Circular Health

Fraunhofer IGB is a founding member of the Fraunhofer Group for Resource Technologies and Bioeconomy VRB, which published a position paper on the concept of “Circular Health” in December 2023. The aim of the concept is to sustainably ensure the health of humans, animals and the environment through circular approaches in medicine, agriculture, nutrition and environmental sciences. We will briefly present the key messages of the circular health concept and demonstrate how the IGB contributes to it.

Balancing human and animal health with the environment and the economy

Our ecosystems are characterized by closely interlinked biogeochemical cycles, which also have a significant impact on human health. If they are disturbed, the effects are often difficult to calculate. A key objective of “Circular Health” is to identify and control factors that disrupt the balance of these cycles in order to contribute to preventive health care and meet sustainability goals at the same time.

Circular Health is a cross-sectoral and transdisciplinary approach with the aim of balancing human and animal health with the environment and the economy. This is to be achieved through circular-based approaches in medicine, agriculture, nutrition, and environmental sciences. In doing so, essential contents from two concepts, the One Health concept and the concept of a circular economy, will be taken up and brought together.


One Health: a healthy environment for a healthy person

The term One Health was first used in 2003–2004, with the emergence of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and the worldwide spread of avian influenza H5N1, to describe how human health is inextricably linked to animal and environmental health.

© Fraunhofer VRB

One Health taken to the next level: circular instead of linear economy

The global (geo)ecological challenges, which culminate in climate change and the loss of biodiversity and contribute to the destabilization of entire ecosystems with a massive burden on human health, can essentially be traced back to the linear and predominantly fossil-based economy. In order to ensure people's health, it is therefore imperative to observe circular principles and ecological cycles.

Circular Health prioritizes innovations in the food, agriculture and health industries, such as the development of sustainable food sources, the use of environmentally friendly pesticides and animal feed additives, and the containment of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and zoonoses. By establishing circular production processes, raw material and residual material flows can also be reduced. In the future, sovereign and sustainable value cycles are expected to replace linear, fossil-based value chains in environmental and resource management and in the healthcare industry. With today's understanding of the diverse interrelationships, and an integrative management of the influencing factors, health risks and causes of disease can be minimized preventively.

The transition to a circular economy, taking into account the One Health principles, currently offers enormous opportunities to generate considerable added health value by reducing negative environmental impacts, which will be directly reflected in a reduction of the burden on health systems.

Food and raw material production

Future agricultural systems must be able to feed up to ten billion people and reliably supply them with biogenic raw materials. At the same time, it is likely that less and less arable land will be available. In order to preserve natural resources such as fertile soils, clean water and air, stop the decline in biodiversity and counteract climate change, agricultural production must be made more sustainable.

Sustainable plant cultivation and animal husbandry without antibiotics

Circular Health therefore focuses on the development of more sustainable production concepts and highly specific suitable active ingredients for plant cultivation and animal husbandry in order to reduce or completely avoid negative impacts. While new and innovative feeding systems are being developed in the field of animal husbandry, for example with antimicrobial ingredients, that are intended to enable largely antibiotic-free husbandry, the focus in the field of plant cultivation is on the development of biobased pesticides for which negative effects on humans, animals and the environment can be largely ruled out.   

A key contribution to the effective application of the active ingredients is provided by their tailored formulation. New cultivation methods in hydroponic systems also enable the use of purified wastewater for fertilizing irrigation, while new biotechnological cultivation and utilization concepts for microalgae, insects and fungi enable the low-emission production of protein-rich food and feed.

© Fraunhofer IGB

Holistic use of biogenic raw materials

The holistic use of biogenic raw materials helps to increase resource efficiency and close material cycles. Against the backdrop of increasingly scarce raw materials, this is a decisive factor in ensuring the security of supply for society. One realized example of this is the new EthaNa® pilot plant at Fraunhofer CBP, which can be used to increase material value through gentle processing of rapeseed. Based on the principle of a biorefinery, it not only supplies high-quality rapeseed oil in pre-raffinate quality, but also a rapeseed kernel concentrate, rich in high-quality proteins, secondary plant substances dissolved in ethanol, and rapeseed husks as other products.

