With us everything is possible

01.07.2019

From contract research to long-term research projects - the spectrum for cooperation with companies is very broad. Many practical examples demonstrated this during the HZB Industry Day.

We take care of the 200 euro mini-orders as well as the two million euro project", advertised Rutger Schlatmann, head of the Competence Centre Thin-Film and Nanotechnology for Photovoltaics Berlin (PVcomB), at the HZB Industry Day. With two industry-oriented photovoltaic production lines, the institute is well prepared for inquiries. "From joint technology development to sample preparation, consulting or troubleshooting: with us everything is possible", he informs his listeners. Approximately 40 employees from industry and research partners have visited the Industry Day at the end of March organized by PVcomB, the Helmholtz Innovation Lab HySPRINT and WISTA.

The focus was on cooperations in the fields of photovoltaics and opto-electronics. The range of topics is very wide. For instance, the physicist Philipp Manley works with optical simulations to optimize light capture in solar cells. The programming experience gained by the team is also extremely interesting for a software manufacturer. This example shows: The potential for collaboration can open up everywhere, not only in technologies and products.

However, industry cooperations do not only vary in scope, but also take place at very different stages of development. Researchers speak about the so-called "Technology Readiness Level", which contains nine levels. In photovoltaics, industry and research work together at all stages - from basic research to the finished product. The development of solar fuels, thermo-electrics or catalysts are at stages one to two, i.e. early fundamental research. Even at this level, useful starting points for collaborations emerge. Steve Albrecht, Young Investigator group leader at HZB demonstrated this together with an equipment manufacturer. They developed a vapor deposition system to produce perovskite layers for solar cells in high vacuum. The Industry Day also showed that continuous efforts are necessary to attract partners from industry. "To turn into a cooperation, the project has to fit not only technologically, but also in terms of time and budget," says Paul Harten, scientist at HySPRINT. He is developing a cost-effective coating process for large-area microelectronics, known as silicon laser crystallization. It is used in the manufacturing of solar cells, pressure sensors, thin-film batteries and back panels of smartphones. "At first we identified 44 potential applications. Our market analysis highlighted four applications with demonstrable benefits." However, Harten knows that this is not enough. "Industry needs advantages that can be clearly quantified. There is often a validation gap for innovations from research, which keeps manufacturers away from using new technologies." In order to close this gap, resources and supporting processes are required at the research institutions.

Nevertheless, for manufacturers there is no alternative to cooperation, Roland Sillmann, managing director of WISTA Management GmbH, emphasized. He used to manage a start-up, and is now responsible for the expansion of the innovation park Adlershof, which has the highest density of world market leaders in Germany. "Continuing as before is not a successful model. Tradition and company size cannot guarantee that business will continue to run smoothly in the future," says Sillmann. Using the example of a camera manufacturer, he demonstrated that optimizing products is of little use if you overlook new trends - such as smartphones. "Innovations must be groundbreaking, even disruptive. This is the condition to secure a leading position on the market. And this requires cooperation with research. You cannot do that alone."


Text in German: Silvia Zerbe
Translation: Mariia A