Participants in the panel discussion during the fireside chat.

The University of Stuttgart on the way to climate neutrality

January 21, 2022

The climate-neutral University of Stuttgart: Where do we stand? What challenges are there? These questions were addressed in a fireside chat between the university management, university members and the Minister for Science, Theresia Bauer.

The administration of the state of Baden-Württemberg, which also includes higher education institutions, must be climate-neutral by 2030. That is what the climate protection law of the state of Baden-Württemberg, amended in October 2021, says. Despite great challenges and time pressure, the University of Stuttgart wants to lead the way. In his opening address on January 13, 2022, Rector Prof. Wolfram Ressel cited the Structural and Development Plan of the University of Stuttgart: The University of Stuttgart acts in accordance with its vision “Intelligent Systems for a Sustainable Society” and acknowledges its responsibility for making an active and ambitious contribution to sustainability and, in particular, climate protection and climate adaptation. “That’s what we stand by,” he said. “As members of a research university, our scientists advance climate-relevant knowledge and make contributions to answering climate-relevant questions, for example in the fields of lightweight construction, environmental modeling, and climate impact research.”

Prof. Wolfram Ressel

Ressel declared that a lot was set in motion by the university in the past, but that, all in all, this was only the beginning. One building block is the living lab “CampUS hoch i”, which was started in 2021. Another is the future-oriented research and innovation project “Mobility Living Lab” (MobiLab). In addition, the university has had a Green Office since last year. The Green Office, which organized the informal discussion, acts as a point of contact for students and all members of the university who want to address sustainability issues.

It supported CampUS hoch i in its first fireside chat “Climate-Neutral Facility Management” and organized the second fireside chat “Climate-Neutral Mobility” in cooperation with MobiLab, whose research findings were integrated into the program of the event, which was open to all members of the university. Another contribution is made by the energy management system, which, in cooperation with the Institute of Energy Economics and the Rational Use of Energy (IER), prepared a first report on the university’s carbon footprint, among other things. “As far as I know, this is the first and only report on the carbon footprint of a university in Baden-Württemberg,” said Ressel.

To become climate-neutral, higher education institutions will also need support from politics. Theresia Bauer, the Minister for Science, Research and the Arts, emphasized that she appreciates the achievements that have been made so far. In her opinion, the University of Stuttgart is suited as a blueprint for climate protection at other locations: “I can relay to you a very warm thank-you and an encouraging Keep up the good work!,” she said. However, the minister also declared that, so far, the measures have been insufficient in all sectors and that the state needs to triple its efforts. “We can overcome the climate crisis only if we think and act globally. We can only manage this together. We can only accomplish this with the contributions of science,” Bauer said. According to her, this also includes that people change their behavior and that new technical solutions are realized. She thinks that politics and science jointly have a special responsibility.

Prof. Cordula Kropp

Students and employees have a positive attitude toward climate neutrality

The CampUS hoch i living lab is concerned with the construction of two new buildings and the renovation of two existing buildings of the university. In order to find out what climate neutrality is supposed to look like at the University of Stuttgart, Prof. Cordula Kropp from the Center for Interdisciplinary Risk and Innovation Studies and other living-lab researchers conducted a survey. What things do those who later want to teach, do research, work, and study in the modified buildings wish for? Kropp surveyed nearly 1800 students and employees. A third of those surveyed were female, almost two thirds were male, and one percent were diverse.

Half of the participants were students, the other half were employees. 60 percent were under 30 years of age. What associations does the topic of climate neutrality have for the respondents? “Most respondents first think of the reduction of greenhouse gases, then comes renewable energies, and then the transformation of transportation and mobility,” Kropp said. “The buildings come to their mind relatively late. That’s not unusual. The building sector comes into focus only slowly.” Five percent fear that the whole thing is greenwashing. Greenwashing means that one gives oneself an environmentally friendly image without there being a sufficient basis for it. Besides, the vast majority of respondents want the university to be geared toward a realistic climate neutrality. Which measures are popular for this purpose? “42 percent believe that we ought to do more in terms of building insulation, and 37 percent think that we would achieve a lot by means of automated climate protection measures,” said Kropp.

