Today (Friday, February 3, 2023), Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann visited the POLiS (Post Lithium Storage) Cluster of Excellence, the CELEST Research Platform, and the Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW) in Ulm to inform himself about battery research. At POLiS, Kretschmann was presented the world’s only fully digitized and automated laboratory for accelerated materials development. The visit to ZSW focused on facilities for close-to-series production of large lithium-ion cells.
“The POLiS Cluster of Excellence, CELEST Research Platform, and Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW) are hubs of battery and hydrogen research. Here, battery technology is raised to an entirely new level. With the development of new battery materials to reduce consumption of critical resources, Ulm decisively contributes to making our economy more independent. Recent geopolitical changes have clearly revealed the effects dependencies may have,” Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann says. “For this reason, the state government has initiated a round table on batteries to bring together research and companies and to early identify and study challenges and developments in battery technology.”
“KIT’s battery research is based on a transdisciplinary approach that covers the entire chain of values added. We are working on innovative solutions ranging from materials science to production technology and cell development to complete energy storage systems,” says Professor Holger Hanselka, President of KIT. “Our work is close to practice and we closely cooperate with industry and our renowned partner institutions in Ulm and around the world to contribute to the energy transition.”
“Basic electrochemical research at Ulm University started in the 1980s. Today, more than 400 people are involved in battery research and development at various institutions. They make Ulm a big battery competence center in Europe,” says Professor Michael Weber, President of Ulm University.
“The long-standing expertise of Ulm University, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, and ZSW was the basis for the establishment of the Helmholtz Institute Ulm, POLiS, and the CELEST Research Platform. The CELEST initiative makes us one of the biggest players in battery research worldwide,” says Professor Maximilian Fichtner, Director of CELEST and Spokesman of the POLiS Cluster of Excellence.
“Battery materials, battery cells, and complete battery systems – in particular for electric mobility – are developing at highest speed. All partners at the Ulm Science Park are optimally equipped for implementing battery development trends,” says Professor Markus Hölzle, Member of the Board of ZSW and Head of the Electrochemical Energy Technologies Division. “Work of ZSW in Ulm focuses on technology transfer from the lab scale to series production.”
Batteries Based on Sodium, Magnesium, and Calcium
The POLiS Cluster of Excellence is designed for research into more sustainable battery materials and technology concepts based on sodium, magnesium, and calcium, thus replacing lithium and other critical resources. A major element to study lithium alternatives is the first automated platform for accelerated battery materials development. “Our plant can produce batteries, analyze thousands of interfaces, evaluate tests with AI-based methods, and plan new experiments all around the clock. The key to acceleration is automation. In addition, algorithms and AI speed up optimization by a factor of ten, such that promising battery materials are developed to maturity much quicker and at lower costs,” says KIT Tenure-track Professor Helge Stein, Research Unit Spokesperson at POLiS. Moreover, the plant is embedded in European activities. The plant data from all sections of the battery development cycle are shared with 34 institutions from 15 countries within the BIG-MAP project of the European research initiative BATTERY2030+, in which CELEST also plays an important role.
Industrial Production Research from the Material to the Cell
For many years now, more than 100 scientists of ZSW have studied lithium-ion and post-lithium batteries. ZSW’s holistic approach starts with the production and characterization of active materials and also covers the construction of complete battery systems, their tests, and the recycling of batteries. Minister-President Winfried Kretschmann visited the pilot plant for industrial production of large lithium-ion cells for electric vehicles. The only plant of this kind in Europe started operation in 2013 and was extended in 2022. Kretschmann also had a look at the construction site for the new “Powder-up” facility. In the next twelve months, ZSW will set up this pilot plant for the production of cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries in batches of 100 kilograms. Such quantities are required for the production of large battery cells for electric cars or stationary storage systems. The facilities cover the complete production chain, but also allow for research into specific production steps. The battery materials produced will then be used in pilot plants of research institutes or battery producers. The State of Baden-Württemberg funds this construction project with EUR ten million.
Within the POLiS (Post Lithium Storage) Cluster of Excellence, researchers conduct research relating to future batteries that will perform better and be more reliable, sustainable, and environmentally compatible than conventional lithium-ion batteries. The corresponding alternative technologies will be required in particular for the energy transition and electric mobility. For this purpose, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Ulm University, and the Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW) and Gießen University as associated partners pool their expertise in the Cluster of Excellence. The Cluster was acquired in late 2018 within the highly competitive Excellence Strategy Competition of the Federation and the Federal States. It has a budget of about EUR 7 million per year and is scheduled for a duration of initially seven years. The about 200 researchers are working in Ulm, Karlsruhe, and Gießen.
The CELEST (Center for Electrochemical Energy Storage Ulm & Karlsruhe) research platform was established by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Ulm University, and the Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW) to improve communication among the researchers involved and to pave the way towards new interdisciplinary collaboration projects. With 31 institutes and 46 working groups of its three partners, CELEST is one of the biggest research platforms in the area of batteries worldwide.
The Helmholtz Institute Ulm (HIU) was established in January 2011 by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), Member of the Helmholtz Association, in cooperation with Ulm University. With the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and the Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW), two other renowned institutions are involved in the HIU as associated partners. The international team of about 120 scientists at HIU works on the further development of the basis of future energy storage systems for stationary and mobile use.
The Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (ZSW) is among the leading institutes for applied research in the areas of photovoltaics, regenerative fuels, battery technology, fuel cells, and energy systems analysis. About 330 scientists, engineers, and technicians and 100 scientific and student assistants are working at the three ZSW branches in Stuttgart, Ulm, and Widderstall. ZSW is member of the Baden-Württemberg Innovation Alliance (innBW), an alliance of twelve non-university, close-to-industry research institutes.
About Ulm University
As a young research university, Ulm University focuses on the global challenges of the future: 12 strategic and interdisciplinary research themes are contributing to improvements in the area of aging, sustainability, technologies of the future as well as human health and well-being (https://www.uni-ulm.de/en/research/). Great success in the acquisition of third-party funding and numerous larger cooperative projects, such as collaborative research centers as well as a Cluster of Excellence, are testimonies to the University’s research strength. Ulm University was founded in 1967 as a university in the areas of medicine and natural sciences. Today, more than 10,000 students study at the faculties of medicine, natural sciences, mathematics and economics, and engineering, computer science, and psychology. More than 60 study programs, including an increasing number of English programs, offer excellent professional perspectives. Ulm University collaborates with a number of partners from the regional to the international level. Ulm University is the center of and driving force behind the science city of Ulm, a hub of non-university research institutions, maximum-care hospitals, and technology companies. Its location in the center of a strong economic region results in excellent conditions for technology and knowledge transfer.
KIT: Sandra Wiebe, Tel.: +49 721 608-41172, email: sandra wiebe∂ kit edu
POLiS Cluster of Exzellence: Sarah Hameister, Tel.: +49 731 50 34512, email: sarah hameister∂ uni-ulm de
Center for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research BW: Tiziana Bosa, Tel.: +49 731 9530 601, email: tiziana bosa∂ zsw-bw de
Being “The Research University in the Helmholtz Association”, KIT creates and imparts knowledge for the society and the environment. It is the objective to make significant contributions to the global challenges in the fields of energy, mobility, and information. For this, about 9,800 employees cooperate in a broad range of disciplines in natural sciences, engineering sciences, economics, and the humanities and social sciences. KIT prepares its 22,300 students for responsible tasks in society, industry, and science by offering research-based study programs. Innovation efforts at KIT build a bridge between important scientific findings and their application for the benefit of society, economic prosperity, and the preservation of our natural basis of life. KIT is one of the German universities of excellence.