRON gGmbH, which is also based in Mainz and closely affiliated with JGU, play major roles.

"Two of the seven winners in the national Cluster4Future competition are located in Rhineland-Palatinate and ETOS is one of those. This is a remarkable achievement by the participating institutions and helps set the future course of Rhineland-Palatinate as an important research hub," said Clemens Hoch, Minister of Health and Science of Rhineland-Palatinate. "Electrifying is necessary if we are to wean the chemicals industry from the use of fossil resources. Organic electrosynthesis as technique represents an innovative and sustainable future-oriented way of minimizing the consumption of raw materials and the production of waste while sustainable resources will provide the materials required. We have to keep in mind that one consequence of the energy revolution will be that the power that can be produced from regenerative sources will not always be able to cover the demand placed on the whole electricity network. The development of electrosynthesis processes that can be employed for the dynamic and flexible supplementation of the power supply is thus not only necessary to stabilize the network but will also provide economic and ecological benefits. By contributing in this way to the energy and raw material revolution, the ETOS Cluster4Future embodies significant scientific, commercial, and societal potential as its purpose is to help secure our technological sovereignty. The cluster shall bring together science and research with industrial application. They will collectively promote forward-looking innovations, while their findings and developments could well prove invaluable for the whole of our economic area. I welcome the planned close collaboration between research and industry that will not only deliver a boost to our region but also ensure the viability of our chemicals industry for the future," emphasized Minister Clemens Hoch.

ETOS has emerged from JGU's top-level research area SusInnoScience – Sustainable Chemistry as the Key to Innovation in Resource-efficient Science, which is funded through the Rhineland-Palatinate Research Initiative. Its objective is to generate new techniques for the synthesis of complex organic chemicals using electrolysis, that is with the help of electrical current. The related chemicals – such as the fragrances added for washing powders – have been produced to date mainly from environmentally harmful raw materials at high temperatures, while also requiring expensive catalysts made of precious metals that can often only be extracted under hazardous conditions. The use of electrolysis will, in many cases, decrease energy consumption and it will be possible to dispense with the harmful starting materials and catalysts. And if electricity generated from renewable resources is employed for this purpose, the process will even be CO2 neutral. However, electrolysis is still a niche technology that, as yet, has only rarely been employed outside of laboratories. The plan is to make ETOS the first major technology platform that will deal with the widespread transformation of organic, electrochemical processes on an industrial scale. Those involved in the project will be exploiting important scientific breakthroughs in the fields of electrosynthetic screening and capillary gap flow cells. In the case of electrosynthetic screening, methods supported by mathematical concepts, such as machine learning, are used to identify the most efficient and thus most sustainable techniques for the synthesis of various chemicals. The use of narrow gap flow cells, in which the electrodes are just a few millimeters apart, also makes it possible to cut down on the use of energy and raw materials.

Interdisciplinary network of research institutions and industrial partners in the most commercially important chemistry industry region in Germany

ETOS is an interdisciplinary network of research institutions and industrial partners based in Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Wuerttemberg, and Hesse. It is located along the lower reaches of the Upper Rhine and thus in the most commercially important chemistry industry region in Germany. Participating in the project in addition to JGU and KIT are TU Kaiserslautern, TU Darmstadt, the Fraunhofer Institute for Microengineering and Microsystems as well as 15 partners from industry, including BASF, Boehringer Ingelheim, Merck, Bayer, and Evonik.

"The progress made with electrifying synthesis will be one of the factors that determine the future of the chemical industry in Germany. The ETOS network will provide for efficient knowledge transfer from research to industry and business. Seeing itself as an enabler, the network will promote a changeover to sustainable, electricity-based methods. Its unique feature is the close interlinking of some of the world's leading specialists in organic electrosynthesis as well as process and reaction engineering," Professor Siegfried Waldvogel of JGU's Department of Chemistry and spokesperson for ETOS pointed out.

ETOS will receive EUR 15 million for the first funding period from 2023 to 2025. The industrial partners will be contributing an additional EUR 5 million. It will be possible to apply for similar funding for two subsequent three-year funding periods.