TUM.solar - Hybrid systems with nano materials for more efficient use of solar energy: solar research for energy transition

Starting with the supplementary budget of 2012, Bavaria is investing in the exploration of new concepts to convert solar energy into electricity and non-fossil energy sources. The Bavarian Parliament has initially granted € 6 million for this project. The plan is to establish a major five-year joint research project with a total volume of approximately € 50 million. An important part of the planned research will take place at the Technical University of Munich in the TUM.solar keylab.

Humanity will have exhausted oil, natural gas and other fossil sources of energy in the foreseeable future. Non-fossil energy sources, such as sunlight, cannot yet be used efficiently enough, so that a major effort is needed to secure the energy supply of the future. This is the task to be undertaken by chemists and physicists of five Bavarian universities joined together in the state-funded new research network "Solar Technologies Go Hybrid". In addition to the Technical University of Munich, the universities of Bayreuth, Erlangen-Nuremberg and Würzburg and the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich are involved in the joint venture.

On one hand, the scientists will concentrate on photovoltaics (i.e. the conversion of solar energy into electric current). On the other hand, they want to promote techniques with which solar energy can be stored as chemical energy. An example of this is splitting water into oxygen and energy-rich hydrogen fuel in an environmentally-friendly process based on the example of plant photosynthesis.

New emphasis will be placed on teaching these topics at the five participating universities, so that the students will also benefit from the new network. "The integration of issues relating to energy research in lectures and practical trainings is an important aspect and is already translated into action at the Technical University of Munich, e.g. at the Munich School of Engineering (MSE) , says Professor Peter Müller-Buschbaum of the Technical University of Munich, the head of TUM.solar.

Network of key labs at recognized centers

Each of the five universities has set up a well-equipped laboratory, a so-called key labs, integrated into existing internationally recognized research centers. The new laboratories will complement each other with their individual research foci and will form a close-knit network. This network is intended to leverage the initial investment by initiating further innovative top-level research projects within the network of participating locations.

At the Technical University of Munich, nano materials and hybrid systems are researched in cooperation with Ludwig-Maximilians-University. In the north of Bavaria, research is focused on organic materials: Bayreuth will concentrate on polymers, while in Wurzburg small molecules that combine into larger functional units form the center of attention. In Erlangen, researchers investigate nanotubes and other materials consisting of carbon.

A major part of the money will at first be used to expand the existing infrastructure. All participating locations receive funds for equipment to study innovative materials and energy conversion. Approximately half of the funding will be used for construction of new buildings in Munich and Würzburg.

TUM.solar: Hybrid Systems with Nano Materials

In the keylab TUM.solar at the Technical Univesity of Munich, the potential of hybrid systems with nano materials is examined and developed. New concepts on controlled structuring of material interfaces as well as new materials for energy conversion and storage open up a huge potential to direct the existing approaches for the use of renewable energy to new areas in the future. The TUM researchers are committed to enabling entirely new concepts and visions for energy conversion and storage by the use of nano materials, organic-organic or organic-inorganic hybrid systems.

Research on light-induced energy conversion and storage based on these nano materials and hybrid systems is in the focus of TUM.solar. From photo-catalytic processes to low-cost photovoltaics, a wide field of possibilities for decentralized power generation opens up. The corresponding fundamental questions refer to aspects of material production and charge transfer at interfaces. In this effort, TUM.solar combines theoretical and experimental studies conducted by research groups in physics, chemistry, and electrical engineering.

Shape and mobility of future solar cells could obtain completely new dimensions by the use of fluid-processed manufacturing processes. This promises new application possibilities, from portable consumer electronics up to large-scale solar plants of megacities. In addition, the new materials allow alternative production methods that can lead to significantly reduced production costs and thus promise an economic power generation for the future.

New approaches to energy storage beyond the storage media in use today are offered by photocatalysis. New catalytic materials and specific structuring of electrolyte interfaces are concepts that can be expected to increase efficiency. Examples such as the photochemical CO2 reduction and water splitting also provide approaches towards so-called "green technologies".

Moreover, photocatalysis in combination with photovoltaics promises unique synergy effects. In integrated systems, the conversion charge and the charge storage on the nano scale can directly be linked to each other. The direct optimization of symbiotic systems for photocatalysis and photovoltaics instead of individual optimization of independent individual systems is a new and challenging approach to be mainly pursued by TUM.solar. Here within TUM.solar, on one hand basic physicochemical processes are to be researched and on the other hand application-oriented issues such as the implementation of prototypes and demonstrators are to be processed.

Thus, the research of TUM.solar covers the entire value chain from energy conversion up to energy storage and thus aspects from basic physic-chemical processes up to application-related issues such as construction of the prototype. As a part of the "network of regenerative energies" (NRG) in TUM.solar is integrated in TUM.Energy, the cross-faculty research initiative of the Munich School of Engineering (MSE).

Contact:

Prof. Dr. Peter Müller-Buschbaum
Technische Universität München
Physik-Department E13,
Lehrstuhl für Funktionelle Materialien
James-Franck-Str. 1,
85748 Garching,
Germany
Tel.: +49 89 289 12451
Fax : +49 89 289 12473
E-Mail: muellerb@ph.tum.de

Prof. Dr. Friedrich C. Simmel
Technische Universität München
Physik-Department E14 und ZNN/WSI
Lehrstuhl für Biomolekulare Systeme und Bionanotechnologie
Am Coulombwall 4a,
85748 Garching,
Germany
Tel.: +49 89 289 11610
Fax : +49 89 289 11612
E-Mail: simmel@tum.de