Research Field Energy
Global bottlenecks are predictable - in the reliable supply of energy and the safe disposal and treatment of wastes, residues and emissions. Helmholtz energy researchers are looking for solutions to meet the needs of present and future generations.
The Helmholtz scientists involved in the field of energy research are working to develop solutions to secure an economically, ecologically and socially sustainable supply of energy.
They are examining all the relevant energy chains, including technological and socioeconomic conditions and impacts on the climate and environment. One important goal is to replace fossil and nuclear fuels with sustainable climate-neutral energy sources. Scientists are also seeking to determine the potential of renewables such as solar, biomass and geothermal energy. They are working to increase the efficiency of conventional power plants and energy use as a whole. Finally, the Helmholtz Association is researching nuclear fusion in order to develop a new source of energy over the long term, and its scientists are experts in the area of nuclear safety research.
The energy transition is one of the greatest challenges for the present and the future. In its 6th Energy Research Programme, the German government focuses on strategies and technologies that are vital for restructuring energy supplies: renewables, energy efficiency, energy storage and grid technologies. The Helmholtz Association strongly supports the German government’s strategy and, by providing expertise and experience, is making a major contribution to its implementation. In addition, it is closing research gaps and seeking to achieve more rapid progress in all relevant fields. Helmholtz research engages with a broad spectrum of options and devotes as much attention to basic research as to application-oriented studies. Furthermore, the Helmholtz Association is supplementing technological topics with socioeconomic research in order to optimise energy systems with respect to all social, economic and political factors.
The programmes in the funding period 2015-2019
The field of energy research at the Helmholtz Association consists of eight Helmholtz centres: the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), the Forschungszentrum Jülich, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie (HZB), the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ, the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam – GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences, and, finally, the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) as an associate member of the Helmholtz Association.
The research field "Energy" is divided into seven research programmes. All the programmes are implemented in interdisciplinary working groups and international collaborations. The association provides research infrastructure, resources for large-scale experiments, pilot facilities, test systems for large components, high-performance analysis systems and high-capacity computers.
This research programme combines the need for greater efficiency in energy production and consumption of resources with the development of new materials.
This programme investigates and further develops innovative technologies that complement an energy system based on the consumption of renewables.
This newly conceived programme is dedicated to the research and development of energy storage systems and efficient infrastructures designed to balance the volatile supply of renewables, and to address the different challenges posed by energy transmission and distribution.
The rationale of the research programme is twofold: First, it explores the fundamentals of solid-state based new technologies and strategies for a future green ICT. The focus lies on the development of highly energy-efficient concepts and processes for the storage and processing of information. Second, the programme will tackle material-related fundamental problems and microscopic mechanisms in the fields of energy harvesting, conversion and storage.
The aim of this cross-disciplinary programme is to research the environmental, economic, political, ethical and social aspects of new technologies in order to support decision-making processes in politics, the economy and society as a whole.
This research programme addresses safety issues related to nuclear waste management, including the long-term safety of final storage repositories and the safety of nuclear power plants.
Involved Helmholtz Centres
Insights into Research Field Energy
Here, we present projects currently being carried out by scientists at the Helmholtz Centres.
Energy Lab 2.0 - A smart platform for energy transition
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)
The transition to a clean energy economy is challenging scientists in many ways. In order to implement an energy supply that is based primarily on renewable sources, many questions need to be answered. The Energy Lab 2.0 at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) will provide important input. Launched in October 2014, this smart platform aims at investigating the interaction between the components of future energy systems. The project is part of the Helmholtz Association’s overall energy strategy. By 2018, the partners plan to build a simulation and control centre and a network of energy technology facilities at KIT, an electrolysis test centre at the Forschungszentrum Jülich and a facility to test power-to-heat concepts at the German Aerospace Center in Stuttgart.
The network will link characteristic components of electri-city, heat and syngas production with various energy storage technologies and energy consumers. For this purpose, existing large-scale test facilities at KIT will be integrated into the Energy Lab 2.0, including the solar power storage park, the bioliq pilot plant and selected energy consumers. The network will be complemented by electrical, electrochemical and chemical storage systems as well as by a flexible-fuel and flexibile-load gas turbine with a generator. The simulation and control centre at KIT will connect all the components of the network via information and communication technologies to form a smart energy system. This combination of facilities will make the resulting infrastructure the first of its kind in Europe.
In the long term, the Energy Lab 2.0 will integrate external test facilities and, in collaboration with industry, largescale external components of energy systems, such as wind farms, geothermal plants, conventional power plants and large industrial consumers. The scientists involved in the Energy Lab 2.0 will initially develop grid stabilisation tools and approaches in model form. They will use an experimentation field featuring all the relevant system components on a smaller scale as well as a test field for electrical grid components with real-time simulations. Validation will be carried out on the network level. In a third stage, the results will be used to simulate real energy systems and analyse these systems from a variety of perspectives, including that of grid stability.
Ultrafast X-ray tomography reveals bubble dispersion
Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR)
Researchers at the HZDR have rendered the fl ow processes in static mixers visible for the fi rst time. These components (e. g., helical blades) are used by the chemical industry to mix substances, above all gas and liquids, directly in pipes. With the help of ultrafast X-ray tomography, the researchers demonstrated that in pipes containing helical elements, fl ow turbulence and centrifugal forces competed, infl uencing the mixing and the bubble dispersion. The fi ndings could improve mixer design.
Energy economists join the debate
Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ
In 2014 UFZ economists continued to study the market and systems integration of renewable energy in Germany, as well as the EU-wide integration of national energy policies. In addition to their scholarly work, they repeatedly joined the public debate via diverse communication channels. One such channel was the policy briefs published by the Helmholtz ENERGY-TRANS initiative, in which the experts discussed the framing of the Renewable Energy Sources Act and the option of introducing capacity payments to guarantee a secure energy supply
Solving the mystery of a low-platinum nanocatalyst
New types of nanoparticle catalysts could reduce the cost of fuel cells. A catalyst developed by researchers in Jülich and Berlin requires only one tenth of the usual amount of platinum. Until now, it was unclear how the octahedral shape of the particles and the special distribution of the elements emerge. Using ultrahigh-resolution electron microscopy, the researchers showed that the crystalline growth takes place in different stages. The findings could help to lengthen the lifespan of fuel cells.
Spin filters for spintronic elements
Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie (HZB)
Research teams from Paris, Madrid and the Berlin-based HZB have observed for the first time how the magnetic domains at the interfaces between spintronic components influence each other. Measurements taken at the photon source BESSY II show that so-called spin filters form between the outer ferromagnetic layers and the inner anti-ferromagnetic insulating layer, influencing tunnelling magnetoresistance. These findings are helping to explain important processes in spintronic components currently being developed for future information technologies.
Using deep geothermal energy in the north German basin
Helmholtz Centre Potsdam – GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences
At the Gross Schönebeck research platform, researchers from the GFZ’s International Centre for Geothermal Research have been investigating the development of the productivity of thermal water from depths of more than four kilometres. The measurement data thus acquired correspond to findings based on models of combined hydraulic, thermal, mechanical and chemical processes. Such comprehensive characterisations are opening up new potential for the geothermal use of the fissured, porous reservoir rocks found throughout the North German Basin.