Introduction to Helmholtz Gemeinschaft
The Helmholtz Gemeinschaft is the largest scientific organization in Germany. During 2013 it had a turnover of approximately €3,6 billion (two third public means and on third from private funding) and employed roughly 36000 persons . Among the research areas life science, structure of matter, air and space flight can be found . The institutes are usually formed where knowledge from several different research areas is of importance. With regards to Electromobility the following three are of relevance:
- Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR, ) in Berlin who study the electric vehicle as a part of the transportation system .
- Karlsruhe Institute of Technology with its Helmholtz Institute in Ulm who develop the electrochemistry for future batteries (for more information see below).
- Institut für Energie- und Klimaforschung at FZ Jülich who investigate both the basic battery and fuel cell material properties and perform analysis of the energy system where electric vehicles participate as one of many actors. .
Interview with Prof. Dr. Stefano Passerini
Group leader (Gruppenleiter), Helmholtz Institute Ulm, 2014-11-06, Helmholtzstrasse 11, Ulm
Everybody seems to have slightly different ways to define Electromobility, can you give a short description of your view?
An Electromobility transport of goods and/or persons include storage and use of electricity in some way.
You are one of the three professors working at the Helmholtz Institute in Ulm (HIU, ), how would you describe the role of the institute?
The HIU was founded by Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT, ) in collaboration with Universität Ulm (UUlm, ) and two associate partners, Zentrum für Sonnenenergie- und Wasserstoff-Forschung Baden-Württemberg (ZSW, ), Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR, ). Our focus is to improve performance of currently available battery concepts and to take new materials, which may be generated for example by the material researches at UUlm, and prepare them one step further towards industrialization. A concrete example is research on water-based solvents where several of the employees in my group are participating. Another is the development of semi-fluid electrodes and investigation of alternatives to lithium. All activities are performed on a laboratory scale, the typical investigation is performed with far less material than in a single 18650 cell (slightly larger than an AA battery) or on a theoretical level. Our results may then be further processed by industry or other institutes, such as ZSW, before they can be implemented in limited or series production.
Can you see any secondary deliveries, such as education, originating from the Institute?
Teaching is usually of interest for institute professors since this is a good way to meet potential PhD students. This far this has been limited with the reason partially being that its a new institute, partially the distance to the students (Karlsruhe is roughly 2h:s away) and partially since I already have far more applicants than I can house. Further education is important though. As far as I am concerned the battery knowledge in Germany was very limited prior to 2008. All resources was allocated to fuel cells since this was, and by some still is, considered to be the solution making the country independent of oil. Albeit having similarities there are many differences between fuel cells and batteries and hence the knowledge needed to develop them is not the same.
Further the PhD students passing dissertation is of course a resource made available to the industry and research community. Having seen quite a few have pass by and entered the automotive industry I have noted that the position they obtain are often not related to their actual research. Industry often seems to be more interested in project managers with a bit of battery knowledge than battery specialists.
Can you see any other area where institute and industry interests diverge?
Well, our traditional way of separating good from bad results is to evaluate the specific energy or power for the chemistry studied. Especially automotive industry seems to be more concerned with ageing and failure modes. Given the huge investments they have to do to put a vehicle on the market and the bad publicity that could arise from a failed battery I can see their worries though.
Speaking of vehicles on the market, Electromobility has been proposed as a solution to limit oil dependence before but prior to the Nissan Leaf no electric car has been available to the general public. Why do you think there is such a large amount of models introduced now?
I was in the US during the last push for Electromobility and remember that the interest from the automotive industry was very limited. The direct cause for the current interest is more stringent fuel economy rules. These rules are, however, a manifestation of the opinion of the general public. The crazy weather certainly had an effect increasing support for this. I left Rome this morning and it was 20+ degrees warm which is just wrong at this time of the year. Products such as the Tesla S and BMW i8 are also helping. If the car of my dreams are running on electricity, why shouldn’t my own do that as well? By proving that hybrids can be profitably series produced Toyota also push further in this direction. Last but not least the role of the car also become different. People are in general more interested in getting from point A to point B in some comfortable way than to indicate their status with a shiny expensive car which you have to find a parking place for every night. This favours small cars tailored for the everyday trips for which the electric car is excellent. A warning must be raised though. As indicated by many, for example on Dr. Gutsch, a colleague of KIT during his seminar at the GREENLION (EU funded project) workshop last week, the cost of the electric car is still higher than for the one propelled by an ICE. Unless this is changed Electromobility will not stand a chance in the long run.
Except for the general goal of reducing the final product cost, do you see any more concrete obstacles that must be overcome?
The environmental effects of battery production is for sure one thing that must be reduced, hence our work to find less harmful binders and solvents for the electrode production within the GREENLION project. In a large scale scenario the localization of the battery production facilities will also become important. Transporting Li based batteries around the world at the level required when electric vehicles constitutes a major part of the vehicles sold is for sure not for free either. A third is the improvements in battery recycling. The recycling process of today is more or less only concerned with collecting the Cobalt of the collected cells, the rest of the material is scrapped. There are more topics but I believe these are at least on the current to ten list of interesting topics.
In your definition of Electromobility you mention goods. Can you make some remarks regarding the commercial vehicle sector?
Without knowing too much about the field I notice that there are many commercial vehicles operating on fixed routes and over limited distances. These seems to be very good candidates for electrification. For the long haulers on the highways the situation is different though. Perhaps a battery exchange system where capacity is matched to the regulated driving times could be an option. As I said, this is far away from my expertise though so please do not take suggestions to serious.