Energy and Environment
At Forschungszentrum Jülich, more than 1,000 employees from various disciplines are working on the scientific and technological basis for transforming our energy system. Jülich invests more than € 130 million in its energy and climate research every year, more than 40 percent of its total annual budget. The goal of research at Jülich is to contribute to a secure, affordable and environmentally friendly energy supply. To this end, Jülich develops completely new concepts in the fields of renewable energies, storage technologies, and energy efficiency, and contributes to a better understanding of the overall energy, climate and environment system.
Technologies for the Future Energy System
Forschungszentrum Jülich conducts research on the entire range of known options for energy conversion from fossil and renewable sources and energy storage. It aims to use fossil fuels more efficiently, increase the efficiency of renewable energies and refine storage technologies. New energy sources must be tapped and the share of renewables in the energy mix increased in order to significantly cut carbon dioxide emissions. Nuclear waste management is also part of Jülich’s portfolio. New technologies are analysed in the context of the overall energy system, taking into account the economic and political conditions.
Design and Characterization of Tailor-Made Materials
Jülich has special expertise in materials research with a focus on novel materials for the energy supply system. Research at Forschungszentrum Jülich covers the development and design of materials, production techniques and process engineering as well as the characterization of materials and their preparation for application. Scientists at Jülich can avail of unique large-scale equipment and key technologies for materials research. These include simulation on supercomputers, atomic-resolution microscopy and spectroscopy with electrons as well as research with neutrons. The goal is to develop material systems for the energy supply of the future. Research at Jülich covers the entire process from basic research to industrial application.
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Environmental and Climate Research
Energy research at Forschungszentrum Jülich is closely interlinked with environmental and climate research. The goal is to understand the impact of energy production and conversion processes on ecosystems and on climate, and to refine existing climate models. Jülich researchers also study processes in the atmosphere and in the soil as well as their implications for plants, animals, and humans. In an integrative concept, the Bioeconomy Science Center and Jülich conduct joint research on the foundations for sustainable food supply, production, and energy supply together with the universities in Aachen, Bonn, and Cologne.
Photovoltaic is an inexhaustible, clean source of energy. However, production costs for solar cells are still relatively high. The shiny power generators could become more economical if they could be constructed from the thinnest layers possible. Thin-film solar cells based on a silicon material, in which the atomic components are not arranged in crystal lattices, are already being produced. Crystalline material is better suited for the side of the window facing the sun. A team of Jülich scientists is developing a particularly promising material for this.
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The overall system efficiency of solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), a type of high-temperature fuel cell, is very high thanks to the elevated operating temperatures. Important challenges to be addressed are cutting production costs for all components and improving the long-term stability and power density. On the basis of existing fuel cells, options for high-temperature energy storage are also being developed to keep energy from intermittent sources, such as wind and solar energy, in reserve when demand is low and make it available when production is insufficient. The success of these technologies will be determined by the materials used and their further development.
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Higher Efficiency for Fossil-Fired Power Plants
The carbon dioxide emitted by fossil-fired power plants contributes significantly to global warming. Emissions could be reduced by separating CO2
from the gas stream in power plants. However, conventional methods consume a great deal of energy, thus reducing the efficiency of the power plants. Filters manufactured from innovative membrane materials may be a better solution. Another goal of Jülich researchers is to make thermal barrier coatings for power plant turbines more robust, so that the energy contained in fossil fuels can be utilized more effectively for electricity generation.
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Nuclear Fusion as a Sustainable Energy Option
Today, fusion researchers know how to imitate processes that occur inside the sun, namely the fusion of light atomic nuclei and subsequently in a reactor to use them for electricity generation. The electricity required by a family of four in Germany over a period of one year could be covered by the equivalent of around 2 litres of water and 250 grams of stone. The next challenge for fusion research is to optimize the wall materials and the interaction of the hot plasma with the wall in a fusion reactor in order to make continuous and cost-efficient power generation possible.
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Nuclear Safety Research
In the discussion on the final storage of high-level waste, the priority is to guarantee safety for very long periods of time of up to several hundred thousand years. Jülich researchers are convinced that physical and chemical laws can be applied to the behaviour of high-level waste even for these long periods of time. Basic research plays a central role in this context.
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Efficient Energy Use: Green IT
Today, there are more electronic devices on this planet than humans beings. Many of us have a second mobile phone, a laptop in addition to a PC, an MP3 player, and maybe even a tablet computer to use on the go. Efficient energy use is a key requirement for new generations of electric devices. This applies not only to private users, but also to research, industry, and medicine, where numerous electronic devices are used. Forschungszentrum Jülich develops new materials and storage systems that require less energy because they are based on different technologies and principles than current systems. A number of institutes specializing in different fields of research work hand in hand to find solutions to this challenge.
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Emissions from energy production, industry, and transport, as well as from agriculture and biogas combustion, pollute the air and contaminate the atmosphere. As a result, the composition of the atmosphere is changing and climate changes are threatening the earth's ecosystems. In order to more precisely predict the climatic impacts brought about by human actions and refine existing climate models, it is necessary to understand the complex chemical interactions in the atmosphere even better.
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Bioeconomy aims to use our knowledge about biological processes to produce food in a manner that is not based on overexploitation to feed a growing population, to guarantee an energy supply without destroying the environment and to develop innovative materials that are not based on oil.
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Plant Research and Terrestrial Systems
Throughout the world, plants are the most important foundation for feeding a constantly growing global population. They are also renewable raw materials that are increasingly in demand. The increasing demand for food and energy has necessitated the intensification of land use and agriculture, resulting in greater strain on fertile arable land and water resources. Land use and climate change bring about long-term changes to terrestrial ecosystems.
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The ongoing transformation of the energy sector can only be successful if the feasibility of new technologies is assessed and their possible economic impact is considered in detail. How does demographic change affect the development of private household energy demand and what are suitable technological options for making a more environmentally friendly heating and warm water supply available on a widespread basis? How much would a kilowatt hour cost for end users if the energy supply was switched entirely to renewables from one day to the next? These issues must be taken into account if the energy system is to be transformed sustainably without causing any serious new problems.
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