09. August 2016
Helmholtz-Institute Erlangen-Nürnberg for Renewable Energy (HI ERN): current developments
Combining Lattice Boltzmann, finite element and immersed boundary methods allows to study the rheological properties of complex fluids such as our blood. The picture shows a dense suspension of red blood cells in a shear flow.
The HI ERN is a branch office of Forschungszentrum Jülich and is operated in close cooperation with FAU and Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB). FAU contributes its internationally recognized materials and process research from EAM for the investigation and development of renewable energy systems.
The Institute’s main facilities will be on FAU’s Southern Campus in Erlangen. One of HI ERN’s research units is located on the former AEG site in Nuremberg. During the initial phase, the Institute will consist of four professorships and two young investigators groups with annual funding of approximately 5.5 million euros from the Helmholtz Association. The Bavarian government will provide an additional 5 million euros to finance joint research projects in its initial development phase as well as 32 million euros for a new research building. The Institute’s new building is expected to be completed by 2019, with a floor space of 2500 square meters, accommodating around 90 scientists from HI ERN.
The Institute’s research focus will be on the structural and functional characterization, modeling and processing of materials relevant to hydrogen and solar technology. Two of the six planned professors have been successfully appointed by Forschungszentrum Jülich in collaboration with FAU. Around 25 scientists are currently working for HI ERN.
Professor Karl Mayrhofer was appointed professor of electrocatalysis at the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at FAU’s Faculty of Engineering in December 2015. Since then he has been head of HI ERN together with Professor Peter Wasserscheid, who was appointed as the Institute’s founding director.
Professor Mayrhofer’s research unit ‘electrocatalysis’ at HI ERN will focus on further development of materials and process engineering principles for electrolytic water splitting by PEM electrolysis. The main goal of this research is to establish a basis for the development of highly efficient, robust and low-cost catalyst materials for new improved generations of commercial electrolysers. A key challenge within this topic is to develop innovative characterization techniques that enable the detailed analysis of defined catalytic multi-component and hybrid electrocatalytic systems, and that provide novel insights into the fundamentals of the electrocatalytic processes.
The research unit ‘chemical hydrogen storage’ is headed by Professor Wasserscheid. An important topic in the context of electrochemical energy conversion by water electrolysis is storage of the hydrogen that is produced. This research unit focuses on chemical hydrogen storage technologies and the related catalytic processes and material technologies. A particularly interesting aspect will be the appealing and evolving liquid organic hydrogen carrier technology (LOHC), which enables the simple, non-toxic and cheap storage of hydrogen with high volumetric energy density.
Professor Jens Harting was appointed professor of dynamics of complex fluids and interfaces at the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering at FAU’s Faculty of Engineering in September 2015. The research unit ‘dynamics of complex fluids and interfaces’ is located at HI ERN’s premises on the former AEG site in Nuremberg. Around 10 members of staff are currently working on the development and application of state-of-the-art simulation methods for problems in the field of soft matter physics. These include the dynamics and rheology of complex fluids such as colloidal suspensions, emulsions, polymer solutions and gels, but also biological systems like vesicles, cells or membranes. The behavior of these systems is often dominated by interfacial effects including, for example, interfaces between liquids and gases, liquids and substrates or flexible soft interfaces such as cell membranes. Such systems are ubiquitous in our daily life and include cosmetic and food products like skin creams, ice cream or mayonnaise, as well as biological fluids – our own blood can be described as a dense suspension of highly flexible red blood cells in a Newtonian fluid, the plasma. Other examples of complex fluids include paint, ink and highly specialized materials used in the electronics industry and additive manufacturing.
The research group focuses on developing a fundamental understanding of the interplay between microscale properties of complex fluids and macroscopic observables such as the rheological or transport properties. Choosing the most suitable simulation method to achieve this aim is a non-trivial task. On the one hand, ab initio or molecular scale methods allow all basic physical interactions to be included but cannot achieve the time and length scales relevant to any real life application. On the other hand, pure continuum solvers such as classical computational fluid dynamics (CFD) are able to achieve relevant scales but lose all the microscopic details. A solution to the dilemma is to combine the best of both worlds in hybrid methods combining continuum solvers for all involved fluid phases with additional algorithms to describe the dynamics of suspended particles, polymers, membranes, charges, etc. The scientists at this HI ERN research unit mostly apply the lattice Boltzmann method for the fluid transport and couple it to molecular dynamics or immersed boundary/finite element methods to describe the additional physics of the problem. The advantage of these methods is that they are very flexible when it comes to the addition of further physical properties. Furthermore, their parallelization is straightforward, meaning that they allow the power of the largest supercomputers available today to be harvested. Before joining HI ERN and FAU, Jens Harting worked at Eindhoven University of Technology and the University of Twente in the Netherlands. There he laid the foundations for the main research focus of the new research unit at HI ERN – the development of simulation and modeling techniques for printing and coating processes for thin film production (Fig. 2). The results of this work should enable the production of solar cells and electrocatalytic active films to be optimized. The theoretical work carried out by this unit perfectly connects the HI ERN research areas ‘printable photovoltaics’ and ‘hydrogen as a secondary energy source’.
The main challenge of thin liquid films and their conversion into solid films is how to tailor their microstructures, which influence the electronic, optical and mechanical properties. For example, the relationship between the microstructure, the functional properties of the thin films and the process variables in the printing process is currently not sufficiently understood for the manufacturing of printed solar cells and for electrochemical systems. For this reason, the theoretical activities of this research unit link fundamental scientific research with the well-defined application of mass-printing highly efficient electrochemical systems and solar cells.
Prof. Peter Wasserscheid
Prof. Karl Mayrhofer
Prof. Jens Harting
Head of Research Unit Dynamics of Complex Fluids and Interfaces
Dr. Carolin Meyer