Helmholtz Institute Ulm (HIU) electrochemical energy storage
Almost every individual in the industrialized world uses batteries or rechargeable batteries as a matter of course in everyday life, and very few of them are aware that there is considerable developmental potential yet to be explored. Even the high-performance battery types available today are, in part, still not completely developed in their technical capacities. The developments in battery technologies have not been able to keep pace with the technological leaps in electrically-operated vehicles and devices, or the storage requirements in, for example, domestic energy supply. Users are aware of this due to the fact that they, for example, have to plug in their smartphone and/or laptop almost on a daily basis. Furthermore, it is indisputable that the energy revolution shall advance appreciably slower without further progress in (electrochemical) storage technology – this is valid for both electromobility and the deployment of stationary energy storage facilities. Particularly, the numerous areas of deployment of batteries for electromobility and stationary storage applications necessitate individually tailor-made concepts that today’s efficient and commercially available lithium-ion battery systems alone cannot offer. The Helmholtz Institute Ulm (HIU) orientates their research strategy to these framework conditions.
At HIU on the one hand, lithium-ion battery systems are still being optimised. But the focus in research at the Helmholtz Institute is, on the other hand, on the development of new battery and rechargeable battery systems. It is the goal of HIU to develop future-orientated electrochemical energy storage devices that store more energy and are more efficient, lighter, more durable, safer and economical than those heretofore available. For this purpose, research scientists at HIU are developing new materials and battery concepts that offer the prospect of safely storing considerably more energy per mass and volume in a battery. Thus, lithium-sulphur or lithium-air batteries are being researched as alternatives to the established lithium-ion batteries. At the same time, alternative materials for storage such as sodium, magnesium, chlorides or fluorides are on the examining table. This facilitates the production of batteries that can run without lithium, thus rendering them markedly cheaper and more environmentally friendly. In the HIU laboratories, diverse electro-materials are being developed and, together with suitable electrolytes in the battery cells, installed, tested and analysed regarding their ageing behaviour in order to obtain the optimal combination of materials. In this regard, the experts at HIU are providing a significant contribution to theoretical modelling as well. The smallest details, such as the behaviour of newly integrated elements, can exert enormous influence upon the charging and discharging process. Processes that proceed at the nano- or micro-level in the battery components can be crucial. Parallel to this, the materials are also assessed in regard to sustainability and environmental protection.
The HIU was founded in 2011 and comprises four partners. The Institute, initiated by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) which also supports the HIU together with the University of Ulm, is complemented as well by the associated partners of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW), and currently has about 115 employees. Moreover, they make an appreciable contribution to the scientific location Ulm, which has established itself – with its roughly 300 battery research scientists – as a battery stronghold in Germany. The 13 research groups at HIU are respectively managed by renowned researchers who in turn are active at the pinnacle of institutes or research groups within one of the four partner facilities. The resulting synergy effects make considerable contributions towards enabling the operation of cutting-edge research at HIU in the area of electrochemical energy storage.