In ZSW’s internal organisational structure, the focus is placed on the two business divisions "Photovoltaics" or "Electrochemical Energy Technologies" and "Energy Policy and Energy Carriers". The head of each division is a member of the board. These business divisions are organised into ten departments.
In the course of day-to-day research, projects and tasks are nevertheless also worked on across departments so that we can provide our customers with greater thematic diversity and optimal synergy effects. For example, the consultation and testing services relating to photovoltaic storage systems are jointly provided by the two departments "Photovoltaics: Modules Systems Applications (MSA)" and "Accumulators (ECA)".
The administrative departments encompassing administration, public relations, finance, controlling, HR and organisation are consolidated in the central "Finance, HR and Legal" department under the direction of the Executive Chairman.
The summer heat in 2018, inspiring the choice of “Heißzeit” (“hot age”) as Germany’s Word of the Year in 2018, is not the only clear indication that climate change has significantly adverse consequences – not only for agriculture, but also in particular for the energy industry and other areas of the economy. It is becoming increasingly noticeable for society.
With its work at various levels, the Systems Analysis research department is actively shaping the transformation processes required to achieve the Paris climate protection goals (limiting warming to between 1.5 and 2° Celsius). Strategic Systems Analysis works intensively at the interface between science and policy. In providing policy advice, for example, it takes on evaluation and monitoring tasks in order to identify progress and obstacles, explore solution options and develop new, effective instruments to support the energy transition and climate protection at national and regional levels. This is supplemented by potential and development analyses at the technology level and profound knowledge from innovation research in order to identify robust future paths and derive noregret strategies.
The Simulation and Optimisation team is increasingly focussed on the technical level and uses methods from the machine learning field for a diverse range of applications – from optimising processes in photovoltaic production to image recognition for developing technical systems to protect endangered bird species from wind turbines. The Wind Energy team is working closely together with the WindForS research cluster to build and commission the world’s first wind energy research test site in mountainous and complex terrain in order to advance the energy transition at this level in the future through new research results. This also includes accompanying nature conservation research, which is a separate research focus at the test field.
“The energy transition depends on comprehensive transformative knowledge due to its complexity. Systems analysis is of great importance for its success because it provides that knowledge and can guide important decisions in politics and business.”
Thin-film technologies offer considerable potential when it comes to reducing the cost to manufacture photovoltaic solar modules. The CIGS technology, based on the elements copper, indium, gallium and selenium, has proven to be particularly suitable for industrial production.
CIGS modules on glass with a size of up to 30 x 30 cm² are produced and refined in the MAT department. In contrast to a typical laboratory, we mainly employ inline processes that are very close to industrial processes. In this way, the process improvements and new approaches we develop are readily available for industrial transfer. In a second laboratory line, we develop processes for CIGS modules of any length with a width of up to 30 cm on flexible substrates such as polymer films or metal foils in a roll-to-roll process, thereby tapping new opportunities for their application.
In order to gain a deeper understanding, fundamental work on CIGS solar cells and the respective manufacturing processes is carried out in typical laboratory facilities and they are subjected to extensive analyses using optical, electrical and material analytical methods before they are upscaled to larger areas in the technical lab. New material systems such as the perovskites allow the use of cost-effective printing technologies. We are conducting research on tandem cells to raise efficiency, with a focus on combining perovskite and CIGS solar cells.
Drawing on many years of experience in the development and characterisation of CIGS solar modules, we also perform a wide range of material analytical tasks as well as optical and electrical characterisations of cells and modules directly for customers.
“Photovoltaics is active climate protection. This is why we support our partners in the production of efficient, environmentally friendly and cost-effective CIGS thin-film solar modules."
Ensuring the quality and stability of photovoltaic (PV) modules and an efficient use of solar power in the energy supply system are the two major focus areas of the department and its customers. Based on 30 years of experience with testing PV modules made of crystalline silicon (c-Si) and thin-film materials, investigations into the energy yield and long-term stability of PV modules and systems are conducted in the Solab module test laboratory. Analyses of quality issues affecting the polymer-based back sheets of modules form a new focus. The affected modules are examined both in the test laboratory and directly on-site in the solar farm.
Our consultancy expertise not only encompasses quality control for PV modules and impact analyses of disruptive factors (climate, mechanical loads, soiling and electrical voltage), but also inspections (“due diligence”) of large-scale PV installations and PV production facilities on behalf of financing banks, project developers and operators.
Photovoltaic systems make a significant contribution to sustainable power generation. Appropriate linking with electrical storage systems, sector coupling and load shifting increase the local use of solar power, relieve the distribution networks and contribute to a decentralised balance of power generation and consumption. Analyses of corresponding potentials as well as the development of algorithms for the optimised operation of generators, storage systems and loads, including suitable charging management for e-mobility, are therefore further topics addressed by the research department. The department advises on the development and testing of corresponding algorithms. In cooperation with ZSW’s Systems Analysis department, forecasts of generation, load and flexibility are provided for optimised grid operation, the exchange of data between grid operators and for the energy market.