Range of services


Recovery and functionalization of resources

  • Development of economical, low-impact process cascades for the gradual recovery of valuable fractions
  • Evaluation of application parameters

Development of new food concepts

  • Algae-, insect- and fungus-based feed production
  • Hydroponic plant production with processed wastewater
  • Assessing the safety of the resources used with regard to pathogens and germ contamination

Substitution of synthetic chemical pesticides and antibiotics

  • Extraction processes for plant-based substances
  • Removal/ accumulation of minor components
  • Formulation of active ingredients
  • Algae active ingredients for the protection of plants

Our developments and offers

Food and raw material production


Holistic utilization of de-hulled rapeseed

The oilseed biorefinery uses the mild EthaNa process for processing oilseeds, which is performed at ambient pressure and a maximum of 70°C to avoid protein denaturation and other quality-reducing reactions. This way, the process allows a holistic utilization of the resources and provides product fractions with higher quality compared to conventional industrial processes.


Hydroponic systems for agriculture

Fraunhofer IGB is researching hydroponic systems for “soilless” agriculture. These systems conserve resources, have a reduced environmental impact, and allow plant cultivation under harsh conditions. Our aim is to provide solutions to the global challenge of ensuring food security in the face of the resulting conflicts of climate change and water scarcity.


Detecting human pathogenic viruses in wastewater

In order to ensure the safety of processed wastewater for irrigation, we have established a molecular biological detection system with which human pathogenic viruses can be detected reliably. The system, which is based on qPCR technology, uses highly specific probes to detect the most common human pathogenic viruses in wastewater without inhibitory effects.


Plants, algae, insects and microorganisms for food and animal feed

Climate change and environmental pollution pose new challenges for protein production. Protein sources from plants, algae, insects and fungi offer an alternative to animal-based foods. Functional ingredients from microalgae and bacteria, new production and drying processes complete our service range.


Detection of insect and food pathogens

To ensure the safety of insect and livestock breeding , we have developed a detection system for monitoring insect breeding facilities. The system can be used to simultaneously detect various infectious agents quickly and reliably. To do so, specific DNA sequences of the pathogens are amplified, fluorescently labeled, bound to a microarray and read out optically.


Formulations for agriculture

Modern and sustainable agriculture, which conserves resources, protects the environment and is also economical, is achieved when active ingredients such as pesticides or fertilizers are delivered in a tailor-made formulation. Biobased and biodegradable polymers, such as chitosan, inulin or alginate as capsule material, are easily degradable after the active agents have been released.


Utilizing of microalgae in organic farming

Pest-repellent active ingredients from microalgae and cyanobacteria are suitable as ecologically compatible, biologically based plant protection products. For applications in the organic cultivation of cabbage or in organic viticulture, we have developed processes for the production of microalgae with repellent or antifungal activity in cross-departmental cooperation.


Zoonoses and microbial resistance

In order to sustainably ensure the health of humans, animals and the environment in the long term, it is essential to develop innovative solutions to ward off biological hazards from the environment. These dangers include zoonoses as well as pathogenic microorganisms that have become resistant to antibiotics.


The graphic shows, that reducing the use of antibiotics in livestock farming can counteract the development and spread of microbial resistance.
Reducing the use of antibiotics in livestock farming can counteract the development and spread of microbial resistance.

Strategies for monitoring and controlling pathogens and resistance

Microbial resistance to antibiotics has spread rapidly around the world and poses one of the greatest threats to humanity, especially as fewer and fewer new antibiotics are developed. A major cause of the development of resistance is the non-specific and uncritical use of antibiotics in medicine and livestock farming, and their uncontrolled release into the environment as a consequence to that. The aim of Circular Health is to develop new methods to reduce the use of antibiotics in livestock farming and thus counteract the development of microbial resistance.

This includes the design of specific test systems for the development of veterinary therapeutics. A large number of the veterinary therapeutics used today originate from human medical development and are therefore often only effective to a limited extent in animals. In addition, if resistance develops, they can only be used to a limited extent in humans.

