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HI ERN - A portrait of Jülich’s largest research branch office

Impressions from HI ERN, where more than 140 colleagues from different countries research innovative materials (Article originally published in "Inside", Jülich's staff magazine).

Having started with just a handful of employees in 2013, the Helmholtz Institute Erlangen-Nürnberg for Renewable Energy (HI ERN) is now Jülich’s largest research branch office. At HI ERN, which is also IEK-11, more than 140 colleagues from 23 countries research innovative materials that help make renewable energy usable in a climate-neutral, sustainable and cost-effective way via hydrogen and photovoltaic technologies. One particularly promising approach is the LOHC (Liquid Organic Hydrogen Carrier) technology, which has been significantly developed in Erlangen and which makes completely new forms of transport and use possible for hydrogen. In order to advance such research in the field of renewable energies, the HI ERN was founded as a close collaboration between Forschungszentrum Jülich, Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nürnberg (FAU) and Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB).

Sustainability is not only researched at HI ERN, however, but also lived in everyday life. For example, a hydrogen car is available in the in-house car pool to cover the 20 kilometres between the two sites at Erlangen and Nuremberg, and a large proportion of employees commute by bike or bus and train. A lot will change for them this year: most of the employees will move from both locations to share a new, state-of-the-art research complex at Erlangen. On the southern campus of FAU, the HI ERN will then grow even closer together as a large research team.

What the colleagues on site say

Julian Kadar, engineer

Julian Kadar

“Trains that can be refuelled directly with LOHC-bound hydrogen? As a researcher, I help make this possible at HI ERN. I find the work at Forschungszentrum Jülich much more exciting than any job in industry could ever be for me. I also find Erlangen with its student flair terrific. Everything is very close by here – and getting to the institute only takes me 15 minutes by bike. Unfortunately, I have only come to Jülich for training courses so far. I think it would be great if we intensified our cooperation despite the geographical distance in order to inspire each other more.

Dr. Retha Peach, chemist and team head

Dr. Retha Peach

“When I came to Erlangen from South Africa in 2019, I was surprised how small the ‘culture shock’ was for me. This was probably because I had also lived in a similar small university town back home, in Potchefstroom.

With many colleagues from HI ERN working so closely together here on the Erlangen university campus, our team is always quick to find the right people to share ideas and get the support we need to excel in the field of water electrolysis. Now I’m looking forward to intensifying this interdisciplinary collaboration when we move into the new building together with our other colleagues.”

Manuel Zellhöfer, programmer/IT

Manuel Zellhöfer

“I am responsible for the IT at HI ERN and so I have contact with all colleagues in Erlangen and Nuremberg. If they have computer problems, I am also their contact concerning central services at Jülich. However, we also have some freedom in our branch office: in IT, for example, we have different technical conditions in some cases and, therefore, have to improvise. My perception is that with corona, we have moved closer to Jülich overall: regular meetings have taken place online ever since – not only in IT – which makes it noticeably easier for us to stay in close contact. Thus, I would find it fantastic if such digital formats were maintained beyond the pandemic.”

Prof. Karl Mayrhofer, Director of HI ERN/IEK-11

Prof. Dr. Mayrhofer

“Making more effective use of renewable energies is high on our agenda at HI ERN. For this purpose, we are linking up with the excellent materials and process research of Friedrich-Alexander University (FAU) with our branch office. Our research benefits greatly from FAU’s interdisciplinarity. At the same time, we are collaborating intensively on site with Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB) in our core topics of hydrogen and photovoltaics. The continuous exchange within Forschungszentrum Jülich also makes a decisive contribution to our goals.

All this close cooperation is like a rich treasure trove of different expert opinions that we urgently need to master the complex technological, economic and social challenges of the energy transition. The young and dynamic environment of the branch office at the university campus is particularly exciting. There is an almost inexhaustible wealth of ideas here – and that is what makes this place so special for me. The close cooperation with the students repeatedly leads to innovative projects and important research contributions.

We are working hard to make a sustainable and valuable contribution to energy transition with our branch office – in keeping with the Helmholtz Association’s mission in the field of renewable energy.”

What life on the campus looks like

The future of HI ERN/IEK-11 is taking place in this 3,400 m² high-tech complex with state-of-the-art offices and laboratories at Erlangen. Dr. Florian Speck and doctoral researcher Miriam Weiß will also be conducting research here in future together with their colleagues from Erlangen and Nuremberg.

Cauerstraße 3Copyright: HI ERN/ Reinhardt

Covering almost three and a half thousand square metres, the new building will in future offer around 900 m2 of offices, 1.350 m2 of modern laboratories as well as three meeting rooms and a large seminar room. On the roof of the new research building, there is also an area which is designated for newly developed photovoltaic to be directly installed and researched in practice. Ideal opportunities, then, for the scientists at the Erlangen-Nuremberg branch office.

Cauerstraße1Copyright: HI ERN/ Lukas Reinhardt

LOHC is a technology developed further at HI ERN to store and transport hydrogen safely under atmospheric conditions and in the most space-saving way possible with the help of a carrier liquid. In the laboratory, Dr. Moritz Wolf is researching how to release hydrogen again from the LOHC carrier with as little energy as possible.

Labor WolfCopyright: HI ERN/ Reinhardt

Goodbye, fossil fuels: before his business trip, doctoral researcher Maximilian Grauert refuels HI ERN’s hydrogen-powered Toyota Mirai at the H₂ filling station. It runs completely emission-free, with a hydrogen consumption of around five kilogrammes per 500 kilometres.

Tankstelle GrauertCopyright: HI ERN/ Reinhardt

Sustainability in action: between multi-storey campus buildings, HI ERN researchers like doctoral student Johanna Ranninger cultivate and harvest their own vegetables after work in the urban gardening project of the university’s Faculty of Engineering – in a small “green oasis” on the campus, which is otherwise dominated by concrete.

Garten RanningerCopyright: HI ERN/ Reinhardt

Green oasis: doctoral researcher Susanne Wachs, too, maintains and harvests her own vegetables on campus – “because a garden like this combines the useful with the beautiful. How else could you look for fresh, ripe strawberries on your way back from the canteen, find them and enjoy them?”

Garten WachsCopyright: HI ERN/ Reinhardt

The full article "Jülich and its branch offices - The HI ERN in Erlangen Nuremberg" by Hanno Schiffer and Nicole Lücke originally was published in the staff magazine "inside" (issue 1/2021) of Forschungszentrum Jülich.


Lukas Reinhardt
PR & Communication

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