“We made a breakthrough here in Potsdam” – Dr. Jens Erdmann on his pioneering research on bio-based carbon fibers at the Fraunhofer IAP

Carbon fibers are considered to be extremely strong and light, which is why they’ve become indispensable for lightweight construction. They‘re used in the aerospace industry, among others. Dr. Jens Erdmann at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP in Potsdam-Golm is researching how carbon fibers can be obtained from renewable raw materials.

Working in one of the most beautiful science parks in Germany

When Dr. Jens Erdmann talks about his working environment, he is enchanted: “The Potsdam Science Park offers a wonderful atmosphere for working. In the morning I stroll across the meadows, we have a pond in front of the door – when I want to relax, I look out the window.” The native Saxon (from the city of Görlitz) seems to have found his dream job here.

Dr. Jens Erdmann is a research assistant at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research, or Fraunhofer IAP for short. Here he is researching biopolymers. He explains what this means for non-scientists: “We are researching how to produce materials for industry from molecules of nature.”

From trainee to doctoral researcher – a career in Potsdam-Golm

Dr. Erdmann came to his workplace through an internship. During his study of materials science at the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, he was employed for six months as an intern at the Fraunhofer IAP in Potsdam-Golm. He wrote his diploma thesis in Halle (Saale) and then began working as a doctoral student at the Fraunhofer IAP in Potsdam. “I was warmly welcomed here from the very beginning. I have committed and competent colleagues and around me, versatile and powerful technical equipment at my disposal and a wonderful boss. A very positive development was simply possible here,” concludes Dr. Erdmann.

He describes his work as varied. He is responsible for project acquisition, soliciting research funds and planning, conducting and evaluating experiments. In addition, he manages a machine park, where he takes care of maintenance, plant expansions and adjustments in order to keep up to date with the latest technical developments and to meet constantly changing requirements. He looks after graduates, writes publications, writes patents and presents results either to his clients or at conferences. His work is demanding, but also fulfilling, he says: “I simply like to get to the bottom of things and enjoy inventing, developing and improving novel materials,” he explains.

“We have achieved milestones here that are respected around the world” – top-level research at the Fraunhofer IAP

One of Dr. Erdmann’s main areas of focus includes bio-based carbon fibres. Carbon fibres are compelling due to their low weight combined with high strength and stiffness. They are regarded as the strongest and stiffest material that can currently be produced in large-scale plants. For this reason, they are of great importance for lightweight construction – one of the key technologies with which the turnaround towards a sustainable and resource-saving recycling economy is to be advanced. Carbon fibers can be found in aircraft, cars, sports equipment and wind turbines. The disadvantage: carbon fibers are made from polymeric fibrous precursor materials, 95 percent of which worldwide consist of petroleum-based polyacrylonitrile (PAN).

For seven years, Dr. Jens Erdmann and his colleagues have been conducting research on behalf of the Finnish-Swedish forest industry company Stora Enso to produce carbon fibers from renewable raw materials. This is a Herculean task: “For almost fifty years, scientists have been working on developing a competitive carbon fiber from biogenic raw materials such as cellulose or lignin. There has never been a breakthrough. We have achieved it,” says the scientist. The solution was to combine the two components cellulose and lignin in a specific ratio. This made it possible to eliminate the disadvantageous properties of both components but still retain their positive characteristics. Jens Erdmann is very satisfied with the results: “We have been recording one success after another for seven years. It really is a great feeling.”

Many smart people in the area: Local advantages of the Potsdam Science Park

Dr. Jens Erdmann will continue to research a sustainable production method for carbon fibers. He is confident that the success will continue: “We offer many opportunities for budding scientists to develop. With its universities and infrastructure, Potsdam offers optimal conditions for top-level research. Our proximity to the University of Potsdam also enables us to directly attract and retain skilled workers.”

When asked what he would like to see in the future for his work at the Fraunhofer IAP in the Potsdam Science Park, Dr. Jens Erdmann has to smile. “So much has happened here in recent years, the location has grown, it’s really nice to see that”, says Dr. Erdmann. “But what would be the icing on the cake for me are other public sports facilities. I am passionate about playing football and lead an inter-institutional group of amateur footballers here. If we could get a real football pitch here or have more opportunities, that would be great. It’s remarkable that I was able to make an incredible number of contacts here through sport, which also helped me with my work professionally.”

Photo: Dr. Jens Erdmann © Till Budde

This blog and the projects of the location management at the Potsdam Science Park (Standortmanagement Golm GmbH) are funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the State of Brandenburg.