Prof. Markus Friedrich

Fewer business trips and a car-free campus

In the area of mobility, too, something has to change if society wants to reach the climate targets for 2030. Prof. Markus Friedrich from the Institute of Road and Transportation Science imagined a possible scenario: “We will achieve that by changing the way our cars are powered, namely by means of 15 million electric vehicles,” he said. Apart from that, the remaining combustion engines must become more efficient, trucks must be transported on e-highways or by rail, and the population would need to reduce the number of car trips by 25 percent. A speed limit of 100 km/h would save 10 million tonnes of CO2, and the operational costs of a car would need to be doubled. “This sounds inconceivable, but a country like Germany could achieve it by 2030,” Friedrich said.

What can the university do with regard to business trips? Business trips by car can simply be done using electric vehicles, or people can switch to public transport or online conferences. In addition, Friedrich suggested a rethinking of intercontinental travel: “Wouldn’t it be possible to have fewer conferences, but stay abroad for a longer period of time? Every research assistant would have the opportunity to fly to the US once during their time at the University of Stuttgart, stay at the host university for a month, and also attend a summer school. We recommend that, afterward, they get to know the country.” In the field of everyday mobility, the university wants to introduce a parking-space management system in cooperation with the state of Baden-Württemberg. The goal is the car-free campus. “To achieve that, we need the MobiLab. Here, we are working on bicycle parking facilities, cycling routes to the campus, a campus shuttle service, and EV charging stations,” Friedrich said.

Prof. Kai Hufendiek

The carbon footprint of the University of Stuttgart

During the fireside chat, Prof. Kai Hufendiek from the Institute of Energy Economics and Rational Energy Use presented the carbon footprint of the University of Stuttgart. “The main source of CO2 emissions is our Vaihingen Campus, in particular the natural gas,” he said. The University of Stuttgart is a small energy supplier, so a large amount of natural gas goes to the combined heat and power station on the Vaihingen Campus. 40 percent of the university’s emissions are heat-related emissions, i.e. heat from the buildings, process heat, steam, and some warm water. 27 percent of emissions are due to electricity. The third largest item is the commuter traffic by students and employees.

The goal is to have no more direct emissions. “Therefore, we need to change the operation of the heating plant to carbon-neutral fuel,” Hufendiek said. One possible way to achieve this is using the waste heat from the High Performance Computing Center (HLRS) to provide heating and cooling. Hufendiek called for a detailed description of the energy and climate concept “E-Campus”, an integrated thermal design, new buildings with high efficiency, the renovation of buildings with regard to energy consumption, and a smart facility management. Regarding the climate-neutral heat supply for the Vaihingen Campus, the scientist suggested the use of heat pumps with borehole heat exchangers in addition to using the waste heat from the HLRS. He also suggested reducing the temperature in the heat supply network and performing the rest of the heat generation in a thermal power plant or a replacement power plant based on biogas or green hydrogen. In conclusion, Hufendiek is sure that “including students and university members in the process is a key to success”.

Implementing climate neutrality together

The keynote speeches were followed by a panel discussion that was moderated by the Green Office and took place with the participation of Minister Bauer, Rector Ressel, Prof. Kropp, Prof. Friedrich, Philipp Franz (Student Council of the University of Stuttgart stuvus), Juliane Heitkämper (Council of Doctoral Researchers of the University of Stuttgart DoKUS), and Dr. Norbert Röhrl (Staff Council of the university). Everyone agreed that they need to work together in order to achieve the goal of climate neutrality and that the students and employees of the university need to be included in the process. According to the participants, changes in behavior are important in addition to technical measures. In his closing remarks, Ressel emphasized that we still have a long way to go and that we have to go it together. He also pointed out that everyone is responsible: “It’s important that we engage and that we are successful, because only in this way can we get everyone involved.” 

Participants of the fireside chat
Participants of the panel discussion and organizers of the fireside chat.
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