“Tapping the sun, photovoltaics delivers electricity worldwide into grids or to be used locally. We focus on the quality of the solar modules and the efficient use of solar power in the electricity, heat and mobility sectors."
The core expertise of the Renewable Fuels and Processes department is in the production of renewable fuels in the context of Power-to-X (P2X) as well as the realisation of closed material cycles, for example with phosphorus recycling processes.
Our chemical engineering expertise is applied to the development of application-oriented technology modules for the electricitybased production of hydrogen and synthetic fuels, which are then constructed and tested on a technical scale. We develop scalable materials and production methods for electrolysers suitable for series production and have developed our own electrolysis block and system technologies up to the megawatt range. We offer our customers a wide range of testing opportunities both in ZSW’s own laboratories and in real environments, such as our research platform at the Grenzach-Wyhlen Power-to-Hydrogen site. We also develop processes for an efficient renewable supply of CO2, for example from biomass or air, as a further core element of P2X processes and have many years of experience in the field of P2X synthesis processes, including methane and methanol.
Thanks to our engineering and systems expertise, we have already built three of our own Power-to-Gas and electrolysis plants on the 25 kWel, 250 kWel and 1 MWel scale at ZSW and provide consulting services to industry customers on everything from basic engineering and commissioning of commercial plants to subsequent technology monitoring. Besides our P2X activities, we develop innovative processes related to residual materials utilisation and raw materials recycling. For example, we are researching concepts to recycle phosphorus and recover raw materials from plastic waste.
“We develop application-oriented technology modules related to P2X and support our industrial clients in their implementation.”
The ECG department is researching electrodes in polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cells (PEMFC), electrolysers and electrochemical high-power storage devices with aqueous electrolytes. The aims are to increase power density and service life, as well as to reduce costs. In order to increase power density and reduce the precious metal requirement of PEMFC, the department optimises both the composition and microstructure of the catalyst layers. Its expertise includes microstructural analyses and analyses of the polymer distribution in the electrodes of the membrane electrode array (MEAs).
Experiments are being carried out with various types of nanostructured nickel materials for alkaline water electrolysis, for high-power storage systems with aqueous-alkaline electrolytes and for the production of bifunctional oxygen electrodes. High activities and cycle stabilities have already been demonstrated. Of particular importance is the development of a manganese oxide high-power electrode with a strong cycle stability in very alkaline electrolytes.
The team has many years of experience and the necessary infrastructure to take new technological approaches and quickly verify and demonstrate them in the laboratory. Due to the close cooperation with other ZSW departments, extensive experimental investigations on model electrodes and model cells using modelling and simulation techniques as well as tests in largeformat cells and stacks can be carried out efficiently.
Overview of our topics:
„Catalysts, electrodes and cells are key components for the improvement of fuel cells and other electrochemical power sources. The concentration on aqueous electrolytes allows high conductivity and maximum safety.“
The research department is specialised in the development of polymer electrolyte membrane fuel cell (PEMFC) technology with the focus on the construction, characterisation and simulation of fuel cells stacks and components and the construction of prototypes, as well as the development of production and test technologies. The power output ranges from a few watts up to 100 kWel. Fuel cells can be optimised in terms of their performance, service life, efficiency and compactness. Among other things, this includes investigating and forecasting ageing processes and failure analyses. We also focus on developing manual and automated manufacturing technology and characterising PEMFC components, cells and stacks, including fuel cells suitable for vehicles.
Modelling and simulating processes in fuel cells enables us to rapidly optimise component structures and operating conditions. This also includes the development and establishment of completely new approaches using advanced simulation software that is verified by using conclusive hardware and experiments under realistic conditions. For example, the water management within the gas diffusion electrodes (GDL) and gas distribution structures is validated using μ-CT scanning. Using this system, GDL structures, including their water content, can also be investigated in a compressed state. In addition, neutron and synchrotron radiography and tomography techniques developed with the Helmholtz Centre Berlin (HZB) are available for visualising components, cells and stacks, whereby the temporal and spatial resolutions of these are among the best in the world.
Overview of our topics:
„Our work focuses on optimising fuel cells with all their components in terms of design, manufacturing, output, and service life.“
For 20 years, the ECS research department has been operating a test centre with meanwhile 25 fully automated test benches from 0.1 to 160 kW for professional 24/7 operation characterisation of fuel cell stacks, systems and system components. Comprehensive analysis and complex methods for failure analysis are available for evaluating the performance behaviour and ageing processes of fuel cell stacks.