Various methods developed at the IGB for the diagnosis of pathogens and resistance in human and veterinary medicine as well as for environmental monitoring, make it possible to monitor the development of resistance and emerging pathogens. The use of bacteriophages offers a selective approach to reducing antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which is being pursued at the IGB. 

Our developments and offers

Zoonoses and microbial resistance


Nanogel biosensors for fast and safe pathogen diagnostics

Rapid antigen tests provide rapid results for corona infection, but unlike the PCR test, they are not very accurate. We are therefore researching an alternative that is both fast and accurate. The Pathogen Analyzer uses the LAMP test in a patented, printable hydrogel and is quickly transferable to other pathogens.


Precision diagnostics of microbial resistance and the development of resistance

The resistance of bacteria against antibiotics is transmitted by corresponding resistance genes. The molecular biological method of next-generation sequencing (NGS), a high-throughput sequencing of nucleic acids, opens up new possibilities for detecting and monitoring resistance from a variety of biological samples.


In-vitro canine skin equivalents for testing veterinary therapeutics

Veterinary medicines are often used without prior testing for efficacy, or human therapeutics are used even though they are not actually suitable for such purposes. This also applies to dermatological problems in dogs, which are particularly common. That is why the IGB is developing an in-vitro model specifically for canine skin in the WowWowSkin project.

Value-creation cycles in the healthcare sector

Due to the linear economy, the healthcare sector is characterized by its high demand for resources and a large ecological footprint. It causes around five percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and is responsible for up to ten percent of waste generation. A large portion of this waste consists of plastics, partly due to the increasing use of single-use products.

In contrast, the concept of circular health consists of a comprehensive implementation of circular economy principles. Based on a detailed analysis of the situation, products in the healthcare sector will have to be optimized in the future, taking into account the entire product life cycle and including all stages of the value chain. For example, both the use of biobased polymers and the implementation of recycling strategies offer solutions for greater sustainability in healthcare.

“Dry” processes for cleaning and disinfection, for example using plasma and UV-C, effectively contribute to reducing emissions.

At the BioCat institute branch in Straubing, a miniplant for the industry-oriented presentation of biobased polyesters and polyamides was also put into operation in 2023. We are currently researching biobased polyamides, poly(meth)acrylates and plastic additives, such as biobased plasticizers and nucleating agents. In addition, we offer our customers services in the field of polymer analysis and materials testing. Tests for the biodegradability of liquid substances are currently being established.

Range of services


Dry cleaning and sterilization processes

  • Plasma and UV-C technology
  • Removal of surface contamination (e.g. pyrogens)
  • Sterilization of thermolabile materials for medical product recycling

Development of sustainable monomers/polymers for plastic production

  • Miniplant for the industry-oriented presentation of polyesters and polyamids 
  • Patents on biobased polyamides
  • Development of biobased acrylates
  • Development of biobased additives (plasticizers, nucleating agents, etc.)
  • Polymer analytics, material testing

Our developments and offers

Value-creation cycles in the healthcare sector


UV technologies for sterilization and disinfection of surfaces

We use various gas discharge lamps, including specially developed excimer lamps, as well as UV LEDs, to inactivate microorganisms and viruses on surfaces.


Plasma sterilization for thermolabile materials

Thermal sterilization processes cannot be used for thermolabile materials such as medical devices or components of medical equipment. The sterilizing, microbial cell inactivating effect of low-temperature plasmas offers a material-friendly alternative.


Sustainable monomers/polymers

In the Laboratory for Technical Biopolymers project, which is funded by the Free State of Bavaria , we cover the entire value chain of biobased materials: from the identification of suitable starting materials to functionalization, polymerization and additivation all the way to recyclability and biodegradability.  

Health and environment

Pharmaceuticals are essential for human and animal health, but increased consumption and their often uncritical use lead to an increase in harmful and permanent residues in the environment, which can have undesirable effects on organisms, populations and ecosystems. Surface and groundwater as well as soils are particularly affected by this. Another problem is the development of resistance, which is facilitated by the excessive, non-specific and careless use of antibiotics.


