Bundled expertise for energy research in Ulm
Ulm University, Ulm University of Applied Science and ZSW found centre for energy research and technology

Ulm University

The Ulm Science City has become a major centre of energy research. In cooperation with the Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (Zentrum für Sonnenenergie- und Wasserstoffforschung Baden-Württemberg; ZSW), the partners Ulm University and Ulm University of Applied Science have now established a platform called "Centre for Energy Research and Technology" (Zentrum für Energieforschung und -technologie; ZET). Here a team of scientists is researching various aspects of energy, ranging from intelligent power grids to synthetic fuel and stretching from the basics to fields of application. ZET has just recently taken up operation.

The ZET founding members include 52 researchers with different professional backgrounds from the three aforementioned institutes. The varying disciplines include electrochemistry, chemical engineering and power engineering. The diversity of its members enables ZET to examine various energy aspects from different perspectives. "Our platform is one of the few large associations that are very broad, covering a large spectrum of topics in energy research. We plan to take advantage of the extensive knowledge within our team, using it for totally new projects as well as transferring knowledge to companies", says Professor Robert Güttel, platform co-founder and head of the Institute of Chemical Engineering at Ulm University. Further initiators include Professor Timo Jacob (head of the Institute of Electrochemistry, Ulm University) and Professor Peter Renze (head of the Institute of Power and Drive Technology). Representatives from ZSW are Dr Margret Wohlfahrt-Mehrens (head of Battery Research, ZSW) and Dr Ludwig Jörissen (head of Fuel Cell Research, ZSW).

Complementary research topics

Especially now, in light of the energy revolution and at a time when electromobility is gaining relevance, energy research is more important than ever. At ZET, the three participating institutes focus on research topics that complement one another. One of the topics currently being investigated at Ulm University of Applied Science is smart grids. Smart grids are intelligent power grids that dynamically control and balance power generation, use and storage. Other topics include electrochemical and thermal energy storage, solar heat and photovoltaics. A concrete example of current research at the Institute of Power and Drive Technology concerns a so-called hybrid latent heat storage system. "This storage system will have a high storage capacity exhibiting high loading and unloading capacities. It will also be easy to integrate into existing technological systems", explains Professor Peter Renze.

At Ulm University's Institute of Chemical Engineering, researchers are investigating methods of sustainable synthetic fuel production from renewable energy sources, for instance from wind or the sun. "The key is the nearly 100-year-old Fischer-Tropsch process, which is currently experiencing a sort of renaissance under the name 'power-to-liquids'. The research aim is to develop innovative catalysts which would even make this process affordable on small production scales in remote locations", explains Professor Robert Güttel. His colleague Professor Timo Jacob, on the other hand, is focusing on electrochemical processes at the atomic level. The researchers at the University Institute of Electrochemistry are employing an innovative coupling of experimentation and multi-scale modelling. One application example is a project at Ulm University of Applied Science in which researchers are investigating storage features for new types of batteries.

The Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg bridges the gap into industry and fields of application. In addition to 30 years of materials research and battery testing, ZSW Ulm also has five years of experience with a unique research platform for near-series production of large lithium-ion cells. An example of success in fuel cell research is the development and testing of high-performance fuel cells in the 100 kW class.

Detail of the Smart Grid Lab, opened at Ulm University of Applied Science in 2018 (Photo: Philipp Niemöller/ Ulm University of Applied Science)
A glimpse into electrochemical research: processes on the electrodes or the electrolyte boundary layers can be resolved with the three-electrode structure (Photo: Elvira Eberhardt / Ulm University)
Near-series coating system for electrodes at the ZSW research platform (Photo: ZSW)