UBA application lab for AI and Big Data

Two wind turbines, a solar plant, two people, the globe, plant leaves and diagrams illustrating the topics of the AI Lab are depicted on a light-coloured background.Click to enlarge
AI can be used to protect our environment and to advance sustainable development.
Source: © Irina Strelnikova / Adobe Stock (verändert)

The Application Lab for Artificial Intelligence and Big Data (AI Lab) at the Federal Environment Agency makes AI and big data methods usable for environmental and sustainability applications. As a space for innovation and experimentation for the environment department, it focuses on the added value of AI for people and the environment and identifies new research questions in this field.

Table of Contents


The AI Lab at the UBA for the Environment Department

Artificial intelligence (AI) is an important key technology not only for industry, but also for politics and research, especially in the field of environmental and climate protection. An application laboratory for artificial intelligence and big data (AI Lab) has therefore been established at the Federal Environment Agency since 2022. The AI Lab officially began operations in October 2023.

In a time of transformation, which is characterised by digitalisation as well as socio-ecological and institutional change, the AI Lab is intended to effectively support activities from environmental and sustainability research and environmental monitoring⁠. AI applications based on environmental data are developed together with the authorities of the environment ministry – in addition to the UBA⁠, these are the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection and the Federal Office for the Safety of Nuclear Waste Disposal. The aim is to provide effective support for science-based policy advice and the implementation of environmental legislation at federal and state level.

The AI Lab is an initiative within the framework of the BMUV's Environmental Digital Agenda and part of the  BMUV's 5-Point Programme “Artificial Intelligence for the Environment and the Climate”.. For this purpose, 26.4 million euros are available from funds of the Federal Government's Economic Stimulus and Future Package (2021). Around 30 staff will be employed at the Leipzig, Berlin and Dessau-Roßlau sites, initially on a temporary basis until 2025. The interdisciplinary team includes experts from the fields of project management, data science, data engineering, high-performance computing, AI ethics, remote sensing, user experience and interface design.


Generating knowledge and solutions for the Sustainability Decade

In future, the AI Lab will develop specific applications that will improve the diverse work of the environment department – from species protection to radiation protection, from nuclear safety to climate change adaptation and environmental monitoring. Initial examples of the possible application of AI include the identification of wind and photovoltaic plants in satellite data for better planning. Also, illegally traded and protected animal and plant species can be better tracked down in online trading platforms. AI systems can support the water monitoring of the future by analysing large amounts of data from environmental samples.

The AI Lab places particular emphasis on the responsible handling of data and develops solutions for the resource-saving use of AI and Big Data (Responsible & Green AI). In the process, various aspects of sustainable software are in the spotlight, from the most energy-efficient use of hardware to the appropriate and ethical selection of data and algorithms, to usability by third parties in the context of open source.


A boost for the transformation of environmental administration and more

The AI Lab is currently working on establishing effective national and international networks and collaborations on the topic of AI and its use in the environmental department. The aim is to build up methodologically and technically relevant competencies throughout the environmental department. The agencies want to learn from each other and thus give impetus to the digital transformation in environmental administration. “In implementing example applications (use cases), we are working closely with a wide range of experts from the environment department, from marine research and radiation protection to atmospheric physics in urban areas. It is important to us that the AI-Lab has both an external and an internal impact,” says Robert Wagner, head of the AI-Lab at the UBA⁠.