Germany comes to UQ

8 March 2017

More than 20 German university leaders and government representatives converged at The University of Queensland last week to discuss and deepen the University’s engagement with the state of Bavaria.

The Bavarian Academic Delegation to Australia, led by State Secretary Bernd Sibler, visited UQ on 3 March and met with many of the University’s senior leaders, as well as researchers making an impact through collaborations with Germany.

One way UQ is linking with Germany is by investigating how we can harness the power of the sun for the production of renewable fuels, foods, and products.

Thanks to a partnership with German organisations Siemens, Bielefeld University, and Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, along with the Queensland Government, KBR Inc (USA), Neste Oil Corp (Finland), and Cement Australia, UQ has recently developed the Centre for Solar Biotechnology.

Led by Munich-born Professor Ben Hankamer, the Centre brings together 30 multidisciplinary teams to fast-track the next generation of microalgae biotechnologies and bio-inspired artificial solar fuel technologies.

With global energy demand rising, and the effects of climate change becoming more apparent, Professor Hankamer said the move to renewable resources has never been more important.

“In just two hours, the sun delivers enough solar energy to the Earth’s surface to power the entire global economy for a year. Now is the time to make the switch,” Professor Hankamer said.

Developments in algae technology have also inspired UQ’s School of Agriculture and Food Sciences to explore its role in food security.

Professor Peer Schenk – also from Germany – leads UQ’s Algae Energy Farm, a prototype demonstration farm that deploys new cost-saving technologies to produce food, feed, nutraceuticals, and biodiesel from microalgae. 

According to the Schenk Lab, microalgae are likely to be the only renewable source of fuel that could match our current and future demand, without competing for arable land and food production.

In Bavaria, UQ also has a multi-faceted relationship with the Technical University of Munich (TUM) – one of Germany’s few Universities of Excellence. The partnership has brought about thriving student exchange, growing collaborative publications and research, and joint symposiums, while a recent Erasmus+ agreement will enable further staff mobility between the universities.

During the visit, School of Chemistry and Molecular Biosciences Professors Gary Schenk and Ross Barnard singled out research in the area of chemical biotechnology as a cornerstone for the partnership between UQ and TUM.

The collaboration has already resulted in joint publications and grant applications, and will see the two universities co-host a mini-symposium in Munich in June on ‘biotechnology for food, fuel, and chemicals’. A larger symposium will be held in Brisbane in October on the ‘bioeconomy’ – the sustainable production and conversion of biomass into industrial products and energy.

“The visit of the delegation highlighted the tremendous scope of synergistic collaborations between UQ and TUM in chemical biotechnology. This partnership will undoubtedly lead to major advances in technologies relevant to the bioeconomy of the 21st century,” Professor Schenk said.

UQ Global Engagement Acting Deputy Director and Head Michael Holder said UQ had considerable people-to-people and research links with Germany.

“UQ’s links to Germany include a popular German Studies program, more than 80 collaborative research projects in the past five years, almost 40 agreements with German institutions, more than 90 German-born academics, and a Germany-based alumni network of 1300,” Mr Holder said.

“Moreover, the three consecutive recent Australian Ambassadors to Germany have been UQ graduates.

“Germany and UQ share a commitment to research excellence and translating research outcomes to create positive societal change. We look forward to strengthening our ties to contribute to knowledge leadership and discover solutions to pressing global challenges.”