Prof. Dr.-Ing. Rolf Katzenbach: Science in Darmstadt … for a sustainable energy supply

The secure and safe, cost-effective and environmentally friendly supply of energy is of central importance to the existence and advancement of our society. There­fore, the future development of energy systems presents one of the most crit­ical technical, social, economic and polit­­ical challenges, which can only be dealt with successfully in close interdisciplinary collaboration between science, industry and politics. Due to the complex nature of these challenges, the scientists active in energy research at the Darmstadt University of Technology (TU Darmstadt) have jointly established the TU Darmstadt Energy Center. The interdisciplinary, cross-faculty cooperation of specialists from engineering, sciences and humanities departments in this research centre of excellence will pool research and development activities as well as the design and translation into practical applications of future-oriented energy technologies.

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The missions of the TU Darmstadt Energy Center include, among other things, the development and improvement of evaluation criteria and management strategies in the energy sector as well as providing expert advice on further devel­­oping classical energy technologies and renewable energies. All activities of the TU Darmstadt Energy Center are geared towards practical needs and address these challenges in close cooperation with companies of both the energy producing and the energy consuming industries.
The participation of commerce and indus­­try, government and public representatives is a prerequisite for the success of the TU Darmstadt Energy Center. To guarantee this, it receives qualified sup­­port from the non-profit advisory council “Beirat des TU Darmstadt Energy Center e.V.”, whose members are decision makers from academia, government, busi­­nesses and public administration. The purpose of this council is to promote teaching and research. In particular, it encourages scientific contacts between members of the council, scientists, re­­search institutes and research commu­nities, provides funds for the equipment and infrastructure of the TU Darmstadt Energy Center, grants money for organising scientific workshops and similar events for members of the council and external attendees, and it facilitates the translation of research findings into prac­­tical application and vice versa, of prac­­tical issues into specific research projects. A look at energy consumption shows that a significant potential for energy saving lies in enhancing the energy efficiency performance of buildings. Nearly half of the total amount of energy spent is used for heating, cooling and operating buildings. Energy-efficient construction based on intelligent conceptual and plan­­ning decisions can lead to increased con­­venience and improve the durability of buildings, in addition to promoting a more economical use of resources. The shape and orientation of a building, insulation and sealing as well as energy-saving build­­ing services contribute a lot to managing energy efficiency. Professor Manfred Hegger and his team from the Depart­ment of Architecture of TU Darmstadt have furnished impressive evidence of the poten­­tial that lies in the advancement of energy-efficient buildings. With his energy self-sufficient “Prototyp Wohnen 2015” housing design he won the 2007 “Solar Decathlon”, an international com­­petition organised by the U.S. Depart­ment of Energy. And in 2009 his team again won this prestigious competition with their “surPLUShome” project.

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Buildings meet all requirements for the use of renewable energy sources. Near-surface geothermal energy, being an environmentally friendly and resource-saving form of renewable energy, presents a future-oriented alternative to conventional energy systems when it comes to controlling the temperature in buildings. The cooling of office buildings is partic­ularly energy-intensive. In high-rise build­­ings powered by geothermal energy, heat exchangers are used to store heat or cold in the ground.

Due to the increasing share of renewable energies, decentralised energy supply will play an ever more important part in the future. To adjust the generation of energy and its export into the grid to changing requirements, new forms of electric energy transfer and distribution will have to be developed and intelligent systems will have to be applied in energy grids. This task is addressed by engineers from the department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology at TU Darmstadt.

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In the field of combustion technology, research focuses on energy efficiency and on minimising the emission of pollutants. Energy and power plant technology engineers from the Mechanical Engineering Department of TU Darmstadt are developing processes for designing future-oriented combustion chambers. In complex combustion processes, laser opti­­cal methods can be used for carrying out high-precision, non-contact measurements of the chemical composition, temperature and density in flow fields.

Research activities in the Institute for Energy Systems and Technology are fo­­­cused on sustainable energy conversion technologies. At the moment, two innovative technologies for the sequestration and storage of carbon dioxide from fossil-fired power plants are examined: Carbonate Looping, where carbon dioxide is absorbed by limestone, and Chemical Looping, where oxygen is carried from air to fuel by means of a metal oxide.

Material scientists, chemists and engineers from TU Darmstadt cooperate in the effort to generate and utilise fuels from renewable energy sources. In the future, hydrogen is to be produced from sustainable energy sources such as the sun and the wind through electricity and subsequent water electrolysis, or from biomass through gasification and conversion processes.

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Solar cells are used to directly convert sun­­light into electrical energy. In Ger­many, an average of about 1,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year can be generated per kilowatt maximum out­put of solar cells installed. That means that 27 square metres of standard solar cells would be sufficient to cover the electricity needs of a small family (about 4,000 kilowatt hours annually). However, the price of electricity obtained through solar cells is still significantly higher than the price of conventionally generated elec­­trical power. This is where the material researchers from the Surface Science Group of TU Darmstadt come into play. In close cooperation with module manu­­facturers, they analyse the function of interfaces between different semiconductor materials which are used in thin-film solar cells in order to enhance their degree of efficiency, thus making a contri­­bution towards improved and more cost-effective production techniques.

Based on the broad scope of competence available at the TU Darmstadt Energy Center, TU Darmstadt will estab­­lish a master degree course for “Energy Science and Engineering”. Fundamental lectures and seminars will be given on topics such as energy technology in con­­struction and mechanical engineering, electrical and information technology in energy engineering, material sciences basics, fundamental physical and chemical principles of energy conversion, simu­­lation and optimisation in energy engineering, renewable energies, energy sce­­narios and climate pro­tection, as well as legal, economic and social aspects of energy supply and energy consumption. Besides the interdisciplinary course pro­­gramme, the early in­­volve­­ment of students into current research projects, the conveyance of key competencies and a comprehensive mentoring and supervision concept will be essential elements of academic train­­ing. This inno­­vative degree course, which is the only one of its kind in Germany, will provide Darmstadt and the Rhine-Main region with an additional number of excellently qualified specialists in the pioneering science and business field of energy.

Porträt-KatzenbachThe author studied civil engineering at TU Darmstadt. In 1981, he received a doctor degree with distinction. He has been a university professor as well as  director of the Institute and Laboratory of Geo­technics at TU Darmstadt since 1993. Since 2007, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Rolf Katzenbach has been director of the TU Darmstadt Energy Center.