Energy research at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) now has a home of its own: In the new Research Center for Energy and Information (ZEI), built on the Garching Research Campus at a cost of 17 million euros, scientists will perform interdisciplinary research on topics related to the energy transition. The term "information" in the name of the center has two meanings: It stands for new digital communication technologies that will be essential to the future energy supply, and also to the dialog between science and the public. This concept is a novelty on an international scale.
The new building is also the headquarters of the Munich School of Engineering (MSE), the home of TUM's energy research activities. It is a key measure of the Bavarian government’s scientific support for energy transition policy. To this end, TUM has created several professorships focused on energy research (e.g. Technical Electrochemistry, Renewable and Sustainable Energy Systems, and Electrical Energy Storage Technology). Professor Thomas Hamacher is the head of the MSE. As an integrated research center invested, on par with the departments, with the right to award doctorates, the MSE embodies TUM’s cross-disciplinary approach.
"Here the classical disciplines of engineering and natural sciences, with their diverse research cultures, meet under one roof and mutually enrich each other," explains TUM President Wolfgang A. Herrmann. "From the immediate proximity of the MSE to the chemistry, physics, mathematics, informatics, and mechanical engineering departments – as well as the FRM II research neutron source and, in future, the TUM Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering – we expect synergy effects that will contribute decisively to our international competitiveness."
Energy research on three levels
Dr. Ludwig Spaenle, the Bavarian minister of science, said: "In the interests of a future-ready and sustainable energy supply, energy research is a key field of activity under Bavaria's research and technology policy. I'm delighted that TUM has now opened the Center for Energy and Information. As one of the two top locations for interdisciplinary energy research in Bavaria, TUM now has a state-of-the art research center that provides a visible address for this important field of future activity. To create excellent conditions for scientists, we are providing 17 million euros in funding for the new building from the Bavarian energy research program."
On three levels with a gross area of about 5,500 square meters, the center will provide offices for nearly 100 scientists. It will be home of groups of young researchers and the MSE administrative offices, the Chair for Renewable and Sustainable Energy Systems (Prof. Hamacher) and the professors involved in integrative research projects.
"To implement the energy transition, we need experts from all fields," says Prof. Thomas Hamacher, the head of the MSE. "With the Center for Energy and Information, the Bavarian government has created a venue for this cooperation."
Intelligent power networks using communication technology
In the future there will be a shift away from big power stations towards locally based electrical generation. As a result, intelligent power networks will be needed for the networking and management of producers and consumers. "This will take a lot of communication," says Prof. Hamacher. A future energy supply without information technology is inconceivable. In a simulation hall in the new research building, scientists will have access to a smart grid, among other facilities. It will be tested under realistic conditions and is linked to the local power network.
A second major research area relates to the services that will be increasingly provided through electric power such as heat generation and the power needed for electric cars. For research into the energy aspects of electromobility, the center will install charging stations outside the building and purchase electric cars. Other key areas are battery research, organic photovoltaics, photocatalytic processes and sustainable, energy-efficient construction.
Dialog with the public
The term "information" in the name of the new TUM center stands for more than just information technology, however. The atrium will be the site of regular exhibitions on energy. In conjunction with the Munich Center for Technology in Society (MCTS), the MSE will also hold events in the large forum hall to engage with and inform the public on energy-related issues. "We need to communicate with people to promote understanding and acceptance of the energy transition," says TUM president Prof. Herrmann. "It is important to present the overall context realistically and use examples to make it clear that the energy transition is a complex and highly networked system that must overcome a wide range of scientific and technological challenges."
The construction project, with a total investment volume of 17 million euros, was funded by the Bavarian Ministry for Education, Science and the Arts.