Fraunhofer Institute researchers win the Ralf Dahrendorf Prize for demonstrative solutions in sustainable electronics

Either the battery gives up or else the latest model is simply too tempting: smartphones and other mobile end devices tend to have a short product service life and thus create a substantial environmental burden. As part of the sustainablySMART project, a team of researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Reliability and Microintegration (IZM) have modeled the available sustainable alternatives, and how approaches from the recycling economy can be best applied to consumer goods. Their comprehensive approach has now won them the award for outstanding collaborative research at the European level and the associated scientific communication of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).

© Fraunhofer IZM | Volker Mai
image - change is in your hands
© MediaCPhotoworks
image iameco Tablets
© MIKA-fotografie | Berlin
Presentation of the sustainability-oriented iameco tablet – one of the demonstration devices from the sustainablySMART project – at the PLATE conference, Berlin, 2019

A person with knowledge should share it. In the spirit of this fundamental idea, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research has been awarding the Ralf Dahrendorf Prize for the European Research Area since 2019, thereby promoting scientific communication intended for the general public. This year the prize was awarded to the team from the Fraunhofer IZM, led by the sustainability specialist Karsten Schischke.

The team made a significant contribution towards an understanding of the recycling economy with its European-level sustainablySMART project. The research focused primarily on mobile products such as smartphones and tablets that have been in daily use for a long time now, yet which leave a heavy ecological footprint. Using extended lifecycles obtained from innovative product designs, together with improved recycling and reprocessing concepts and greater resource efficiency, the team applied ideas from the recycling economy to ICT devices.

The researchers created alternative solutions and constructed sustainable electronic devices, including a modular smartphone concept, a locally manufactured tablet made from sustainable materials, concepts for reusing the electronic components of a smartphone in other devices, a collaborative dismantling robot for removing components, and much more.

Simultaneously, the Horizon 2020 project had already given important impetus to the lifecycle assessment (eco-auditing) of the Fairphone. The findings on the implementation of the circular economy policy in mobile end devices thus bring green technologies and technological sovereignty in Europe a step forward, and will without question be incorporated into the forthcoming European Commission directives.

Karsten Schischke and his team of researchers were particularly eager to share the results of the project with the public, since good scientific communication can help to influence the attitudes and behavior of end users towards their mobile devices in the long term, paving the way for sustainability as a way of life in the electronics industry.

This is exactly why the Fraunhofer team is delighted to have been awarded the Ralf Dahrendorf Prize: In the submitted application sketch, the team convinced the jury with a sophisticated communication concept. The principal objective is to capture the IFA Berlin trade fair – the largest of its kind for mobile telephony, consumer electronics and household appliances – with a sustainability narrative. For the next exhibition in Berlin in 2022 an interactive stand could be possible, that will enable visitors to participate in a kind of ‘sustainability excursion’ in which the technological content is explained in easily understandable terms, and clear suggestions are offered for everyday use (e.g. the best way to charge a cellphone to maximize battery life).

Partners from eight European countries were involved in the prizewinning project, including the high-end circuit board manufacturer AT&S, the repair experts from iFixit, ReUse e.V., Vienna University of Technology, Speech Processing Solutions from the speech recognition and dictation field, and Blancco as a data erasure specialist.


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