New future lab at ZDIN: Digitalization in the circular economy

Press Release /

The new “Zukunftslabor Circular Economy“ (Future Lab Circular Economy) will conduct research into innovative, digital solutions for the sustainable and efficient utilization of natural resources. For this purpose, it will receive 3.7 million euros from the Niedersächsisches Wissenschaftsministerium (Lower Saxony ministry for science and culture) and the Volkswagen Foundation for a project duration of five years.

© TU Clausthal/DIGIT Forschungszentrum

In view of the increasing global demand for raw materials and the finite nature of natural resources, industrial production is being faced with the task of finding innovative solutions for the utilization of materials. The transformation to a resource- and environmentally-friendly economy is essential in order to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and to protect the ecosystem. Digitalization plays a decisive role in overcoming these challenges, as it provides the impetus for comprehensive change in the economy and society.

In order to explore the possibilities offered by digitalization, a new future lab is commencing its research at the Zentrum für digitale Innovationen Niedersachsen (Centre for digital innovations Lower Saxony - ZDIN): the Future Lab Circular Economy. The participating scientists are pursuing the goal of promoting the resource-conserving transformation of the economy and society through circularly networked, digital and AI-supported products and services. The Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kultur (Ministry for science and culture - MWK) and the Volkswagen Foundation are providing 3.7 million euros for this purpose. The funding is being financed by means of the “zukunft.niedersachsen” science program and is valid for a period of five years.

“The circular economy enables products to be used for longer, components from disused products to be re-used, and materials to be recycled: Resource-conserving economic practices and the minimization of waste and dependencies are essential building blocks for Lower Saxony as a future-oriented, sustainable and resilient business location. By exploiting the potential of digitalization, the new future lab is providing an important contribution towards an effective circular economy through its application-oriented research and the resultant scientific findings.” 

Falko Mohrs
Minister of Science for Lower Saxony, Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kultur


Opportunities offered by digitalization for the circular economy

Digitalization can provide support for the circular economy in a variety of ways: It can make information regarding the sustainability of products and product use transparent and accessible, enabling consumers to reach ecological purchasing decisions. Innovative and digitalized service and business models facilitate the provision of simple sharing, re-use and repair services for users across the board. Digitalization can also provide a contribution towards achieving a higher degree of information exchange and automation in the area of (replacement) parts usage and recycling, thereby ensuring that products are used more effectively and economically in order to close the loop at the level of components and raw materials.

“Digitalization acts as a driver of innovation throughout all cycles. It increases the transparency of material flows, component statuses and product-usage information, thereby enabling targeted re-use and subsequent utilization. Simultaneously, new digital service and business models for a more sustainable product use are enabled and a consistent exchange of information as well as targeted information analysis for all processes (return, repair, dismantling, refurbishment, re-use) in the life cycle are promoted. This results in considerable potential for the necessary automation, control and establishment of an efficient circular economy.”

Prof. Dr. Andreas Rausch (Clausthal University of Technology)
Spokesperson for the Future Lab Circular Economy


Interdisciplinary project consortium

The project consortium of the Future Lab Circular Economy encompasses the disciplines of production engineering, (industrial) computer science, mechanical engineering, assembly technology, product development, software development and environmental management. The spokesperson for the Future Lab is Prof. Dr. Andreas Rausch (Clausthal University of Technology), who played a key role in forming the consortium.

Numerous practice partners have expressed their interest in participating in the Future Lab Circular Economy, including representatives from large companies, small and medium-sized enterprises, municipalities, social partners and networks.

“The Future Lab Circular Economy fits in perfectly with the digitalization research of our previous future labs: With the aim of making material cycles more efficient and sustainable, it builds a bridge to the other sectors for which our scientists are researching digital innovations. We are looking forward to the new colleagues and practice partners of the Future Lab Circular Economy, who will enrich our network with additional expertise.”

Dr.-Ing. Agnetha Flore (OFFIS – Institut für Informatik)
Managing Director of the ZDIN


Funded scientific institutions:

University of Oldenburg, Fraunhofer Institute for Surface Engineering and Thin Films IST, Leibniz University Hannover, OFFIS - Institut für Informatik, Ostfalia University of Applied Sciences, Technische Universität Braunschweig, Clausthal University of Technology

Interested practice partners:

ceconsoft GmbH, Electrocycling GmbH, Glaub Automation & Engineering GmbH, GREAN GmbH, Hellmann Process Management GmbH & Co. KG, Henze das Rad, Mittelstand-Digital Zentrum Bremen- Oldenburg, OHLF e. V., Oldenburgische Industrie- und Handelskammer, pdv-software GmbH, ReparaturRat Oldenburg e. V., REWIMET e. V., Siemens AG, Stadt Goslar, Stiftung digitale Chancen, SWMS Consulting GmbH, Volkswagen AG, WasteAnt GmbH, zentegra gGmbH

About “zukunft.niedersachsen”

“zukunft.niedersachsen” (formerly “Niedersächsisches Vorab”) is a science program launched by the Niedersächsisches Ministerium für Wissenschaft und Kultur (Lower Saxony ministry for science and culture) and the Volkswagen Foundation. The majority of zukunft.niedersachsen’s funding results from the equivalent value of the annual dividend on a nominal 30.2 million VW trust shares held by the State of Lower Saxony, which are subject to the profit transfer right to the Volkswagen Foundation. According to the statutes, the funds are to be allocated to scientific institutions in the state of Lower Saxony. To this end, the state government submits proposals – generally in the summer and fall – to the Board of Trustees of the Foundation regarding the allocation of the funds. In addition, a one-off special dividend of 576.3 million euros from the IPO of Porsche AG was added in 2023. This contribution will also be used for the zukunft.niedersachsen program in the coming years. In 2023, a total of 510.5 million euros flowed into Lower Saxony's research and science. One of the funded projects is the new Future Lab Circular Economy at the ZDIN. Further information on “zukunft.niedersachsen” can be found on the website

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