Methods and Skills

The chair of Material Flow Management and Resource Economy uses both experimental and modeling techniques. Experimentally, we perform analytical measurements using lab equipment as well as sorting investigations of waste. Process development for the circular economy includes laboratory and pilot scale experiments. These methods also support the development of waste management concepts. For modeling purposes, we use the methodology and specific software from material and substance flow analysis (MFA/SFA) and life cycle assessment (LCA) together with the corresponding data bases. For specific research problems we develop specific models and scenarios. For regional investigations, we apply geographic information systems (GIS). The combination of experimental work together with modeling techniques is a distinctive feature of the chair of Material Flow Management and Resource Economy that produces innovative approaches that help to increase our scientific knowledge about material flow systems. The chair brings this expertise to bear in cooperative research projects.

Laboratory Analyses

Equipment for analytical work and data acquisition are available at the joint laboratory of IWAR Institute. The laboratory is used by the chair Material Flow Management and Resource Economy in the scope of work on the circular economy to examine the following questions:Development and optimization of analytical methods for the detection of organic compounds in leakage water and waste

  • Development and optimization of analytical methods for detecting organic compounds in leakage water and waste
  • Development and optimization of data acquisition techniques for continuous online monitoring of industrial waste incineration plants
  • Analysis of waters and wastewaters
  • Trace analysis of halogenated organic compounds
  • Immission and emission monitoring at and in the vicinity of biological waste treatment plants and waste incineration plants
  • Analysis of allocation criteria for landfills according to appendix 3 of the German regulation governing waste deposits
  • Analysis of the solid matter contained in scoria from waste incineration plants and landfills
  • Measurement of CH4 oxidation in landfill cap systems
  • Monitoring of technical facilities for wastewater and waste air purification
  • Analysis of wastewater and sewage sludge as defined in the wastewater monitoring regulations (EKVO) and sewage ordinance (AbfKlärV)
  • Investigations in the context of environmental remediation
  • Development and optimization of oxygenation systems
  • Measurement of oxygenation in conventional activated sludge plants and in membrane aeration plants, both domestic and abroad

Sorting Experiments

Information about the composition of various types of waste can be gathered by using sorting experiments. These data are crucial for the development of reutilization and waste management concepts.

Space for the experiments is available in an experimental hall of the TU Darmstadt. Here the wastes can be delivered, sorted, and characterized. Wastes are mostly either residual, biological. or recyclable. The sorted types of waste can be further analyzed using physical, chemical, and biological tests according to the LAGA PN 98 guidelines using the laboratory equipment of the IWAR Institute. These sorting experiments are combined with on-site inspections of refuse container locations, observations of sorting behavior, and the development of strategies to overcome deficits.

The chair of Material Flow Management and Resource Economy offers a range of technical-analytical equipment for these sorting experiments, most importantly:

  • Sorting tables
  • Sorting containers
  • Scales
  • Sieves in various sizes
  • Drum sieves/screens (manually adjustable)

Additional equipment for sample preparation and crushing can be used in cooperation with other chairs at the TU Darmstadt.

Process Development

The development of new processes in the chair of Material Flow Management and Resource Economy is focused on material recycling and the recovery of the energy and materials contained in wastes. Included in this are improvements in separation, collection, and concentration or extraction of the waste fractions and the materials contained therein. Technical development work is done using the workshop and the laboratory capacities of IWAR. It is possible to characterize the experimental yields and efficiencies of waste treatment processes with the help of input-output substrate analyses. Various types of equipment can be constructed in the IWAR workshop to demonstrate the effects of different process set-ups. It is thus possible to vary process parameters and to determine optimal operating conditions. The Material Flow Management and Resource Economy chair also operates test facilities on partner premises, as for instance at the composting plant of EAD of the city of Darmstadt.

Waste Management Concept

Based on many years of experience ranging from the gathering and recording waste materials to its biological, mechanical and thermal treatment to its disposal, the chair of Material Flow Management and Resource Economy has acquired profound expertise in developing waste management plans.

When developing sustainable waste management plans, we take into consideration the prospective waste quantities, the logistics, and process technology. Specifically, the chair can work on the following tasks:

  • Analysis of the current and future quantities of waste
  • Determination of the relevant waste parameters, e.g., breathability and the formation of gases
  • Development of plant design concepts for waste treatment
  • Educational courses and training sessions to improve waste management
  • Identification of areas for optimizing waste management planning that takes into account municipal and operational boundary conditions.


