The Labexchange Award 2016 goes to the research project: “Recycling Phosphate with Duckweed”

Mar 13, 2017
Tiny plants with huge potential

Dr. Wolfgang Kuster (on the left) congratulates the young researchers. Johan Liebeton and Leon Werner (on the right) have accepted the prize in their laboratory.

Two Heidelberg students proudly received their Labexchange Award at their laboratory. The Labexchange Foundation awarded them the prize for their impressive research work, undertaken on their own initiative, on the use of duckweed as a “phosphate recycler”.

Many interesting projects were submitted for consideration to the Labexchange Foundation – Wolfgang-Kuster-Stiftung. At the end of the required selection process, the winners were announced: They are students Johann Liebeton and Leon Werner for their duckweed research project.

It was clear from the submitted documentation that the research was concerned with a highly topical issue and was therefore extremely interesting. To take a look at the research project for himself, the foundation’s founder Dr Wolfgang Kuster visited the winners’ laboratory in Heidelberg. Highly impressed by the students’ work and results, he presented them with the Labexchange Award. The award is linked to support in the form of provision of laboratory equipment and furnishings. In order to successfully pursue their research work, the students require additional equipment which will be provided by the Labexchange Foundation.

“Johann Liebeton and Leon Werner’s project is a logical choice for the Labexchange Award, as it honours the research work by these young students which they began while still at school and which they are carrying out on their own initiative,” Dr Wolfgang Kuster explains.

The young scientists have been looking into the biological recycling of phosphates from surface water and the establishment of a sustainable phosphate cycle. The increased use of fertilizers in agriculture has led to the severe pollution of surface water by phosphate salts. By means of laboratory experiments, the young researchers were able to prove that duckweed is ideally suited to phosphate recycling. They proved that these tiny water plants efficiently bind phosphate, nitrate and potassium ions. Duckweed therefore reduces the increased concentration of phosphate salts in surface waters by ecologically sound means. The young researchers also discovered that duckweed is an excellent source of biogas and, furthermore, can even be used as a natural fertilizer.

Under the banner “Tiny plants with huge potential”, this research project and its results are a prime example of how to strike a balance between modern agriculture, sustainable energy generation and environmental protection. The Labexchange Award was created to acknowledge this kind of innovative scientific insight, which serves the common good and the protection of the environment.

In 2014, to mark the 25th anniversary of Labexchange – Die Laborgerätebörse, Wolfgang Kuster set up the Labexchange Foundation – Wolfgang-Kuster-Stiftung. This is a charitable foundation which is dedicated in particular to the promotion of healthcare, art and culture, environmental protection, the welfare system and the common good. Support takes the form of both financial resources and the provision of diagnostic and analytic laboratory equipment and furnishings free of charge. The foundation offers regular support to social projects and presents the annual Labexchange Award.