First glimpse of the artificial cryosphere

ERC funds “CultCryo” project with Synergy Grant of around 9.9 million euros


The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded TU Darmstadt as host institution a Synergy Grant for the “CultCryo – The Cultures of the Cryosphere” project. The requested funding amounts to around 9.9 million euros, and the corresponding Principal Investigator is Dr. Alexander Friedrich. The aim of the project is to provide a comprehensive analytical view on global artificial cooling.

Refrigeration and freezing technologies have fundamentally shaped the world. The project “CultCryo” will investigate the “artificial cryosphere” in an interdisciplinary approach.

Artificial cooling fundamentally shapes the world. Refrigeration and freezing technologies have become increasingly important for a wide range of everyday practices ranging from nutrition, health and reproduction to housing, telecommunications, scientific research and economic productivity. A global system of cold storage, cold chains and air-conditioned rooms has become an energy-intensive but little-noticed planetary infrastructure: an “artificial cryosphere”.

However, the far-reaching effects of this technology are still largely unexplored. Recent studies estimate that the global cooling demand will increase fivefold by 2050, dramatically exceeding our future energy budget. CultCryo aims to reveal and understand how the infrastructure of artificial cold is interwoven with cultural practices to help avert an impending global cooling crisis.

CultCryo - The Cultures of the Cryosphere. Infrastructures, Politics and Futures of Artificial Cooling

Participating researchers: Alexander Friedrich (TUDa/ZfL, corresponding PI), Suzana Alpsancar (University of Paderborn), Stefan Höhne (University of Duisburg-Essen), Bronwyn Parry (Australian National University, Canberra)

Funding: a total of 9.9 million euros, of which TU Darmstadt 2.8 million euros

Project term: 6 years

The researchers involved in the project from the Universities of Darmstadt, Paderborn, Essen-Duisburg and Canberra are planning four interdisciplinary case studies in the fields of food supply, air conditioning, biomedicine and computing as part of CultCryo. The methods for this are based in the history of technology, geography, digital history of concepts, ethnography, philosophy and ethics of technology.

CultCryo will provide the first geographical mapping of the cryosphere, a historical reconstruction of its formation, an ethnographic account on its cultural constitution, and a philosophical analysis and ethical assessment of its underlying norms and values. So the project will pave the way for an innovative interdisciplinary field of research to critically analyse a pressing global phenomenon and at the same time identify alternatives towards a more sustainable future of artificial cold.

Along with CultCryo, the TU project “HYROPE – Hydrogen under pressure” has also been included in the Synergy Grants. This is the first time that TU has been successful in this ERC funding line.

I heartly congratulate Alexander Friedrich and Andreas Dreizler on being awarded two ERC Synergy Grants! The two projects exemplify integral characteristics and strengths of research at our university: Scientists address urgent challenges and work on innovative solutions, taking interdisciplinary perspectives and collaborating with colleagues worldwide. HYROPE and CultCryo also illustrate the fruitful diversity of perspectives at TUDa. Whether they work on developing CO2-free gas turbines or analyzing the global system of artificial cooling, both focus on creative contributions for a more sustainable future.

About the person

Dr Alexander Friedrich received his doctorate from the Justus Liebig University of Giessen, after which he joined the DFG Research Training Group “Topology of Technology” at TU Darmstadt as a postdoctoral fellow. Since 2015, he worked as a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer in the Institute of Philosophy (Department of Social Sciences). He has been visiting research fellow at the Leibniz-Zentrum für Literatur- und Kulturforschung (ZfL) Berlin and the University of Sydney. As a Deputy Professor, he represented the Chair of Theoretical Philosophy at TU Darmstadt in 2020-2021. He is currently working as a research associate at the ZfL Berlin in the key project “The 20th Century in Basic Concepts”. Friedrich's work focuses on philosophy of language, digital methods and science studies in the humanities, as well as philosophy of technology and culture.

ERC Synergy Grants

The European Research Council's (ERC) Synergy Grants are awarded to teams of two to four internationally renowned researchers. The projects funded by the grants are expected to lead to discoveries at the interfaces between established disciplines and to significant progress at the frontiers of knowledge. The development of new methods and techniques, as well as unusual approaches are conceivable. The decisive factor for the funding is that the projects should only be possible with the cooperation of the nominated researchers.

Funding is available for up to six years with a maximum budget of ten million euros. It is possible to receive additional funding of four million euros.