Research Areas:
Resource Efficiency of Settlement Structures
Environmental Risks in Urban and Regional Development


Transformation to climate resilient and resource-saving infrastructures – The example of coupled infrastructures


Infrastructures and infrastructural systems secure the basic needs of a society, and thus reflect the level of social as well as technical progress. Physical infrastructures such as water and electricity networks, transport infrastructures and communication infrastructures affect environmental quality and the consumption of resources because they utilize land, energy and raw materials and are a source of emissions. 

Currently, infrastructural systems are undergoing fundamental change in the light of society's demand for climate protection and resource conservation, shifting expectations and patterns of behaviour of users, new technical possibilities, e.g. in power generation (regenerative energies) or telecommunications (data exchange, control systems) as well as changing institutional framework conditions. This is true for the type and way in which infrastructures deliver services as well as the technical set-up and management of infrastructural systems. These changes include the functional coupling of previously unconnected infrastructures.

While such changes in current infrastructural systems often begin in niche areas, they can lead to the transformation of entire socio-technical systems. Frequently, such developments exist in parallel. In such cases it may be unclear for some time exactly which services and which technical solutions will become established. This provokes questions as to the influential factors behind such transformation processes and likely measures to steer/support such changes. In particular, it is vital to consider the desired effects and undesired side-effects of such changes, e.g. in the areas of: 

  • Resource efficiency
  • Do new technologies and/or management concepts lead to desired savings in energy or materials?
  • Climate protection
  • Do new infrastructural concepts help to achieve the goals of climate protection?
  • Climate resilience

Do technical and organizational changes to infrastructural systems affect the susceptibility to external disturbances such as extreme weather events (heavy rainfall/hail showers, heat waves, high winds) and their repercussions (landslides, local flooding, etc.)?


The focus of TRAFIS is to explore examples of functional coupling of several infrastructures. The project aims to systemize infrastructural coupling and to investigate likely impacts on climate resilience and resource efficiency. Further, TRAFIS will show how the transformation of infrastructural systems can be intelligently steered, particularly at national level, to ensure climate resilient, sustainable and resource-saving infrastructures. 

The project will examine which forms of coupling can positively affect resource efficiency and climate resilience while taking account of technical possibilities as well as economic and social demands. A further question is how existing infrastructures can be transformed to create successfully coupled system. This encompasses several different forms of coupling, for example, the coupling of material and energy flows (such as exploiting energy from wastewater) as well as the coupling of information flows (such as ICT and the energy sector in order to improve load distribution/storage systems). 

Alongside the systemization of current technical changes and (linked social) processes of transformation, the main research aim is to develop methods for involved actors to steer the transformation process, whereby the operative focus is at the national level.


The TRAFIS project examines the development of climate-resilient and resource-saving infrastructures using findings from transformation research. The focus is on coupled infrastructures. According to relevant research findings, infrastructures can be seen as part of a specific "regime" (predominant system). Such a regime encompasses the entire network of regulations, infrastructures as well as actors (or their actions). The regime is stabilized into a specific development pathway by means of numerous connections between the sub-components. The requisite innovation for a transformation does not arise directly within the regime but generally in niche areas. TRAFIS uses methods from transformation research to investigate the development of such niche areas within coupled infrastructures.  

The TRAFIS project is subdivided into five work packages:

  • Work Package 1 creates the project’s systematic and terminological framework. The research object "coupled infrastructures" is defined and systemized. Further, the clustering of coupled infrastructures is investigated and these structures subject to a sustainability test.
  • The aim of Work Package 2 is to identify suitable examples of successful and unsuccessful coupled infrastructures within a wider niche development. Transformation pathways are reconstructed, and factors responsible for successful or unsuccessful transformation into sustainable infrastructures are analyzed.
  • Work Package 3 applies action research to selected case studies of coupled infrastructures. The case studies, which are located at the municipal and regional levels, have a good potential to deliver insights into transformation processes and to provide detailed findings on the conditions required for the successful transformation of infrastructures.
  • Work Package 4 considers the results and insights obtained from the three preceding work packages and distills these into defined products for research practice (paper on methods), national policy (policy paper) as well as actor-oriented education and training (training modules).
  • Work Package 5 encompasses the product-oriented project management as regards contents and organization.


02/2016 – 07/2019


Dr.-Ing. Georg Schiller
Tel. +49 351 46 79 259

Alfred Olfert

Tel.: +49 351 4679 239


UBA - Umweltbundesamt
3715 48 102 0


Ecologic Institut (Berlin)
Dutch Research Institute For Transitions (DRIFT, Rotterdam, Niederlande)
BTU Cottbus-Senftenberg, Lehrstuhl Stadttechnik (Cottbus)