The 2018 German Sustainability Award – a team effort, coordinated by the CUTEC Research Center of TU Clausthal
Receiving the prize recognizing the development of the bioelectrochemical fuel cell
The nationwide poster campaign shows Prof. Sievers with the award.
After the photo shoot for the poster campaign, 300 pictures present an agony of choice.

Michael Sievers

Clausthal Research Center for Environmental Technologies (CUTEC)

Professor since 2007

The team player

Making history for Clausthal with the German Sustainability Award

What does Clausthal’s Professor Michael Sievers have in common with the Queen of the Belgians, Scottish singer Annie Lennox, and German musician Marius Müller-Westernhagen? All of them are recipients of the German Sustainability Award and have been recognized for their exemplary sustainability work. Professor Sievers, the coordinator of the team, looked overjoyed when, in Düsseldorf’s Maritime Hotel on 8 December 2017, the name of his successful project was called out. In collaboration with various partners in industry and in academia, they had succeeded in using a bioelectrochemical fuel cell to generate energy out of the wastewater from a sewage treatment plant. The award is the largest of its kind in Europe and underscores TU Clausthal’s scientific excellence and capacity for innovation.

A community victory

Professor Sievers sees various reasons for their joint success. Right from the start, he recalls, the development and the success of the research project were forged by perfect teamwork, short distances, swift decisions, and genuine openness and outward transparency. When the group of experts announced their nomination for Best Project, Professor Sievers and his team still had to prove their other, “non-scientific” competences, like enthusiasm and networking – because the final decision in this case lay with the audience of the science program NANO, broadcast in cooperation with the TV channels ZDF and 3sat. The challenge was to ramp up the renown of one’s own project in order to gain as much support as possible in the public voting.

Clausthal as the launch pad for an academic career

Professor Sievers certainly won’t have had such a potential technological breakthrough in mind when he began his undergraduate degree in general process technology in the early eighties, here at TU Clausthal. For his doctorate degree, he specialized in the field of thermal process technology (now known as fluid separations), and his appointment as Head of the Wastewater Process Engineering Department at CUTEC, the Clausthal Research Center for Environmental Technologies, finally formalized his enthusiasm for that area of expertise. The vital role that practical application plays in research is something he also tries to impart to his students. It is therefore important to him to enrich his teaching with exercises in experimentation. The intention is for students to be able to see, feel, and understand what a theory on paper actually does. “I had the privilege of experiencing this authentic, illustrative manner of teaching during my own degree programs at TU Clausthal, and now I want to pay it forward to the next generation,” the professor says.

Sufficient time as a precondition of good teaching

Here, he has sufficient time for experiments and for questions. Just like the students, he commends the family atmosphere and the good student-teacher ratio. “The students are highly motivated and interested. That naturally facilitates a fruitful teaching and learning situation,” he can report. With this positive perspective on “his” university, he can but recommend studying here. “Were my children to find a subject to suit them here, I’d have no objections to them staying in Clausthal.” For this native of Lower Saxony, the Harz has become a new home. In his eyes, Clausthal and environs are a beautiful region for families. He particularly values being so close to nature and, even though there hasn’t been that much free time since the award, finds the forests of the Upper Harz a tempting draw for a hike. And no doubt that kind of leisure activity might spark new ideas for more research projects...