Reducing problematic chemicals in the environment

Technical solutions for the collection and elimination of pollutants, e.g. PFAS or drug residues, from wastewater provide a remedy to reduce the harmful effects of persistent substances via drinking water (see article on PFAS, page x). At the same time, it is important to minimize the input of pollutants and pharmaceuticals into the environment and to focus on the development of environmentally friendly, biodegradable pharmaceuticals. For this purpose, methods are needed for the rapid and comprehensive assessment of the environmental hazard potential of new active substances.


Strategies against climate change and biodiversity loss

Essential for human health is a healthy environment that is characterized by a high level of biodiversity. This is because the ecosystems that build on this diversity produce clean air, drinking water, food and active ingredients. Since biodiversity has declined dramatically in recent decades, there is an acute need for action to reduce or completely avoid anthropogenic contributions to biodiversity loss.

In order to protect and preserve biodiversity, we are primarily concerned with the development of circular value chains to reduce waste and greenhouse gases, of strategies and methods to reduce anthropogenic pollution in the environment, and of new food concepts for sustainable intensification of agriculture.

Range of services


Assessing the sustainability of pharmaceuticals/pesticides/biocides during the development phase

  • Cell-based screening and assessment methods for environmental hazard prediction, e.g. of endocrine disruptors

Technical solutions for the elimination of pharmaceutical residues and environmental pollutants (PFAS) from wastewater

  • Polymeric adsorber materials
  • Combined filtration and adsorption with membrane adsorbers
  • Advanced Oxidation Processes incl. photocatalysis and water plasma technology
  • Biobased materials

Recovery of nutrients and recyclable materials from agricultural and municipal waste streams

  • Process engineering expertise and pilot plants for product separation and treatment
  • Closing material cycles

Our developments and offers

Health and environment


Cell-based test systems for assessing the safety of pharmaceuticals, plant protection agents and biocidal products

On the one hand, the innovation field focuses on the development and establishment of human in-vitro test models such as 3D tissue models and cell-based 2D assays. On the other hand, those models are applied for the preclinical testing of drugs, the determination of toxicity and allergenicity of, e.g., cosmetics and chemicals, as well as for clinical applications in personalized medicine.


Substitution of PFAS and removal of trace pollutants

We support companies in the search for PFAS substitutes, the development of customized coatings and the evaluation of new substances and materials. We also offer a wide range of technical solutions to eliminate PFAS and other micropollutants from wastewater in order to reduce harmful effects on our health.


Circular economy due to a sustainable circular bioeconomy

Circular bioeconomy offers new approaches for a sustainable economy. We develop processes to utilize biobased, regenerative resources for the production of biobased products based on the principle of a circular economy - preferably being CO2-neutral and without waste and emissions. This allows us to combine economic value creation with environmental, species and climate protection.


Wastewater as a resource

The substances contained in wastewater can be utilized – if it is processed accordingly. The high-load digestion system developed at the IGB converts the sludge produced at a wastewater treatment plant into biogas as a regenerative source of carbon and energy, and also returns sludge water and fermentation residues as further usable material flows. Valuable plant nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen can be recovered from these as fertilizer. 


Resource recovery: Nutrients, metals, biogas

Municipal wastewater, liquid manure and fermentation residues, and even waste streams from the food industry contain valuable nutrients. Simultaneously, raw materials for fertilizer production are becoming increasingly scarce. Fraunhofer IGB is working on new technologies for the recovery of phosphorus and nitrogen and is demonstrating these in pilot plants. 

Circular Health at Fraunhofer VRB

Based on the competencies of the group, four fields of action were defined for the implementation of the Circular Health concept.

Fields of action

  • Food and raw material production
  • Zoonoses and microbial resistance 
  • Value creation cycles in the healthcare sector 
  • Health & environment

Position paper “Circular Health” –

Prevention and circular economy in the areas of health, environment and agriculture (German)




The position paper “Circular Health” (German) can soon be found also on the VRB website.


Steffen Rupp

Contact Press / Media

Prof. Dr. Steffen Rupp

Deputy Director | Head of Business Area Health

Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB
Nobelstr. 12
70569 Stuttgart

Phone +49 711 970-4045

Fax +49 711 970-4200