Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems: Current Research and Special Projects

A review of the Fraunhofer ISE research and special projects

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE is the largest solar energy research institute in Europe with subsidiaries and branches reaching all over the world. Fraunhofer ISE uses application-oriented research to develop energy efficient and environmentally friendly technologies covering their five main research areas: photovoltaics, solar-thermal, building energy, hydrogen, and energy systems. In the last year, Fraunhofer ISE earned an 81.1 million Euro budget funded heavily through government grants and industry investment; this budget allows the minds at Fraunhofer to pursue groundbreaking research driving industry and competition forward.

Photovoltaics, or solar panels, produced by Fraunhofer ISE are just one of the areas in high demand from the institute. Over the years, their research has yielded products with increased efficiency, a better price to performance ratio, and overall greater stability of the final product. With changes to their silicon crystallization process and reduced thickness of their solar cell, Fraunhofer has been able to increase their cell efficiency, reduce their material use and cost per solar panel. This work known as the Laser Fired Contact Project earned the Fraunhofer Institute the prestigious Joseph von Frauberg 2016 Prize and to this day the production of 20 million of these panels. Their research with photovoltaics expands beyond the solar cell itself; the module, or casing for the cell containing the mechanics of the panel, also requires attention. Fraunhofer ISE has taken special measures to develop modules adaptable to specific areas and climates to limit module degradation and integrity. Finally, panels are subjected to a rigorous yield assessment, module accreditation, system testing, and performance verification to ensure each product meets the quality and efficacy standards affiliated with this institute.

Rooftop solar panels at the Fraunhofer Institute that are both functional and aesthetically pleasing.

Solar Thermal Technology is increasingly in high demand as homes and businesses work to combine their water and heating systems as well as harness the ability to store extra energy gained throughout the day. Research into the materials used for this technology, thermal collection and storage, and the innovative use of thermal membrane distillation for water treatment are a few of the technologies being developed by the Fraunhofer ISE.

By 2022, a directive states that all buildings must be zero energy, or produce as much energy as it uses. This directive alone has created a greater need to revolutionize the building structure including the building envelope, heating and cooling systems, thermal storage, and lighting. Through capturing and storing the heat generated by windows in the building envelope, buildings could produce a portion of their energy and save money by installing fewer rooftop solar panels. The Fraunhofer ISE currently heats their buildings through heat reclamation systems and their windows; the cooling process passes warm air through cold concrete pipes before the air enters the building. There is a large market for thermal storage today as much of the energy gained throughout the day is later lost or cannot be stored for long amounts of time in large enough quantities. By improving storage technology, businesses will more reasonably be expected to meet this energy directive.

The Fraunhofer ISE has a special relationship with the many universities in the area allowing researchers to teach their specialty at the university while also conducting research at Fraunhofer. Students have the unique opportunity to take these classes and conduct research alongside professionals. This apprenticeship program and others like it allow students to gain relevant and professional experience and a potential job in the future. Numerous faculty at Fraunhofer ISE take part in this program connecting industry with university to provide students with an in-depth look at the real world.

Students patiently await our meeting with Dr. Bruno Burger and Dr. Anne Kovach-Hebling of the Fraunhofer Institute to learn about revolutionary renewable technologies.

Aside from conducting cutting edge research on tomorrow’s technology, specialized projects such as documenting energy production also take place at the Fraunhofer ISE. Dr. Bruno Burger demonstrated his work with an impressive and comprehensive data collection website (www.energy-charts.de) that updates hourly to provide real time results on energy production in Germany. This website features everything from daily production from all energy sources to energy exports and imports to country energy comparisons. Fraunhofer ISE is doing some impressive things; whether it be researching the technology of the future or educating the next generation of brilliant minds, the Fraunhofer Institute will surely be at the forefront of innovation and a leader in revolutionary technology.

