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Research at HI ERN

The institute performs research on the structural and functional characterization, modelling and processing of materials relevant to hydrogen and solar technology. The activities at HI ERN have a clear focus to bridge the gap between material synthesis and characterization on the microscopic fundamental level and the large scale efforts on performance optimization on the macroscopic device level. The common goal is therefore the understanding of structure-performance-process relationship on the mesoscale. The development of advanced electrodes for electrochemical energy conversion is pursued in a joint effort with various research units that contribute with different, complementary expertise ranging from advanced fundamental electrochemical (Prof. Mayrhofer), in-situ spectroscopic (Prof. Bär and Dr. Kasian) and structural characterization, elctrode processing (both Prof. Thiele) and modelling of complex fluidics (Prof. Harting), as well as reactor design and operation (Prof. Wasserscheid and Prof. Thiele) (see Scheme 1). This will allow to concertedly address major challenges of water electrolysis and fuel cells, but also other related topics such as electrochemical Power-to-X technologies or electrosynthesis, and to provide new material and process solutions that lead to optimal performance of large scale devices. A contribution to the development of advanced printable photovoltaics is achieved by parallel activities particularly of the research units on the process level (Prof. Brabec) and in-situ X-ray spectroscopy (Prof. Bär, Dr. Kasian). In order to achieve the necessary critical mass for an effective impact on the highest technological level, a close collaboration with external partners from HZB, FZJ and FAU, the Solarfabrik in Nürnberg, and the testing field in Hof (both ZAE) is established.

Scheme 1:Joint research focus on electrochemical energy conversion and hydrogen technologies.Scheme 1: Topics of each research unit that contribute to the joint research focus on electrochemical energy conversion and hydrogen technologies.

The HI ERN has two major research lines that overlap to a certain extent (see Scheme 1 and Scheme 2). One common and clear research focus is spanned by the research units of Prof. Mayrhofer, Prof. Bär and Dr. Olga Kasian that will focus on the material development, advanced electrochemical and in-situ spectroscopic characterization of catalyst interfaces (Scheme 1, red), accompanied by the research unit of Prof. Thiele on structural characterization of the catalyst-ionomer-polymer interface on the microscopic and mesoscopic length scale (Scheme 1, blue), enabling the understanding of structure-function relationships, and complemented on the front end by three research units of Prof. Wasserscheid, Prof. Thiele and Prof. Harting that will cover the field of processing of catalyst layers, both practically and theoretically, and reactor design and development (Scheme 1, green). Thereby, the expertise of all respective research units contribute to the development and optimization of electrode layers. This common topic ensures that all scientists of the institute that cover the fields of synthesis, characterization and processing work actively and closely together, inspiring each other with their respective expertise and creating leverage on the advancement of the fundamental knowledge and practical technology. As such the HI ERN creates a unique platform for research on electrochemical energy conversion and hydrogen technologies in an international context.

Scheme 2: Topics of each research unit that contribute to the joint research focus on solar technology.Scheme 2: Topics of each research unit that contribute to the joint research focus on solar technology. Purple bubbles indicate external partners with whom a close collaboration is established in order to cover the whole value chain in photovoltaics.

A second research line at the institute is solar technology, particularly on the processing of printable photovoltaics. In order to build a strong research consortium on an international level, the institute in its current state will focus predominately on the aspects of processing and in-situ spectroscopic characterization (Scheme 2, green and red). This should enable the HI ERN to become critical in this particular field, and at the same time complement and contribute to the ongoing research efforts and excellent material, process and device developments, as well as testing at the partner institutions FAU, ZAE, FZJ and HZB (Scheme 2, purple). The research unit on of Prof. Harting contributes with the required theoretical background to the optimization of printing processing and prediction of optimal performance, a basis for the research unit on processing of thin-film layers (Prof. Brabec). The material development will be accompanied from the HI ERN additionally by the activities of the research unit "X-ray spectroscopy at interfaces of thin films" (Prof. Bär) at BESSY and the EMIL beamline, which in general forms an Anchor lab to facilitate FAU research at this large-scale facility.

HI ERN research in the context of FZJ, HZB and FAU

With its research focus, the HI ERN will complement existing research activities in Jülich and Berlin and has clear connections to the other Institutes for Energy and Climate research (IEK) and the institute for solar fuels at HZB. Covering the microscopic and mesoscopic range in length scales of catalyst layers, the HI ERN will provide fundamental insights on materials for energy conversion and their processing for the building of efficient devices that can contribute to the energy system of the future. The latter are essential topics in particular at the IEK-3 and IEK-9, with which a close and natural collaboration will be established. Moreover, individual collaborations of the research units are planned with regards to the specific challenges of their respective fields. This includes, but is not limited to, collaborations with the IEK-1 on material synthesis and processing or with the IEK-2 on structural characterization of catalyst materials. Despite the unique focus on electrodes that creates the strong HI ERN portfolio, also collaboration with IEK-5 on photovoltaics are anticipated, especially on the topics of multi-scale modelling and processing of nanoparticles, as these can be equally important in this field. The link to the HZB will be predominately created through the Anchor lab that resides on the research units “X-ray spectroscopy at interfaces of thin films” and “In-Situ Spectroscopy of Catalysts”, and will be backed by the expertise of all other research units at the HI ERN. The characterization and development of novel material classes and catalyst layers will be a strong complementary asset for the activities on absorption and efficiency optimization in the institute for solar fuels. HZB will also work jointly with the HI ERN at the new EMIL beamline at BESSY to resolve properties of the catalyst materials in-situ.
The planned HI ERN activities also complement the existing research at the FAU, with a mutual benefit for many individual research units and several departments. On the one hand, the departments at the university on the field of “Engineering of Advanced Materials (EAM)” will be further strengthened by additional groups that address material and process topics. The fundamental background of electrochemistry and electrochemical engineering will become a major asset in all research areas, and the added value chain of electrochemical energy conversion should open new practical opportunities. On the other hand, the HI ERN will benefit from the existing complementary infrastructure and expertise in particle and thin-film synthesis, characterization and modelling. Combined with the knowledge in processing and engineering of catalytic materials this will enable unique and focused research on advanced electrodes at a level that is unique in an international context.

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