"Our staff at EIRES will work on technology capable of converting and storing sustainably produced energy," explains Richard van de Sanden on Monday afternoon in his office in the DIFFER building on the TU/e campus. “Thus the emphasis isn't going to be on the generation of energy from sun and wind, but rather on how we can accommodate the fluctuations in production, and how this energy can be used to help make synthetic fuels and raw materials for the chemical industry.”
The institute's focus will be on four main themes: heat storage, electrochemical conversion, CO2-neutral fuels (such as metal fuels Team Solid is working on) and system integration. The current activities of the Strategic Area Energy will be incorporated in EIRES, in the same way that the SA Smart Mobility now falls under the new Eindhoven Artificial Intelligence Systems Institute (EAISI).
The combination of various new techniques to form useable devices and systems will be a common thread running through the work done at EIRES, says Van de Sanden. “How can you make the best conversion devices for converting renewable energy into a usable form? This requires the integration of techniques in the areas of energy, chemistry and high-tech manufacturing.” As examples of this kind of device, he mentions electrolyzers - with which hydrogen can be extracted from water - and combustion engines fueled by (reusable) metal powder. “Perhaps we can even combine these technologies in an smarter way.”
In Van de Sanden's view, TU/e is the ideal place in which to create such technological building blocks for a sustainable energy supply, partly in view of the high-tech industry present in the region - a necessary condition for taking the results of fundamental research and doing further development work to create scalable devices. “An institute like EIRES can become an essential connecting factor in the multidisciplinary system approach that this work requires.” In this capacity, the institute is a logical extension of the designation of renewable energy as one of the Cross-Disciplinary Research Themes in the policy plan Strategy 2030.
Gaining a public face
In terms of organization, EIRES is modeling itself on the Institute for Complex Molecular Systems (ICMS), which has its own office and lab space in CERES, with employees who are also embedded in the departments. Two years ago this institute, set up in 2008 under the leadership of Professor Bert Meijer, celebrated its tenth year. In 2018 Professor Meijer passed the baton to Professor Jan van Hest. September 2019 saw the founding of the next institute, the Eindhoven Artificial Intelligence Systems Institute (EAISI). This is housed temporarily in Gaslab and run by Carlo van de Weijer.
“Similarly, EIRES certainly won't be a virtual institute,” points out Mark Boneschanscher, quartermaster and managing director of EIRES. “Eventually we'd like to have our own spot on the campus, which is where our flagship experiments will be conducted. This will enable us to bring researchers together at one location, but it also gives us a calling card we can present to industry and government. In this way, we are keen to place the university's research in the context of the societal challenge posed by the energy transition.”
An important aim of EIRES is to give a public face to TU/e's energy research. Boneschanscher explains, “There is already a lot happening here in this area, but by consolidating it in one institute you can raise its profile and generate more impact. Incidentally, this also applies to the other institutes, such as EAISI and ICMS. I can well imagine that in time we'll house all our institutes in a single building where they will work on the societal challenges we face today.”
Likewise Van de Sanden, who will continue to work part time as a group leader at DIFFER, is keen to point out that strong scientific institutes focused on societal challenges are important to the acquisition of financing from The Hague and Brussels. “Ever more research funding is going to larger consortiums focused on a societal challenge. We want policymakers to automatically make the connection: if it's systems for sustainable energy you're after, you need to go to Eindhoven.”
On Friday March 6th the Executive Board announced in a Strategy Update that a fourth institute is also in the pipeline. As yet, with the plans still in the making, no name has been released nor a foundation date. The institute will focus on materials, devices and systems, key enabling technologies (KETs) as they are known, for the information technology of the future, according to the update.
On Thursday April 2nd from 12.30 to 13.30 hrs the Executive Board has planned a dialogue session at which there will be an opportunity to discuss the progress of Strategy 2030. Those interested in attending can sign up here. The session will be held in the movie theater at De Zwarte Doos.