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IMC research project wins sustainability competition

The Sustainability Award 2022, an Austrian competition for universities in the field of sustainability, goes to IMC Krems in the research category.

Porträt von Martin Polaschek, Doris Ripper, Wadih Rassy, Dominik Schild und Leonore Gewessler

Federal Minister Martin Polaschek, Doris Ripper, Wadih Rassy, Dominik Schild (IMC Krems research team) and Federal Minister Leonore Gewessler at the presentation of the Sustainability Award 2022.

The Sustainability Award was initiated in 2008 as a joint initiative of the Federal Ministry for Climate Protection and the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research in order to promote sustainability processes in the Austrian higher education landscape and make them better known. The award in the category Research was conferred to the research team of IMC University of Applied Sciences Krems for the project “REEgain – sustainable biological recycling of environmentally hazardous substances (Rare Earth Elements) from electronic waste and wastewater”. The award was presented by Federal Minister Leonore Gewessler and Federal Minister Martin Polaschek on 13 June 2022 at the Vienna Museum of Technology.
“We are very pleased that our project has found such resonance and has even been honoured with the Sustainability Award. We are still in the starting blocks and hope that we can remain present with our sustainability approach in the future to make a positive contribution to environmental protection,” says project manager Dominik Schild.
"I would like to congratulate Dominik Schild and the entire research team on this great success. Many of our university targets are in the area of sustainable action, so this award is a special honour," affirms IMC Krems CEO Mag. Ulrike Prommer.

Research on new recycling method for rare earths 

Rare earths are used in electronic devices such as smartphones, computers or energy-saving light bulbs. Their availability is limited, however, and so far research has been conducted into environmentally friendly recycling methods – as in the international REEgain project at IMC Krems. The aim of the project is to recycle rare earths from electronic waste with the help of bacteria and algae without causing any environmental damage. This process therefore does not create any new pollution. 
Regional companies are to profit from the new technology. This novelty represents a new opportunity for companies not only to dispose of metal residues sustainably, but also to recover them and resell or process them instead. The pioneering project is made possible by EU funding from the “European Regional Development Fund” (ERDF) as part of the “Interreg Austria – Czech Republic” programme. “Without the funding from Interreg AT CZ, the project would not have been possible – we would like to express our sincere thanks for that,” says Dominik Schild.


The REEgain project relies on living organisms to recycle residual materials, as opposed to harsh chemical substances. “This biological way of recycling relies on the ability of microorganisms to absorb rare earths from their environment. To do this, electronic waste is dissolved adding this aqueous solution to the fermentation of bacteria, fungi or algae. These can now absorb the rare earths as they grow to great cell density. Afterwards, the biomass obtained in this way is fractionated, which means that the cells are broken up and the fragments and cell contents obtained are separated,” explains project leader Dominik Schild. The complex tasks were divided among the project partners. In addition to IMC Krems, the Czech Academy of Sciences in Třeboň, Danube University Krems and Karl Landsteiner Private University are involved in the project.  

About the Award

The Austrian Sustainability Award is a joint initiative of the Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology and the Federal Ministry for Education, Science and Research and was launched in 2007 to create or raise awareness for sustainability processes at Austrian universities. The diverse projects submitted contribute to ecological, economic, social, cultural and political aspects of sustainability and overall add to the achievement of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda. The Austria-wide Sustainability Award has been presented every two years since 2008 and brings pioneering sustainability projects before the curtain. The award is organised by FORUM Umweltbildung, an important contact point for education for sustainable development in Austria. An interdisciplinary jury of sustainability experts from science and research, culture and the media select the winners in a total of eight categories.