Many years of research have gone into developing fuel cell systems and system components for stationary systems, on-board and emergency power supplies or vehicle systems. The scope of services encompasses complete prototypes, including their control and hybridisation with batteries and DC/AC converters. In addition, safety assessments, packaging studies or product certification for industry partners are another major topic area.
A more recent focus of the work has been on hydrogen as a fuel. The research department, with its deep understanding of fuel cell technology and thus the utilisation of hydrogen, is involved in the development of the European hydrogen infrastructure through several projects. These involve verifying international refuelling standards for hydrogen refuelling stations (SAE J2601/ CEP) with regard to their acceptance pursuant to DIN ISO 19880 and ensuring compliance with the hydrogen quality required for fuel cell operation pursuant to ISO 14687-2.
Overview of our topics:
„In the long run, global climate goals will not be achievable without hydrogen technology. Now we have to learn how to integrate hydrogen into our daily life.”
The ECM research department’s work traditionally focuses on synthesising and characterising function materials for batteries and supercapacitors. The development of customised powders and pastes is a core competency. 30 years of materials research provides the basis for our comprehensive understanding of the interrelationship between structure and powder morphology on the one hand and the desired function and processing properties on the other. In addition to new cathode materials (such as high-voltage spinels, lithium transition metal phosphates and silicates) and anode materials (such as optimised carbon modifications, titanates and alloy anodes) for lithium-ion batteries, new electrolyte systems with special additives are being intensively researched. Our work also encompasses electrode materials for future systems such as lithium/sulphur and lithium/air.
ZSW is a partner institution of the virtual centre for future energy storage CELEST (Center for Electrochemical Energy Storage Ulm & Karlsruhe). CELEST was founded together with KIT and Ulm University. It is the German research and development platform for future energy storage, where the POLiS (Post Lithium Storage) has its origins. Research involves new storage systems with magnesium or sodium.
Further focus is placed on the development of battery cells in the 18650 and 21700 formats, and single-layer and stacked pouch cells. New manufacturing processes for more high-performance components for future lithium cell generations are a primary concern. Prototypes in the 18650 and 21700 formats with self-developed electrodes exhibit very high reproducibility and cycle stability. For analysing damaged cells and assessing new cells, the department is specialised in post-mortem analyses. These are essential for understanding ageing processes and potential safety risks and for optimising cell design.
Overview of our topics:
„E-mobility and renewable energies require new energy storage systems. We provide the complete value chain from the powder to the finished cell. In doing so, we are able to make an important contribution.“
The series production of large lithium-ion cells, such as those used in electrical vehicles or stationary storage systems, places particular demands on the stability and precision of processes. The higher their quality and reproducibility, the greater the reliability, durability and cost-effectiveness of the storage systems.
The research department’s work focuses on operating a pre-competition “Research platform for the industrial production of large lithium-ion cells,” which maps the near-production overall manufacturing process for hardcase cells (PHEV-1 cells, >25 Ah). The focus in this regard is on studies of the interaction of cell chemistry, cell design and manufacturing technology in terms of quality, reliability and manufacturing costs as well as issues around inline sensors, manufacturing tolerances and cost-efficient workflows. With new materials and components, the goal is to evaluate usability and quality at an industrial scale.
The main responsibility of the ECP team is to optimise industrial production processes as part of industrial orders and research projects, or verify advanced cell chemistry in sample series of standard cells. Research expertise covers all production-related aspects, from system development to improving individual steps, right up to quality assurance processes. Furthermore, the team has essential consultancy expertise around cell manufacturing and cost considerations through by now several years of experience in operating the pilot system.
Overview of our topics:
„With the research platform, we can now built a stable foundation for joint projects in production research that is available to our partners from industry and in academia.“
The research department investigates and develops electrochemical energy storage systems. To ensure that accumulators are safe and efficient even under the most extreme conditions, the department’s work focuses on characterising them under various operating conditions and investigating their behaviour with operating failures and in accident situations. The areas of application of the batteries include stationary energy storage systems and electrical grids, portable devices and electrified drive trains – whether for travel over land or water, or in the air.
The electric battery test serves to test the functionality of cells, modules and systems, measure their performance and determine their expected service life under defined loads and environmental conditions. Boundary loads or destructive tests are used to assess the reactions of and potential dangers posed by batteries in the event of extreme damage as well as their resistance to various abusive conditions and operating errors. One focus here is on suppressing the propagation of failures in the system and extinguishing or controlling fires.
The centrepiece of the battery system engineering comprises the thermal and electrical modelling and simulation of cells and battery systems, battery management and battery level identification. Research looks at model-based algorithms in order to determine the battery state (state of charge and ageing), predict the system performance, ensure optimal charge control – especially under fast-charging conditions, and improve energy management. Further research looks at the influence of external parameters such as ripple currents or mechanical compression forces on performance and service life.
Overview of our topics:
„In the eLaB, we research, test, and analyse batteries and systems in flexible, standards-compliant and innovative ways.“