Helmholtz to invest 46 million EUR in new shared laboratory infrastructure

Six Helmholtz Centres are founding a shared infrastructure for developing novel energy materials that will also be available to external users.

The Helmholtz Senate has approved setting up a major infrastructure to synthesise and develop novel systems of materials for energy conversion and storage. Total funding will be 46 million EUR (2016-2020).

The Helmholtz Energy Materials Foundry (HEMF) will be coordinated by the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin, while five additional Helmholtz Centres are participating in the design, planning, and setup: the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Forschungszentrum Jülich (FZJ), Helmholtz-Zentrum Geeshacht (HZG) for Materials and Coastal Research, Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR), and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). The HEMF platform will also be open to external users from universities and non-university institutes from Germany and abroad, as well as to industry.

Several outstanding supplementary laboratories with unique equipment will be set up under HEMF at the six participating Helmholtz Centres. The scientific focus lays on  the design of energy materials associated with solar fuels, solar cells, and battery systems as well as thermoelectric and thermochemical materials. One research topic these applications share is the design of novel catalysts to be employed in energy conversion and storage.

The range of capabilities of the HEMF platform extends from the design of novel materials systems, to in-situ and in-operando analyses of processes for their synthesis, and three-dimensional nanostructuring of these materials to alter their properties in specific ways. In addition, new methods will be developed to process novel materials, produce innovative prototypes for specific applications, and investigate their properties and capabilities under continuous loads. “This comprehensive approach enables creation of efficient feedback loops between synthesis, characterisation, and the evaluation of the end products. It will help us accelerate knowledge-based development”, says Prof. Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla, Scientific Director of HZB.

Synthesis laboratories are planned at HZB specifically for perovskite thin films, nanoparticles for catalysis and electrochemical storage, as well as facilities for nanostructuralisation of materials. New methods will be developed for studying electrochemical processes at catalytic and heterogenous boundary surfaces by the Energy Materials in-situ Laboratory (EMIL) recently set up at HZB’s BESSY II facility. Moreover, testing labs are also being set up in order to study new systems of materials under actual operating conditions. HZB is working together on this with the Max Planck Society’s Fritz Haber Institute in Berlin and the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion (CEC) in Mülheim.

The HEMF platform will be operated as an international user facility. The laboratories will be available to research teams from universities, non-university research institutions, and industry. The coordination of user operations will be handled by HZB, which has a great deal of experience with this and has built up outstanding user services for its own large-scale facilities BESSY II and BER II. About 3000 external personnel visiting for purposes of conducting measurements benefit from these services annually. HEMF builds on the model of Berkeley Labs in California, where a Molecular Foundry was also set up as an infrastructure serving international user groups.

“HEMF will augment the Helmholtz Association’s expertise in synthesis of raw materials indispensable for the energy transition. The participating Helmholtz Centres will be able to add their research capabilities to this shared infrastructure so that we can make the energy we will need in the future available for use in a safe and simultaneously environmentally friendly way. At the same time, the platform will draw attractive collaborating partners who are pursuing the same research goals”, Kaysser-Pyzalla explains further. This research plan’s unique order of magnitude will help the group of Helmholtz Centres contribute R&D on new energy materials – a contribution that will be comparably large and pioneering on an international scale as well.