Distinguished professorship for expert in electrochemical processes

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FAU Professor Dr. Bastian Etzold, Power to X technology. Image: FAU / Harald Sippel

FAU Professor Dr. Bastian Etzold receives five million euros as part of Hightech Agenda Bayern to research power-to-X technologies

The Faculty of Engineering at FAU has received a distinguished professorship from the Bavarian State Ministry of Science and the Arts: As part of the High-Tech Agenda Bavaria, Prof. Dr. Bastian Etzold, Chair of Power-to-X Technologies, has been awarded five million euros in funding.

“Bastian Etzold is an ideal match for FAU in terms of the developments in hydrogen technology. Our top-level scientists successfully carry out research on concepts to push forward the transition to renewable energy. With his expertise, Bastian Etzold will further strengthen research into energy, develop new ideas for innovations, and drive forward collaborations such as the collaboration with the Helmholtz Institute Erlangen-Nürnberg for Renewable Energy,” explains FAU President Prof. Dr. Joachim Hornegger.

Science Minister Markus Blume adds: “Professor Etzold’s visionary research helps us to achieve a rapid transition to a sustainable society with a high standard of living for which we need processes and materials for the production, utilization and storage of renewable electrical energy and for the synthesis of chemical products. With its strong key research priorities in energy, environment and climate, FAU provides excellent research infrastructure for the research and development of these processes and materials to Professor Etzold as a young and renowned scientist. At the same time, his appointment increases FAU’s international reputation and demonstrates the powerful leverage of our Bavarian program for distinguished professorships in the global competition for the most talented minds.”

Electrochemical production: Green alternative to  combustion processes

Prof. Dr. Bastian Etzold is sure that: “Electrochemical processes are one of the cornerstones of the green chemical industry of the future. As an alternative to the combustion processes currently in use for energy provision, they could revolutionize industry.” This is because, in ideal cases, electrochemical processes use green electricity instead of fossil energy sources to trigger chemical reactions.

One example is electrochemical water splitting to produce hydrogen. However, there are still many challenges to overcome: “The processes in the electrolyzers are extremely complex and must be attuned precisely. The processes that take place comprise around eight magnitudes. In comparative terms – if the water molecule were the same size as a soccer ball, we would have to monitor phenomena up to the size of our Earth,” explains Bastian Etzold.

Electrolyzers are used to produce a chemical reaction by means of an electric current. They comprise two electrodes coated with a catalyst which are held apart by a membrane. When current is applied to the electrodes, the water is split into hydrogen at one electrode and oxygen at the other. Catalysts are used to reduce the energy required for this splitting reaction. Gas bubbles are created and cover the catalyst which blocks further splitting until the bubbles detach. Carbon dioxide is an example of another raw material that can be used as well as water in other electrochemical processes, which also involve the transport of these materials to the electrodes. “We have to control and monitor these processes down to the smallest detail to ensure that we can used the electricity and materials used in the most efficient way.” Many products that we use everyday such as fertilizers, materials for lightweight construction or sanitary products will use hydrogen electrolysis or direct electrochemical synthesis in the future for sustainable production.

Power to X technology

But Professor Etzold’s vision goes much further than the use of green electricity. “We want to use CO2 as a source of carbon to bind greenhouse gases and make production independent from fossil fuels”. Power to X technology filters carbon dioxide from exhaust gases and the air and converts it into synthetic substances for storing energy or raw materials for the chemical industry. This process either uses hydrogen produced during electrolysis or conversion is initiated directly in the electrolyzer. Etzold and his team will investigate both processes as part of the new FAU professorship. “In the short-term, CO2 will be converted in an upstream industrial process after hydrogen electrolysis. Our goal is to replace this process in future and use the electrolyzer directly for complex chemical processes,” says Etzold.

Etzold’s research focuses on custom carbon-based materials that are the foundation for Power to X technology. “These custom materials need to have several functional properties, such as high electrical conductivity and rapid transport of all chemicals. We are investigating the interaction of material properties and processes under technically relevant conditions that can be used for designing industrial production processes. Digital simulations and 3D printing methods help to deepen our insights and analyze the effects on the entire production chain.”

Prof. Etzold shares more about the Power to X technology in a German video on youtube.

Distinguished professorship strengthens FAU’s presence in Fürth

The new Chair of Power to X Technology is based at Technikum in Fürth and collaborates with the Institute of Advanced Materials and Processes (ZMP). Researchers at the institute work on interdisciplinary research in materials science, mechanical engineering, chemistry and physics. The institute transfers innovative research into practice by developing prototypes from fundamental research from the work of all of its chairs.

About Bastian Etzold

Professor Bastian Etzold was appointed to the Chair of Power to X Technology at FAU in August 2023. Etzold graduated in chemical and biological engineering at FAU in 2004 and graduated in economics at the State Distance Learning University in Hagen. He completed his doctoral degree in chemical process engineering at the University of Bayreuth before he returned to FAU, where he was a postdoctoral fellow at the Cluster of Excellence “Engineering of Advanced Materials”.

From 2010 to 2015, he was professor of catalytic materials at FAU. During this time, he was also a guest researcher in material sciences at Drexel University in Pennsylvania, USA on a Feodor Lynen Research Fellowship, funded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. In 2015, Professor Etzold applied for an ERC Consolidator Grant at FAU, and received funding of two million euros in 2016, although he had already transferred to the Technical University of Darmstadt as a professor of technical chemistry by that time.

During his time at FAU, Bastian Etzold coordinated the EU research project “SusFuelCat” for improving sustainability in energy production. Bastian Etzold has been a chairperson of the Dechema committee for chemical engineering and vice president of the carbon working group since 2017. He is a member of the steering committee for the German Society for Catalysis and a member of the selection committee for awarding research scholarships at the Alexander von Humboldt Stiftung.

Bavarian Distinguished Professorship Program

Through the distinguished professorship program which is part of the High-Tech Agenda Bavaria, the Bavarian State Ministry of Science and the Arts is demonstrating its commitment to funding research at the highest level. Professorships at state universities in Bavaria that are appointed within this program are funded with up to five million euros over a five-year period. This creates excellent conditions for proven luminaries from Germany and abroad. The distinguished professorship program also has funding lines for appointments for Universities of Applied Science (HAW) and Universities of the Arts. Around 43 million euros of funding have been earmarked for the distinguished professorship program from 2021 until 2023.

Bastian Etzold at the Global Market Leader Innovation Day 2023

On September 14, the Global Market Leader Innovation Day associated with the business news magazine Wirtschaftswoche and co-initiated by FAU will be held in Erlangen. Professor Bastian Etzold will be talking on the role of hydrogen as a future energy carrier at the event.

Further information:

Chair for Power to X technology
Phone: +49 911 65078 65000

The professorship is funded by the distinguished professorship program which is part of the High-Tech Agenda Bavaria. With this program, the Bavarian government is providing funding for key areas for the future  such as artificial intelligence, clean tech and aeronautics, strengthening Bavaria’s leading position in research and teaching and encouraging the development of new ideas and the latest technologies and their practical application.