Research at the ZWU focuses on water research with a very broad range of expertise in the fields of water ecology, drinking-water treatment and distribution (contamination, assessment, remedi­ation), environmental toxicology and chemistry, water and urban water management, hydrology, hydraulic engineering and water governance with economic and legal competencies. The following is a selection of larger national and international collaborative projects that reflect the inter- and transdisciplinary scope of the ZWU’s research.

EU COST Action DNAqua-Net and GeDNA – Development of genetic methods for recording the biodiversity and ecological status of water bodies

UDE is a worldwide pioneer in the development of state-of-the-art genetic methods for recording biological diversity in water bodies. For example, the ZWU coordinates DNAqua-Net, one of the largest EU COST Actions (European Cooperation in Science and Technology). The aim of DNAqua-Net and its more than 500 members from 49 countries is to develop modern and standardised genetic methods for the comprehensive surveying of biodiversity in seas, rivers, lakes and ground­water. The key molecule in this regard is the so-called “environmental DNA” (eDNA – environmental DNA), i.e. DNA released by the organisms into the water. Not unlike the identification of perpetrators at a crime scene, the eDNA enables the organisms living in the habitat to be reliably identified by the analysis of the water alone. Using these innovative methods, the assessment of ecological status within the framework of regulatory requirements (e.g. European Water Framework Directive) should in future be more comprehensive, precise and standardised. To this end, laboratory and analytical methods will be exchanged between laboratories and countries and optimised. In numerous workshops and training schools, students, scientists and users from official practice will be trained in the new methods. The scientific director and spokesperson is Prof. Florian Leese (Aquatic Ecosystem Research). Prof. Daniel Hering (Aquatic Ecology) is head of Working Group 5, which is concerned with the integration of the new methods into existing guidelines.

These two scientists are also coordinating the GeDNA project, funded by the Federal Environment Agency, until the end of 2022. The project involves comparing modern DNA-based methods for recording the ecological status of water bodies with traditional methods based on microscopic determination. In addition to validating and checking the plausibility of the methods on a large-scale, it will also seek to determine how much more comprehensive information can be standardised and quickly collected for recording the biological diversity and ecological functionality of rivers. In addition to the Botanical Garden and Botanical Museum Berlin and the Freie Universität Berlin, numerous partners, especially from the authorities (German Working Group on water issues of the Federal States LAWA, Austrian Federal Environment Agency, Swiss Federal Office for the Environment) are involved.

NRW Research Centre FUTURE WATER – a holistic approach to research and the qualification of young scientists

The FUTURE WATER research centre, which was established in 2014 and is coordinated by the ZWU, will receive an additional 2.2 million euros in the second funding phase after its successful evaluation and extension in January 2019. This joint project of UDE, Ruhr University Bochum, Hochschule Ruhr West, EBZ Business School and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Technology is part of the “NRW Research Centre” funding programme of the Ministry of Culture and Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia. The aim of the centre is to educate outstanding young scientists and prepare them for a future in science and practice, and to contribute to ensuring sustainable water management while doing so. The focus of the inter- and transdisciplinary projects of the second cohort of doctoral students is on the reduction of pollutant inputs into the aquatic envir­onment via diffuse sources and the establishment of integrated rainwater management. In addition to academic qualification, another important component of the research centre is the development and strengthening of social and leadership skills. The research centre’s spokesman is Prof. Torsten Schmidt (Instrumental Analytical Chemistry and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the ZWU).

UFO – German-Egyptian cooperation in membrane technology research

The research project “Optimization of ultrafiltration membranes for the treatment of oily wastewater – (UFO)”, which was started in August 2017 and funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research in Germany (BMBF) via the German-Egyptian Research Fund (GERF), came to an end in December 2019. The project was based on the very successful and strategic scientific cooperation between the ZWU and Fayoum University in Egypt, which began in 2012. At UDE, the research groups of Prof. Mathias Ulbricht (Technical Chemistry II) and Prof. Stefan Panglisch (Mechanical Process Engineering/Water Technology) have collaborated to develop and test antifouling hydrogel coatings for ultrafiltration membranes in order to improve the antifouling tendency for the polishing step in the treatment of oil-contaminated wastewater. Promising results were achieved in this project and published in a number of international scientific publications.