Material and substance flow analysis (MFA/SFA) is a method from systems analysis regarding the collection, description, and assessment of material flows either between the human economy and the natural environment or within the economic system. Areas of research can be chemical compounds or elements (SFA), but also materials, products, or groups of products (MFA). MFA/SFA can be complemented by energy flows, resulting in a combined material-energy flow analysis. The method MFA/SFA is described in the literature and is based on scientific mass balances for processes and systems.

Systems that can be investigated include the entire economy, sectors and regions, but also organizational systems like companies. The combination of MFA with scenarios – called “dynamic MFA” – can be used to analyze future developments. Of interest is the future development of inventories (e.g., the inventory of buildings) but also of flows (e.g., the future amounts of wastes coming from tearing down buildings). For MFA/SFA, the Material Flow Management and Resource Economy chair uses STAN software, but also develops proprietary mathematical descriptions based on spread sheet programs or mathematical software such as Matlab.

Life Cycle Assessment

The life cycle assessment (LCA) is described in the international standard DIN ISO 14040/14044. It serves to analyze the entire environmental impact of a product or a service throughout its complete life cycle. This life cycle includes the consumption of resources and the emissions from the production of raw materials to the production of the product itself, the product's usage over its lifetime down to the waste material treatment, recycling, and final disposal, i.e., from the cradle to the grave. In addition to the assessment of the environmental impact via LCA, the economic and social aspects can also be investigated (life cycle costing, social life cycle assessment).

The Material Flow Management and Resource Economy department has profound expertise in performing LCA and using various software tools, data bases, and specific methodical approaches. We are currently using the open source software OpenLCA ( ), which enables demanding modeling, but can also be used for education. With regard to databases, the department possesses licenses for the Swiss ecoinvent database and can also access further international and domestic databases. Data sets from LCAs prepared at the department are documented in a database that is configured in accordance with international standards and is compatible with other databases via the exchange formats ELCD and EcoSpold. The department makes expertise available for companion studies of new processes and products during their phase of technological development. Above all, LCAs can be done according to the requirements of the European platform for LCA (, a prerequisite for European research projects in the 7th Framework Program.

Scenario Analysis

Scenario analyses are today indispensable for conducting prospective studies of future developments. They illustrate different paths of development – “potential futures” – and make it possible to analyze the pre-requisites for achieving certain objectives or the consequences of actions, such as in the energy sector. Scenarios are formulated as the input parameters for mathematical models, which permit certain output parameters to be calculated.

“A scenario is a generally comprehensible description of a potential situation in the future, which is based upon a complex grid of factors. Moreover, a scenario can encompass the representation of a development leading from the present to this situation.” Working on scenarios thus requires a profound understanding of a certain area and the multiple variables influencing it. Moreover, in many cases estimates for unknown or future parameters have to be made. To obtain this information, the department can conduct an extensive and systematic search of the literature, accessing electronic libraries and journals. Current research projects also employ the methods of empirical social research, mainly expert interviews, but also online surveys in the framework of Delphi analyses. Based on the principle of using scenarios as descriptions of multiple futures, the results are used to produce a set of scenarios, which are integrated into the modeling of current projects. The department uses existing models, such as LandSHIFT, the land-use model of Kassel University (, but also develops proprietary models, e.g. a merit order model to investigate the effects of substitution in the area of power supply.

Geographic Information Systems

The environmental sciences use GIS to acquire, analyze, and present geographic data. Within the Material Flow Management and Resource Economy chair, multiple applications of GIS are being used for research and project work. Via GIS, data concerning, e.g., species, climate, and road grids can be stored, analyzed, or compiled to form thematic maps. Moreover, GIS can be used for data management, beginning with the acquisition, to prospective development, up to the integration into geo-data infrastructures, e.g., building data.

GIS constitutes a crucial base component for multiple different tasks due to its geographical data and its capabilities for visualizing and analyzing. The department uses GIS in combination with modeling software (e.g., LandSHIFT) but also for regionalized LCA studies and scenario analyses. The Material Flow Management and Resource Economy department uses GIS licenses as part of the EsriCampusBundle of the TU Darmstadt.