-Natalie Schuster

Fraunhofer Technologies and Goals

Renewable technologies of Fraunhofer ISE and future goals for Germany as a whole

After experiencing a typical lunch environment for the Fraunhofer employees – which involves outdoor seating, delicious cuisine, and socialization time – we had the opportunity to see some of institute’s technological inventions. When it comes to technology, Fraunhofer’s focus is on expanding electricity to all aspects of life, maximizing energy efficiency, improving devices, minimizing the cost of devices, and developing new devices to expand renewables. Employees explained fuel cells, batteries for cars, induction car chargers, and different types of devices that converted light and infrared to energy. One example of how the company improved their devices was apparent in their solar panels: a change in panel material and circuitry made it possible for solar panels to convert light to electricity within 45 seconds rather than the original conversion rate of 12 minutes! As we walked through the displayed technology, several of the company’s labs were visible, and we had the opportunity to see the general work environment at Fraunhofer. Additionally, after the indoor tour we saw both an electric and hydrogen car and their fueling stations.

This is a picture of the outdoor terrace where employees eat lunch. In this picture you can see employees socializing and enjoying the outdoor setting.
Here the outside of Fraunhofer ISE is pictured. This is the building where laboratories are located.Here the outside of Fraunhofer ISE is pictured. This is the building where laboratories are located.

In the future, electric cars are expected to take the place of fuel powered cars, and for that reason I would like to write a bit about the car technology from the company. The induction car technology and electric cars have the potential to have multiple uses. First, let me explain a bit about the chargers: induction car chargers are spiral-shaped metal devices that are placed in parking spots and used to charge electric cars. During the day, the electric car is charged. When the car returns back to the owner’s home, the energy left in the car can be used to power the owner’s home, and for that reason the car serves multiple purposes. Outside the lab, we examined an employee’s electric car. The institute has a charging station, so it was possible for the employee to charge their car during the day. The specific electric car could travel up to 200 km in the summer and 100 km in the winter: the distance the car could travel depended heavily on the outdoor temperature. The employee’s car was actually an older version of electric cars, and the newer cars can travel up to 400 km in the summer and 200 km in the winter.

Pictured here is an employee’s electric car. At Fraunhofer ISE, there is an electric car charging station. This specific car can travel 200 km during the summer and 100 km during the winter on a full tank of gas.
Pictured here is a hydrogen filling station located near Fraunhofer. Similar to the electric car pump, this station is easily accessible for Fraunhofer employees.

After learning about Fraunhofer’s technologies, we heard a bit about the institute’s vision for the future of Germany. Germany’s Energiewende project aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. As of last year, the world reached a 1.5°C increase in temperature, and over the course of the past 20-25 years sea levels have risen by about 10 cm. These changes can be viewed as national security threats; rising sea levels cause the relocation of coastal communities and global climate change leads to weather uncertainty which in turn can destroy crops. With these global changes in mind, Fraunhofer generated graphs and goals for Germany. One graph demonstrated that if Germany continues on its current track of implementing renewable energy sources it will only reduce carbon emissions by 60%, rather than its goal of 80%. To address this issue, Fraunhofer created an hour by hour simulation of Germany’s energy usage from 2014-2050 and considered how older infrastructure could be replaced to increase energy and heat efficiency. A chart that demonstrated how much energy was needed from certain renewable energy sources from now until 2050 was also created. Based on the chart, most of Germany’s energy in the future will come from onshore wind and solar energy. Fraunhofer also generated a graph that showed the optimum combination between wind a solar energy. Currently, Germany is slightly off of the optimal path; there will need to be an increase in solar energy to meet the ideal path. Overall, the graphs and ideas generated by Fraunhofer are important for the country as a whole. With a goal that is so far in the future – such as the 2050 goal of reducing emissions – it is easy to forget that the effort put into each year is important, and the graphs help to give Germany yearly goals in addition to its overall goals.

This is a hydrogen car at Fraunhofer ISE. The sign behind the car labeled hydrogen as the energy of the future, which represented the idea that hydrogen will be a prominent energy source in the future.

The major steps that Germany is taking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions demonstrate the importance of working to reduce global climate change. At the end of the presentation, a few of us chatted about how Germany cannot be the only country in the world to make changes to reduce emissions. In the grand scheme of things, Germany is a relatively small country, and it will be important for other countries around the world to join their effort to prevent global climate change.

-Emilee Armstrong