Sustainable materials for the energy transition

Founding director  Ulrich S. Schubert, left, in conversation with doctoral candi
Founding director Ulrich S. Schubert, left, in conversation with doctoral candidate Öykü Simsek in a laboratory of the recently founded Helmholtz Institute for Polymers in Energy Applications HIPOLE Jena. Image: Jens Meyer (University of Jena)

The Helmholtz Institute for Polymers in Energy Applications (HIPOLE Jena), which was founded by the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin (Helmholtz Centre for Materials and Energy, HZB) in cooperation with Friedrich Schiller University Jena, was officially opened on 17 June 2024. It is dedicated to the development of sustainable polymer materials for energy technologies. These materials are intended to play a key role in the energy transition and support Germany’s goal of becoming climate-neutral by 2045.

The institute, which receives 5.5 million euros in annual funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Free State of Thuringia, is focussing on the development of polymer-based batteries, polymer additives for perovskite solar cells and sustainable materials for energy applications. These technologies promise efficient and environmentally friendly solutions for energy storage and conversion.

"HIPOLE will play a central role in research and development at Friedrich Schiller University Jena. Through interdisciplinary collaboration in the fields of chemistry, physics and materials science, HIPOLE Jena will set new standards in cutting-edge research into polymers for energy applications such as batteries and solar cells," says Georg Pohnert, Interim President of the University of Jena.

Thanks to the advance funding from the Free State of Thuringia, which began construction at an early stage, HIPOLE Jena was able to move into a modern laboratory building on the Landgrafen Campus of the University of Jena shortly after it was founded. The laboratory rooms were equipped in the first half of 2024, and actual research began in spring 2024. "We are moving extremely quickly here," says Ulrich S. Schubert, founding director of HIPOLE Jena.

HIPOLE Jena is embedded in a lively academic and entrepreneurial environment on the Landgrafen Campus. It also works closely with the Center for Energy and Environmental Chemistry Jena (CEEC Jena) - which promotes interdisciplinary cooperation and the rapid transfer of knowledge. By combining polymer chemistry, materials science and artificial intelligence, the researchers at HIPOLE Jena aim to develop new technologies for energy storage, hydrogen production and photovoltaics.

"With HIPOLE Jena, we are in a position to provide strong impetus for the development of new materials for energy technologies at a top international level," says Schubert. Bernd Rech, scientific director of HZB, adds that "the expertise in the field of polymer chemistry and its applications at the University of Jena complements HZB’s experience in photovoltaics, battery research and the latest methods for investigating chemical processes perfectly."

Background: Polymers

Polymers are large molecules consisting of many repeating chemical subunits. They can be utilized in a variety of different forms - from rigid, solid materials to soft, flexible gels. The advantages of polymers lie in their versatility and their customizability through the choice of molecular building blocks during production. They can be specially developed to be lightweight, flexible and extremely durable. In addition, they are often inexpensive to produce and can have properties such as conductivity or heat resistance. This makes them ideal for applications in areas such as energy generation, energy storage or electronics.