Stage win in Excellence Strategy
Draft proposals on battery research and quantum technology in final round

Ulm University

Success in Excellence Strategy of the federal and state governments: Ulm University was invited twice to submit full proposals in the competition for so-called Clusters of Excellence. The draft proposals in the fields of energy storage and conversion as well as quantum technology were selected from over 190 projects for the final round. In the next step, an expert panel will review the now to be submitted full proposals and select up to 50 projects that will receive funding from January 2019 on. The annual funding for a Cluster of Excellence ranges from three to ten million euros for two terms of seven years.

Ulm University in collaboration with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) convinced with their draft proposal 'Energy storage beyond lithium – novel storage concepts for a sustainable future'. The proposal focuses on the search for high-capacity energy storage systems or batteries for the energy revolution and electric mobility.

A further increase of the capacity of lithium-ion batteries comes with huge technological challenges. Moreover, lithium resources are limited and insufficient, for example, for the demands of electric mobility. Experts from electrochemistry, materials science, modelling and engineering want to join forces in a Cluster of Excellence to overcome the limitations of lithium-ion technology. For this purpose, they research alternative charge carriers that can safely store large amounts of energy at a low cost. Promising candidates are, for example, magnesium, zinc, sodium or aluminium. In order to truly outperform current lithium-ion systems, however, a better understanding of electrochemical processes is required. The project therefore also involves fundamental research. The researchers want to transfer their findings to battery bi-cells and test their performance, sustainability and safety.

Ulm University and KIT have been collaborating for over 15 years on various levels in the area of electrochemistry. In 2011, the partners founded the Helmholtz Institute Ulm for Electrochemical Energy Storage (HIU), which has become a leading centre for battery research. The Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research (ZSW) and the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) are also involved in the HIU.

In the field of quantum science, Ulm University, the University of Stuttgart and the Stuttgart-based Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research were invited to submit a full proposal. In a potential Cluster of Excellence 'Quantum science from fundamentals to application: developing quantum instruments of the future' researchers merge quantum technology with engineering and transfer findings from fundamental research into practice. The project focuses on biomedical and diagnostic applications with high-performance sensors or optimised imaging techniques.

The Cluster of Excellence will enable physicists, chemists, life scientists and engineers to work together in supra-institutional laboratories. They strive to develop new materials and control methods for quantum systems and integrate these in functional devices.

Another draft proposal of Ulm University was not successful this time: 'We are delighted about the invitations to submit full proposals in the fields of battery research and quantum technology. Our trauma research is just as outstanding – regardless of the fact that the project did not make it into the final round of the highly competitive Excellence Strategy. We will certainly utilise the expertise, structures and contacts that came as a result of the proposal preparation for other projects and thus spur the further development of this research focus,' says University President Professor Michael Weber.

Ulm University convinced already in the federal and state funding initiative "Innovative Hochschule", an extension of the Excellence Strategy that addresses smaller universities and higher education institutions. The alliance "InnoSÜD" of Ulm University with the Universities of Applied Sciences in Biberach, Neu-Ulm and Ulm strives to expand the knowledge and technology transfer in the Danube-Iller region and was able to secure 15 million euros funding.

The Excellence Strategy is the continuation of the Excellence Initiative, which was initiated in 2005 by the federal and state governments. The funding lines comprise Clusters of Excellence, meaning the promotion of internationally competitive research projects, as well as Universities of Excellence. From 2018 on, the federal (75%) and state governments provide a total of 533 million euros annually. Full proposals for Clusters of Excellence must be submitted by the end of February. The final funding decision will be made in autumn 2018. The Excellence Strategy aims to strengthen the competitiveness of German universities on an international level.

Quantum research at Ulm University (symbol image: Heiko Grandel)
Battery research in the Science City Ulm (symbol image: Eberhardt/Ulm University)