April 11, 2017 | Karsten Lemmer, DLR Executive Board Member for Energy and Transport

"We develop solutions for sustainable energy supply and mobility"

The topic of Energy 4.0 will play an important role at the Hannover Messe, the world's leading industrial trade fair, which will take place from 24 to 29 April 2017. On this occasion, the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) will once again present its energy research. Karsten Lemmer, DLR Executive Board Member for Energy and Transport, is responsible for the strategic orientation and further development of research work in these greatly socially relevant areas. At DLR, approximately 1200 scientists with a wide range of skills are conducting research into environment-friendly, efficient and cost-effective technologies for sustainable energy and mobility systems. In this interview, Lemmer explains which research topics in the areas of energy and transport at DLR will play a role in shaping the future.

Professor Lemmer, what do you consider to be the challenges for energy and transport research?

Whether we realise it or not, energy and transport are indispensable elements in our daily lives. So it is extremely important that research contributes to steady and effective improvement – both in issues that present major challenges as well as minor ones. In addition, we need to increasingly think about energy and transport as connected disciplines. The key here is to take a cross-sectoral approach. DLR has immense potential here – we will develop unique opportunities and selling points by pooling our resources to a greater extent. A wide variety of expertise comes together at DLR: engineers, computer scientists, psychologists, sociologists, physicians, physicists and people from other disciplines work together on developing solutions. I am looking forward to driving this cooperative spirit at DLR – even beyond the Energy and Transport area.

What are some examples?

If we more closely connect the knowledge about energy and transport, we will have a wealth of expertise at our disposal to approach and process new issues. For instance, effective means must be introduced to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions produced by the transport sector. But this will only be possible if we combine electromobility and the use of regenerative fuels with modifications of vehicle drives, automated driving and intelligent traffic management. To achieve this, we must pool our expertise in the areas of energy and transport research.

What do you think will be the most important issues within energy research?

With its energy research, DLR contributes significantly to the Energy Transition. Fossil energy resources must be replaced with renewable energy sources in order to satisfy our energy requirements in the long term, while at the same time minimising damage to the environment and public health. Equally, though, an energy supply system built on fluctuating resources such as the Sun and wind will only be viable if it incorporates high-performance storage concepts. During the 1980s and 90s, DLR published studies on the energy sector and the development of alternatives to conventional power generation that paved the way for today's highly topical discussions on the Energy Transition. Now we need reliable studies and economically viable technologies in order to create a resilient energy system based to a significant degree on renewable energy sources.

DLR is working on technologies for flexible, robust and environmentally friendly power generation. This cannot be done in an isolated way, but must consider the system from a holistic viewpoint. We use systems analysis studies to determine viable courses of action from the perspective of society and energy policies. They enable us to outline which paths are important and worth considering at a national and international level. But the Energy Transition is more than just an electricity transition. This is why DLR researchers are developing cost-effective storage technologies and efficient energy converters. There is also an immense need for suitable processes for the efficient and affordable production of sustainable fuels. Our DLR stand at the Hannover Messe 2017 will also focus on this aspect. Once again, it will show how closely related the areas of energy and transport are.

Which areas do you intend to focus on within transport research?

Automated driving and the development of alternative drive concepts are two of the highly topical issues in which DLR has made an essential contribution right from the outset. DLR is involved in several national and European-wide projects in the area of automated driving, and has already demonstrated its own developments, such as the fully automated, networked parking system. Automated driving will certainly become reality in the near future, at least in certain areas. For example, our cars will soon be able to negotiate car parks without the assistance of a driver, and the vehicles will take over many laborious driving tasks when travelling on motorways. But whatever developments may come, one aspect remains particularly important: the purpose of technology is to assist people. So technology needs to be designed in such a way that these sweeping changes are accepted and demanded. Overall, I have a positive impression of current developments in the transport sector. In addition to automated driving, our means of transport will be better networked thanks to increasing digitalisation, allowing travellers to enjoy entirely new, user-centric mobility services. In this area as well, DLR will play a significant role in shaping these changes, whether by developing suitable apps or by preparing studies on their implications for our mobility habits.

But that will not necessarily make transportation more environmentally friendly …

That is correct. Protecting the environment and the climate are other important tasks, especially within transportation. The transport sector is responsible for approximately 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in Germany. That is why alternative drive technologies are imperative for climate protection at a national and global level. Whether they use electric drive systems or fuel cells, fuels from biogenic sources, power-to-gas/liquid, hydrogen or solar fuels, there are certainly enough promising technological alternatives to petrol and diesel. DLR is addressing the issue by driving the ongoing development of meaningful systems to the point of market maturity. Important criteria include, for instance, an extended range for electric vehicles, improved durability of fuel cells, and the efficient and green manufacture of alternative fuels.

Imagine that a car that would autonomously transport you and your family to where you need to go in everyday life already exists. Would you feel confident getting in?

It would be great if I did not have to drive myself on motorways or in commuter traffic, and could instead use the time at my own discretion, for instance to read or to write e-mails. There has been significant progress in this area, but a car needs to respond correctly in every conceivable situation, and the driver must have absolute trust that it will do so. We are still conducting tests and defining authorisation requirements to fill these gaps. But once that is done, I would gladly and confidently use this kind of vehicle, also with my family.


Dorothee Bürkle

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Media Relations, Energy and Transport Research