SDG Award 2020 for sustainability

Wood as high-performance material

Sep 3, 2020 | ANDREA SIX

The SDG Award 2020 of the Swiss Green Economy Symposium goes to a team from Empa and ETH Zurich led by Ingo Burgert and Tanja Zimmermann. The award recognizes the achievements of the researchers in the field of sustainable building with wood.

Empa researchers have refined wood into a lightweight, shapeable next generation material. Paradoxically, wood becomes more stable when it is depleted of lignin, which is responsible for strength in the original material. Image: Empa

On September 1, 2020 Ingo Burgert was given the SDG Award 2020 for sustainability. "Burgert and his team are contributing substantially to the fact that in the future solutions and applications will find their way into our lives which will contribute to saving the climate", was the jury's conclusion. The Swiss Green Economic Forum presented the prize to wood researcher Burgert, who conducts research both at Empa and at ETH Zurich, and also paid tribute to Tanja Zimmermann, who heads the Empa's Functional Materials Department and who, together with Burgert, had laid the foundations for the research work which has now won the award.

As a renewable resource, wood can be used in many different ways. As a building material, however, it has long been sidelined by steel, glass and concrete. The team of researchers has succeeded in developing innovative technologies with which the resource wood can be used as a sustainable alternative and supplement to other building materials.

The researchers' aim is to make wood a bio-based high-performance material and to provide it with new properties. This has led to the development of antimicrobial door handles, mineralized wood with stronger flame resistance or magnetic wooden walls. In addition, wood could be refined into a lightweight, shapeable next generation material , which paradoxically becomes more stable if it is stripped of lignin, which is responsible for the strength of the original material.

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On September 1, 2020 Empa researcher Ingo Burgert received the SDG Award from the Swiss Green Economy Symposium. Image: Thomas Oehrli / Empa
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Enhancing wood with new functionalities: Water-repellent wood is in demand as a building material. Image: Empa
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Tanja Zimmermann, Head of Empa's "Functional Materials" department, and Ingo Burgert established the foundations for innovative technologies and materials in the field of wood. Image: Boris Adolf Photography / Empa
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Ingo Burgert, head of the "Vision Wood" unit in the NEST innovation building, is delighted about the award.

Burgert, who holds a chair at the ETH Zurich, heads the "Vision Wood" unit at the NEST research and innovation building of Empa and Eawag in Dübendorf, where some of these developments are being demonstrated. In his laudation René Kalt, Managing Director of the Zurich Innovation Park, said: "Vision Wood is a great project and from my innovation perspective it is also a prime example of the role Empa can play in the international innovation race: Together with the industry, it is the nursery for the solutions of tomorrow".

The wood researchers are at the same time striving to make wood increasingly usable in recycling and refinement processes in the sense of a circular economy. The material can thus make a positive contribution to the current climate debate, not only thanks to its high availability and excellent mechanical properties, but also through climate-friendly production and recycling.

With the SDG Award, the Swiss Green Economy Symposium honors solutions and projects that are trend-setting in their implementation of the sustainability goals of the United Nations. The award is intended to inspire actors to make courageous commitments and to promote innovative projects that serve as role models. The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030 (SDG) are the cornerstones of the Swiss Green Economy Symposium. With these goals, the UN has reaffirmed the importance of the "Green Economy" as a central pillar of sustainable development. The goal of the "Green Economy" is to create material prosperity and social peace while at the same time enabling a high quality of the environment - in other words, the promotion of optimal quality of life in all its facets. In an interview with the Handelszeitung, prizewinner Burgert said: "We are very pleased about this wonderful award. It is good to see that the renewable resource wood, with its potential for use as a bio-based high-performance material, is attracting increasing attention".

Editor / Media Contact

Dr. Andrea Six
Phone +41 58 765 6133


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