Sustainable materials and technologies since 1946: The Fraunhofer WKI is 75 years old

Press release /

For 75 years, the Fraunhofer WKI, has been researching resource-saving and climate-friendly materials for a future worth living in. The researchers develop modern technologies in order to convert wood and other plant-based raw resources into chemical products and materials and consequently drive forward the bioeconomy. Possible applications range from lightweight components for vehicles, through environmentally-friendly insulating materials and hybrid material systems for the construction industry, and on to plant-based paints and adhesives.

Aerial view of the Fraunhofer WKI buildings on the main campus in Braunschweig.
© Fraunhofer WKI | Stephan Thiele
For 75 years, the Fraunhofer WKI has been researching resource-saving and climate-friendly materials for a future worth living in.

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Bohumil Kasal, Director of the Fraunhofer WKI, summarized: “At the Fraunhofer WKI, we can look back over a long tradition of research with sustainable materials. Our founder and eponym, Dr. Wilhelm Klauditz, was already looking for solutions to make optimum use of raw wood - which was in short supply due to the war - and to make waste and small-diameter wood usable. Today, we investigate a wide range of renewable raw materials and their holistic utilization. Our goal is to create alternatives to the use of fossil raw materials. With our research, we are laying important foundations for a bio-based economic cycle - from raw materials, through the development of innovative materials and their use, and on to recycling.”

Founded on 7 June 1946 by Dr. Klauditz, who is considered a pioneer in the sustainable use of wood, the Institute looks back over a long history. Dr. Klauditz was a pulp chemist and conducted research into the production of paper and pulp from wood. He recognized early on the technical and economic importance of wood-based materials and is considered to be the inventor of particle board. In 1972, the Institute became the first institution in Lower Saxony to be incorporated into the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft.

In addition to particle board, material developments included coarse particle board - today called OSB - while still under Dr. Klauditz’ leadership, and gypsum particle board using the semi-dry process. Of particular importance since the 1970s has been the testing and reduction of formaldehyde emissions from particle board and other wood-based materials. This expertise is still of great importance today and has been expanded during the last two decades to include the issue of emissions from wood and other materials. A further major development was a process based on the principle of indirect drying, which enabled drying operations in the production of particle board and OSB to be performed with virtually no emissions of odor-intensive organic substances. Other environment-related tasks concerned the exploitation and utilization of used wood and the recycling of particle-board residues and old furniture. Advances in electronic data processing and in measurement and testing technology were adapted to the requirements of the wood industry within the scope of numerous research projects. Over the past two decades, new findings in polymer chemistry, additive manufacturing and application technology have been incorporated into the research activities of the Fraunhofer WKI in the fields of adhesives and surface coatings.

With this wealth of experience, Professor Kasal is looking to the future with optimism: “We want to further strengthen our unique selling point in the field of renewable raw materials and to establish new cooperative ventures and areas of interest. We see particular development opportunities in the areas of mobility with bio-based materials and bioplastics, as well as recycling, indoor air quality and 3D printing. For construction, the areas of multi-story buildings, fire protection and hybrid material systems are of central importance. We see these fields as essential topics for the future. We will intensify our collaboration with the Technische Universität Braunschweig through the newly established Center for Light and Environmentally-Friendly Structures ZELUBA®.”

Further information on the multi-faceted history of the Fraunhofer WKI can be found on her: History of the Fraunhofer WKI

Due to the Corona pandemic, the anniversary celebration has been postponed until 2022. A date has already been set: 30 June 2022.

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