Ulm University succeeds in the Excellence Strategy and wins a Cluster of Excellence in the area of battery research. From January 2019 on, the research project 'Energy storage beyond lithium – new storage concepts for a sustainable future' will receive funding of up to ten million euros for an initial seven years. In a highly selective procedure, an 'Excellence Commission' consisting of high-ranking international experts as well as state and federal science ministers selected around 57 clusters.
'Having won the Cluster of Excellence in the area battery research is an outstanding success for Ulm University and substantiates our national and international leadership position in this globally relevant research field. Universities from all over Germany have applied for Clusters of Excellence with their strongest specialities and we are rightfully proud of being among the very best,' says President of the University Professor Michael Weber in response to the positive decision. He also thanks the Federal Ministry of Science, Research and the Arts (MWK) for the extraordinary support – not only in the context of the Excellence Strategy.
Searching for batteries of the future
Ulm University and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) have come out on top in the Excellence Strategy with their joint application 'Energy storage beyond lithium'. Central focus of the now granted Cluster of Excellence is to conduct research into high-performance, reliable and environment-friendly storage systems – particularly with the energy revolution and electric mobility in mind. Energy from renewable sources such as sun or wind is not always consistently available after all, which makes intermediate storage a necessity. Electric vehicles also require dependable reserves in order to offer their drivers an appropriate range. Increasing the capacity of lithium-ion batteries as they are found in many smartphones, laptops or electric cars, however, is technologically very challenging. Besides, lithium resources are finite. In the now granted Cluster, researchers from the areas of electrochemistry, materials science, modelling and engineering are therefore searching for alternative charge carriers – for instance on the basis of sodium, magnesium, aluminium or zinc. The goals of the Cluster range from basic research to application-oriented science, including a fundamental understanding of electrochemical energy storage in the innovative systems as well as to link essential material characteristics with performance parameters. On the whole, the researchers want to create the practical foundation for a battery technology that gets by without the use of lithium and the likewise increasingly rare cobalt.
Science City provides ideal research setting
Ulm's Science City offers the researchers an ideal environment. In 2011, Ulm University founded the Helmholtz Institute Ulm Electrochemical Energy Storage (HIU) on its campus in collaboration with their Cluster partner KIT and the Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research (ZSW). Responsible body for the HIU is the KIT. The ZSW furthermore runs a pilot production facility for batteries in its immediate neighbourhood. Giessen University is another contributor to the new Cluster of Excellence.
'The granted Cluster of Excellence further boosts Ulm's already distinguished position in battery research,' says Professor Axel Groß, Director of the Institute of Theoretical Chemistry at Ulm University and one of the Cluster's spokespersons. Professor Maximilian Fichtner, Managing Director of the HIU and also spokesperson of the Cluster of Excellence, adds: 'The two locations Ulm and Karlsruhe made the decision to generally collaborate more closey in the field of electrochemical storage ahead of the Cluster decision: together, the researchers founded one of the world's largest research associations for energy storage called CELEST, which is an acronym for Center for Electrochemical Energy Storage. Thanks to the Cluster of Excellence with an additional 100 or so staff, the research consortium for alternative storage technologies is growing even further.'
'In the future, new storage concepts are needed in order to master challenges such as the energy revolution. The granted Cluster of Excellence is going to contribute to the solution of this globally critical task and will bring German battery research to the international forefront. The Cluster crowns a unique research environment in the Science City, which is already a place of cutting-edge battery research from the basics to application,' summarises Professor Joachim Ankerhold, Vice President for Research and Information Technology, who is also a member of the executive committee of the CELEST research association.
Another application of Ulm University for a Cluster of Excellence has not come out on top in the final step of the highly competitive contest. Nonetheless, the research in the area of quantum technolog will continue at the highest level.
The combination of quantum technology and biomedicine is unique and may afford breakthroughs in medical imaging and sensor technologies. Artificial nanodiamonds are paving the way for magnetic resonance imaging on a molecular level. At the Center for Integrated Quantum Science and Technology (IQST), researchers from Ulm and Stuttgart are furthermore carrying findings from quantum science into application. In spring 2019, the ZQB-building at Ulm University will be ready for operation. This innovative research building is tailored specifically to the quantum technology and biomedicine researchers' requirements.
The purpose of the Excellence Strategy is to strengthen Germany as a research location and enhance the competitive edge of its universities on an international level. From this year on, the federal and state governments are providing 533 million euros per year to achieve these goals.
The funding line 'Clusters of Excellence' comprises project-related funding for internationally competitive research areas at universities with three to ten million euros annually each for two periods of seven years. In autumn last year, 88 out of 195 submitted draft proposals were invited to submit full proposals – two of which were applications from Ulm University. Based on the assessment by international experts, the Excellence Commission has now granted 57 Clusters. Ulm University succeeded with its application 'Energy storage beyond lithium – new storage concepts for a sustainable future'. The science-driven assessment and selection procedure of the Clusters is carried out by the German Research Foundation (DFG).