Introduktion till Fraunhofer Gesellshaft och intervju med Prof Martin Maerz

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Introduction to the Fraunhofer Gesellshaft
When Joseph Fraunhofer, 14 year old, was dragged out of the rubble of the collapsed workshop where he had been learning the craft of mirror making little did he know that the man rescuing him would continue to have a profound impact on his life. Prince Maximilian IV Joseph provided the young man with books and training greatly improving the foundation of his career as a scientist and craftsman. The combination of theoretical knowledge and craftsmanship skills allowed him to build the telescope that confirmed the existence of Neptune, invent the spectrometer and move the center of optics industry from England to Bavaria. Since the middle of the 20th century his way of working, to unite science and the skills of the hand, has been the model for the institute group bearing his name. [ref]Wikipedia: Joseph Fraunhofer[/ref][ref]Fraunhofer: Mission/Leitbild[/ref]
Although optics is still an important area for the institutes the operating field is far larger. [ref]Fraunhofer: Fraunhofer Institutes and Research Establishements[/ref] lists the 67 organizations located all over Germany, most of them clearly related to a certain research area or type of industry. Many of them is involved in Electromobility in some way, in the project Systemforschung Elektromobilität [ref]Fraunhofer: Systemforschung Elektromobilität[/ref] have 16 Fraunhofer institutes cooperate, the following two have however a more clear connection to the subject:

  • The Fraunhofer Institute für Verkehrs- and Infrastruktursysteme (IVI) in Dresden [ref]Fraunhofer IVI[/ref] investigate the integration between vehicles and infrastructure. Among the active projects development of charge infrastructure for battery busses and energy management for vehicles and their associated infrastructure may be found [ref]Fraunhofer IVI: Projects[/ref]
  • Fraunhofer Institute für Integrierte Systeme und Bauelemente (IISB) in Erlangen [ref]Fraunhofer IISB[/ref] focus on the power electronic subsystems all the way from crystal growth to prototype DC/DC or DC/AC installed and tested in vehicle. The electrical interaction, EMC, between components and environment at a system level is also studied.

Two typical Fraunhofer projects are the Gemeinschaftlich-e-Mobilität [ref]Fraunhofer IVI: »Gemeinschaftlich-e-Mobilität: Fahrzeuge, Daten und Infrastruktur GeMo[/ref] where prototypes for inductive charging, improved positioning and cloud services for the next generation electric carpools is implemented and the Integrated Drive Inverter for Wheel Hub Motors [ref]Fraunhofer IISB: Integrated Drive Inverter for Wheel Hub Motors[/ref] where the physical shape of power electronics for hub motors have been adapted to fit within the wheel hub itself.
The Fraunhofer institutes have about 30% base funding from publiclymeans. The remaining 70% of the 16 000MSEK turnover is provided by contracts with industry, license fees, and publicly financed research projects. In total the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft employs approx. 23 000 persons. [ref]Fraunhofer: Jahresbericht 2013[/ref]
Interview with Prof. Martin Maerz
Deputy Director (Stellvertretender Institutsleiter), Fraunhofer IISB, 2014-10-24, Schottkystrasse 10, Erlangen
To be sure that we are talking about the same thing, what is your definition of electromobility?
In an Electromobility vehicle electric machines help to reduce fuel/energy consumption, usually by contributing with a considerable amount of power to the propulsion.
The previous answer indicate that you believe fuel efficiency to be important, why?
The general driving force for Electromobility is improved energy sustainability of the transportation system. In particular the oil burnt in combustion vehicles today is forever lost, hence violating the very basic principles for sustainability. With an increased amount of consumed fossil fuels effects on the climate will become more severe and the availability will be reduced resulting in higher market prices. Also the cost alone, for Germany €100 billion/year at $100/barrel, is an incentive. Think about what investments that would be possible, for example in renewable energy, if that amount of money was not hijacked by the combustion engine.
So what is your contribution to the development?
Regardless of how the development continues we believe that electricity will be involved in one way of the other. As this electricity require transformation between DC and AC there is a need for power electronics. The employees and students at Fraunhofer IISB in general and my groups in particular (approx 200 where half is students) push the limits for what can be achieved in terms of cost, size, weight, efficiency and robustness. On a practical level this is mainly related to smaller chips, improved cooling and improved temperature sustainability.
You mentioned several different optimization parameters which usually contradict each other, do you make any prioritization between them?
Although power electronics is not the most expensive subsystem, at least not in electromobility, the cost criteria is of highest importance among the mentioned since the high purchase cost is a main barrier towards general adoption of electromobility. Also worth mentioning is that our development efforts always try to be application neutral meaning that progress made for vehicle components should also be applicable for other industries such as for renewable energy production.
And what is the most important activity that you cannot do yourself?
To really gain momentum clear and mandatory goals for how future of mobility should be propelled is needed. The goals should be technology neutral and monetary incentives [to the purchaser of new vehicles] should be avoided. This is a political question which is beyond our control. Further investments in education and research is of course also required.
As far as I have heard the Fraunhofer are considered to be among the technology leaders within their respective area, what is the secret recipe [for your institute]?
Finding the right staff. The first contact with a typical employee is made a few years into their engineering education. My position at the FAU, which provide me the professors title and allow me to supervise and examine PhD-students, is granted by under the condition that I hold a course in “Power electronics for vehicles and powertrains”. Throughout this course I meet students who have a great interest for the subject and is interested in earning a bit of extra money. We can offer them a part time position of 4-8h/week where they participate in our projects. Should there be a continued interest from both sides the student complete bachelor and master thesis at the institute under the supervision of our personnel.
After graduation a time limited employment contract may be signed. During this employment it is possible to continue the academic career towards a PhD-degree but, and this is important, this continuation is considered to be hobby and weekend occupation. The employment may give access to cutting edge technology and results that can be used as raw material in journals and dissertation but priority number one is always to deliver in the project. Since our project is usually industry funded academic publication is not a project delivery.
We also have a inflow of persons, like me, who have been working in the industry for 10-15 years and then opt out for several reasons. Common reasons is that being a small cog in a large machinery has lost its attractiveness, the paycheck is not the most important part of work [Fraunhofer wages are limited due to being partially funded by public means] and a solid interest for cutting edge technology.
A rather large inflow is necessary since many of the students and employees are considered most attractive by the industry and hence often headhunted there. Fraunhofer has also limited the ratio of permanent employments to one third of the totally employed. Together with the maximum length of project employment in Germany, six year, this further contribute to the throughput.
As you also teach at the University, what training would you recommend to a young want-to-be Electromobility engineer?
Enter a [conventional] Electrical or Mechatronic engineering program at the University and sharpen your profile by choosing courses related to the subject. To my best knowledge there are no programs especially crafted for Electromobility. I have heard that some universities for applied science are currently developing programs intended for professionals who come in contact with Electromobility but are unfortunately not able to provide you on details on this.
And finally, from a Swedish perspective heavy duty applications are especially important, do you have any comments on the development there?
I see two different cases here. The long haul transport often cruising at constant speed seems to have little to gain from electrification. Neither batteries or fuelcells have, or are likely to develop, sufficient performance to obsolete the combustion engine. Railway like systems where electricity is fed from overhead lines may be technically feasible but require heavy investments to be made.
For working machines such as excavators and wheel-loaders the duty cycle is considerably better from a hybridization perspective allowing large fuel efficiency improvements. This may in the end make the business case of a hybridized vehicle attractive.
Further, the environment is harsher and uptime requirements are harder for a vehicle in commercial use which make power electronics development more challenging.