Institute of Solid State Physics

Sustainable Development Goals

The TU Graz has defined sustainability goals based on the The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. To promote these goals, a Sustainability Advisory Board has been established at the TU Graz. The contributions of Austrian universities towards obtaining the sustainable development goals are reviewed by Körfgen et al., Sustainability, vol. 10, p. 3295 (2018). Materials research can make important contributions towards reaching these sustainability goals. A few examples of how our activities contribute to sustainability are listed below. The research output can be displayed in terms of recent Publications, Theses, and Projects.

Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Materials for Health Care
New materials are continuously being used to improve health care. We are active in drug delivery and drug discovery. We print electrodes on transferable tattoos for use in electrocardiography, electroencephalography, and electromyography.

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Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all

Solar cells
The sun provides roughly 1 kW/m² of power at the surface of the earth. Multiplying this by the cross-sectional area of the earth yields a global power input of about 1 × 1017  W. Only a quarter of the earth is covered by land and about 1% of the land is covered by urban areas. This makes 2.5 × 1014  W available in urban areas. If 10% of the urban areas are covered with solar cells that are 20% efficient, they could provide about 5 TW of power. This should be compared to the global average power consumption of about 20 TW. Solar power has an important role to play in providing for our energy needs. Presently the dominant semiconductor for solar cell applications is silicon. However, the purification of silicon is an energy intensive process and there is a continuing worldwide effort to find better materials for solar cells. We have looked at organic solar cells, hybrid organic/ SiC solar cells, and perovskite solar cells.

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Power electronics
Power electronics is used manage large voltages and currents. Power electronics appear in windmills, solar inverters, electric cars, and large electric motors of all kinds. Electrical motors account for about two-thirds of the electrical energy consumed by industry. It is important to make the electronics as efficient as possible. The semiconductors used most often for power electronics are silicon, SiC, and GaN. For more information see the special issue Power Electronics for Renewable Energy Systems.

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Fuel cell membranes
Fuel cells convert chemical energy into electrical energy through redox reactions. In the most common kind of fuel cell, hydrogen gas from a tank combines with oxygen in the air to create water and electricity. A central component of a fuel cell is the proton conductive membrane that contains the electrolyte that allows protons to travel from the anode to the cathode. In our work, proton conductive copolymers of 1H,1H,2H,2H-perfluorodecyl acrylate (PFDA) and methacrylic acid (MAA) were created by initiated chemical vapor deposition (iCVD).

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Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns

i-CVD polymerization for green materials
Anna Coclite's group develops initiated Chemical Vapor Deposition (iCVD) processes where thin polymer films are grown from monomers in the gas phase. This is a solvent free process that uses only non-toxic and abundant materials. The energy consumption and chemical waste are kept to a minimum. Polymer thin films have applications in medical and environmental sensors, fuel cells, drug delivery, batteries, and microelectronics. For a review of the sustainability of CVD polymerization see:

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Paper and bio-based materials
Paper is made from wood and at least within europe there are more trees planted than cut taking all uses of wood (from building material to paper) into account. In addition paper fibers used to make paper can be recycled up to 6 times. After that the remaining paper fibers can be used to generate thermal energy. The main reason for the recyclability of paper is the nature of the bond between the paper fibers.

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Printed electronics / additive manufacturing
Additive manufacturing minimizes waste.

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Environmental sensors
Sensors are an important component to systems that use resources efficiently. Sensors can turn the street lighting down when there is no traffic, or monitor an engine to make sure it is running efficiently. They are central to the operation of embedded systems.

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Sustainability and Digitalization
Digitalization is transforming society but all of that computation requires energy to run. The energy efficiency of computation is often measured in performance per Watt. This performance per Watt is increasing exponentially so while the amount of computation increases dramatically, the power consumed by computation stays constant at about 1% percent of all electricity consumption. Increased energy efficiency in computation comes from many advances in hardware and software. On the hardware side, we are involved in projects on phase change memory and quantum computation. Energy can also be saved by using more efficient algorithms and by smart data management. We have joined other materials scientists to build FAIR databases (data should be Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Re-usable) for materials. Fundamental calculations of the arrangement of atoms and the electron states of a material are uploaded to data bases such as NOMAD and made available to everyone. This way, these time consuming calculations do not have to be repeated. Sometimes data mining of these databases is performed to search for materials with properties suitable for a particular application. Because so much computer power is now available, preliminary investigations into the properties of materials are often simulated on a computer instead of being performed in a laboratory. The institute of solid state physics employs machine learning and other sophisticated methods to find the optimal materials for applications.

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