Six German-Russian Research Groups Receive Three Years of Funding



The new German-Russian funding program “Helmholtz-RSF Joint Research Groups” has completed its second selection phase, in which the Helmholtz Association and the Russian Science Foundation (RSF) selected a further six joint research groups. Each group will receive funding of up to 130,000 euros per year from the Helmholtz Association’s Initiative and Networking Fund as well as support in the same amount from RSF for a period of three years. The second of a total of three rounds of calls for proposals focused on the two fields of “Energy Storage and Grid Integration” and “Climate Research.” The first round in 2017 called for proposals in the fields of “Biomedicine” and “Information and Data Science.”

“Russia is an important partner for our cooperation in many fields of research,” says Otmar D. Wiestler, the President of the Helmholtz Association. “The supply of energy in the future and climate change are two such fields, and our new funding instrument therefore serves as a valuable building block for meaningful progress in these areas. I would like to warmly congratulate the selected researchers and wish them every success in the work that lies ahead of them.”

A total of twelve applications were submitted in the second round of calls for proposals. “The submissions included many outstanding projects,” Wiestler continues. “I am very happy that we were able to select six innovative proposals.” The Helmholtz Association’s mission is to identify solutions for major challenges facing society, science, and the economy. Wiestler notes that international cooperation is an integral part of these efforts. “If we want to achieve real scientific breakthroughs, we need to think beyond the boundaries between countries and disciplines. I am certain that the selected research groups will make valuable contributions in this respect.”

The “Helmholtz-RSF Joint Research Groups” are based on a partnership between the Helmholtz Association and the Russian Science Foundation. A key aspect of this program is supporting young researchers in both Germany and Russia. Each of the selected research projects involves scientists from one of the Helmholtz Centers as well as Russian partners. A total of three rounds of calls for proposals are planned under the “Helmholtz-RSF Joint Research Groups” initiative, and six bilateral projects will be selected in each round. The last call for proposals in 2019 is set to focus on the topic areas of “Materials and Emerging Technologies” and “Structure and Dynamics of Matter.” This round will be kicked off on September 1, 2018, and the deadline for submitting applications will then be November 30, 2018.

The six research projects that have been awarded funding following the latest round of calls for proposals are:

1. Magnetohydrodynamic instabilities: Crucial relevance for large-scale liquid metal batteries and the sun-climate connection

Liquid metal batteries represent a promising option for storing renewable energy. However, the flow instabilities caused by their magnetic field need to be mitigated in order to make them economically viable to use. Similar instabilities have also been observed in the Sun’s magnetic field, which is produced by the movement of the plasma around the Sun. Even weak tidal forces from the planets appear to play a key role here, and this could explain the striking synchronization between the “solar dynamo” and planetary constellations. Scientists from Dresden, Perm, and Moscow will examine this subject – which is still highly speculative but quite relevant to our climate – in close conjunction with the issue of stability for large liquid metal batteries.

2. Fundamental aspects of cryogenic gas liquefaction by magnetic cooling

The term “magnetic cooling” refers to a change in the temperature of special materials, which is caused by a changing magnetic field. This effect is already being used in the field of low-temperature physics, but is also being increasingly explored as a technology for refrigeration at room temperature. Scientists based in Dresden, Darmstadt, and Chelyabinsk are now aiming to make magnetic cooling an established method for liquefying gases in the fields of e-mobility and energy storage. To this end, new magnetic materials need to be developed and examined extensively in high magnetic fields. Conventional techniques for generating liquid hydrogen in particular are still very expensive due to the high technical expenditure. Solid-state magnetic cooling could make this process of gas liquefaction more energy efficient and thereby open up new possibilities for the energy transition.

3. Ammonia slip catalysts: Promoting a fundamental understanding of mechanism and function

Ammonia is an attractive, comparatively easy-to-handle energy storage molecule for hydrogen that is used to operate fuel cells in homes or commercial vehicles. When ammonia is broken down by catalysis to produce hydrogen, very small quantities of ammonia (ammonia slip) are inevitably released. This project aims to develop a new generation of ammonia slip catalysts (ASC) that remove non-reacting ammonia. To this end, the Boreskov Institute of Catalysis (BIC) and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) will pool their expertise in the fields of producing bimetallic catalysts, detailed kinetic measurements, and characterization using cutting-edge operando methods. The experts will work together to explain the conversion mechanisms of ammonia, develop a new generation of catalysts for energy conversion on this basis, and thereby contribute to protecting our environment.

4. Biological effects of global warming on cold-adapted endemic amphipods of Lake Baikal

Located in Eastern Siberia, Lake Baikal is the largest and deepest lake in the world. Its water has an extremely low salt content and is clear, rich in oxygen, and extremely cold throughout the year with an average temperature of six degrees Celsius. Nonetheless, the numerous endemic aquatic organisms in Lake Baikal are extremely active in comparison with species that are not found in Baikal. In this project, researchers will be conducting exemplary analyses of amphipods at the physiological and proteome levels to examine what enables species in Baikal to adapt so well to low water temperatures. Lake Baikal is being significantly affected by climate change, and an increase in the water’s average annual temperature has already been recorded. The project’s goal is to provide data that makes it possible to predict the water temperature at which species in Baikal are no longer at an advantage in comparison to other species and could therefore be displaced by species that are not native to Baikal.

5. European hydro-climate extremes: mechanisms, predictability, and impacts

Climate projections predict an increase in extreme events such as heavy rainfalls, floods, heat waves, and droughts. However, these projections are based on simplified models of the terrestrial system which have a relatively low spatial resolution. This can lead to a large degree of uncertainty in the output of the models. This project will enhance the resolution of the climate models across Europe many times over and simulate the terrestrial system in its entirety, from the groundwater, to the surface of the land, to the atmosphere. It will make it possible to produce physically consistent projections of the terrestrial water and energy cycle in which extreme events can be modeled with a much higher degree of precision.

6. The linkage between polar air-sea ice-ocean interaction, Arctic climate change and Northern hemisphere weather and climate extremes (Polex)

The Arctic's climate is subject to more rapid changes than the global climate. Shrinking sea ice during the summer months in particular causes changes in the weather in the Arctic and also influences the large circulation systems in the middle latitudes. Extreme weather and climate events such as cold spells, droughts, or heat waves can occur more frequently. Previous climate models have major deficits when it comes to reproducing the observed atmospheric circulation patterns and the development of sea ice in the Arctic. This is partly because they have difficulties in modeling the processes that determine the interactions taking place at the interface between the atmosphere, ice, and ocean. This project aims to develop a new class of parameterizations that is designed especially for polar conditions and will represent the physical processes at the interface between the atmosphere, ice, and ocean. The influence of the new parameterizations on changes in the Arctic’s weather and climate, Arctic sea ice, and atmospheric circulation patterns in the middle latitudes will then be examined and quantified.