Robert Bosch Junior Professorship

Professor Dr. Regina Palkovits

Robert Bosch Junior Professorship 2010: Research with Room for Innovation

"Shortage as a driving force - the path toward tomorrow’s natural resources" (Mangel als Motor - auf dem Weg zu den Rohstoffen von morgen): this was the topic of a panel discussion with Robert Bosch Junior Professor Dr. Regina Palkovits at the former residence of company founder Robert Bosch in front of invited guests on April 20, 2010.  Dr. Christine Kolmar, management board member at WWF Germany, and Dr. Torsten Henzelmann, green-tech expert and partner at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, were also members of the panel.

The search for new deposits and reserves of natural resources has become increasingly crucial in a time of radically dwindling deposits. Whether oil, gas, or water, more and more people are requiring a growing amount of these valuable resources. The problem: supply is limited, and expanding existing transport capabilities or opening up new supplies of natural resources requires a considerable amount of expenditure.

Generating Power from Plants

Plant-based energy production is considered a particularly innovative, promising approach: plant cells are made of cellulose, and cellulose is a great source of energy. Several thousand sugar units are combined with highly stabile compounds. Until now these sugar units could only be broken down with considerable difficulty into their individual components, sugar molecules. As cellulose is the world’s most common organic compound, a substantial amount of energy goes unused.

The goal for the future is to break down cellulose into its smallest components more efficiently than ever before. Sugar molecules in cellulose ferment alcoholically, opening up several fields of application - for example, as a renewable resource for chemical or fuel production. The resulting ethanol could then be used as an entirely regenerative biofuel and would not compete with food production, as is the case with grain and corn.

In addition to the simple, cost-effective production of renewable resources and regenerative biofuels, the carbon footprint of the production process could be significantly improved as well. The term "carbon neutrality" is often applied to the energetic use of biomass. However, as fossil auxiliary energy is commonly used for the expansion and provision of biomass as well as for operating bioenergy plants, this term can only be considered to be partly correct.

Interface between Chemistry and Engineering

Regina Palkovits works in a highly innovative and pioneering interdisciplinary field between chemistry and engineering.

The selection commitee, led by Professor Klaus Töpfer, chose Regina Palkovits as Robert Bosch Junior Professor 2010 due to her groundbreaking research approach, her previous accomplishments, and the subject’s particular relevance. In his speech on April 30, the former Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) emphasized the close connection between Robert Bosch’s fundamental beliefs and the goals of the Junior Professorship Program, "Sustainable Use of Renewable Natural Resources."

Picture Gallery: Junior Professorship 2010

Photos: Susanne Kern
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Short Profile
Dr. Regina Palkovits, born in 1980, studied Chemical Engineering at Dortmund University. She completed her PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research, and conducted her postdoctoral research at Utrecht University in the Netherlands before returning to Germany.
Her research group at the University of Aachen works with the efficient use of biomass. Dr. Palkovits would like to determine how biomass can be used to create synthetics or fuels as an alternative to fossil fuels. Since she took up her position as Robert Bosch Junior Professor in 2010 Regina Palkovits has got awarded numerous prestigious prizes. Currently she holds the chair for Heterogeneous Catalyses and Chemical Technology at RWTH Aachen University.