In accordance with Fraunhofer’s guiding principles, we consider it our mission to make our business operations more sustainable. Addressing the classic pillars of sustainability - namely economic security, social justice and ecological viability - enables our institute to shape the future with foresight and accountability. In cooperation and dialog with employees and with other Fraunhofer institutes in the Fraunhofer Sustainability Network we examine topics and generate new ideas to improve our internal processes and our research with the goal of sustainable development.

The use of wind energy and photovoltaics allows us to operate our main campus with a decreasing carbon footprint. This campus comprises over 100 laboratories, pilot plants and test centers on 20 hectares of land in Pfinztal, near Karlsruhe. Our research strategy enables us to combine research and development work in the energy sector with large-scale demonstrators on our campus.

Researching the energy transition

At the Redox-Flow Battery Application Center, we test new battery components on a medium and large scale within the campus' own microgrid environment. The integrated research battery is based on a vanadium redox-flow battery with a current capacity of 10 MW/hr. Since 2018, the research battery has been connected to a 2 MW wind turbine that towers over the campus and, since summer 2023, to an approximately 3,300 m² PV system with 700 kW power output. Wind and solar energy complement each other very well, leading to a steadier energy supply despite weather fluctuations, and thus to improved planning. With our research facilities, our campus forms a real-world demonstrator for renewable energy supply to a community or an industrial area. The interaction between the wind turbine, the photovoltaic system and the large-scale battery researched at the institute provides valuable information for the design and operation of microgrids and their components. Our real-world demonstrator includes additional components, e.g. a 400 kW combined heat and power plant, a 900 kW supercap as an instantaneous reserve and multiple consumers such as chemical laboratories, pilot plants, office buildings and much more.

The main objectives of our research in this sector are significant cost reductions and the technical safety and resilience of components for an affordable and safe energy transition.

In 2020 and 2021, our wind turbine ran for approximately 10,000 hours (approximately 57% of the total possible operating hours) and generated approximately 3.9 GWh of electricity. We consumed just under 80% of this electricity ourselves. We fed about 20% of our wind energy (800 MWh) into the public grid, i.e. enough energy for 100 four-person households. The operating figures for 2022 and 2023 have not yet been evaluated. However, we expect a further significant increase in our energy production, especially through the commissioning of the new PV system, so that we can cover about 2/3 of our electricity needs with wind and solar.

As regards the heat transition, we still have work to do on our campus. We generate around 2 GWh of heat per year via a natural-gas-fired CHP unit, and we have also integrated an oil-fired heating system into our heating network. Optimizing our heating requirements and expanding our local heating network will be a further objective in the coming years.

Many of our other projects focus on sustainable issues.  For several years now, these projects have not merely served to enhance the ecological image of the industry, but rather have increasingly become a decisive economic factor. Topics include energy efficiency improvements in mobility applications and the construction industry, recycling of material flows, sustainable product design, defossilization of chemical production processes, sustainable and resilient material and energy cycles, use of renewable raw materials, substitution of critical materials, comprehensive life-cycle analyses (LCA) in the aviation industry, and many more.