RWTH and Regional Partners Succeed in “Clusters4Future” Ideas Competition


“NeuroSys” and “Hydrogen” Future Clusters to be funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research with up to 90 million euros


The Federal Ministry of Education and Research, or BMBF for short, has announced the winners of the "Clusters4Future" ideas competition. The seven clusters funded include the proposals for the Future Cluster “NeuroSys - Neuromorphic Hardware for Autonomous Artificial Intelligence Systems” and the “Hydrogen” Future Cluster. Both proposals were submitted by RWTH Aachen University along with numerous regional partners and will be coordinated by RWTH in the coming years. The BMBF will finance the research activities with up to 90 million euros. "Clusters4Future" is part of the German Government's High-Tech Strategy 2025. The open-topic competition targets regional innovation networks that combine the strengths of different actors, tap into emerging fields of innovation, and develop solutions for the challenges of the future.

“NeuroSys - Neuromorphic Hardware for Autonomous Artificial Intelligence Systems”

NeuroSys brings together RWTH Aachen University, Forschungszentrum Jülich, AMO GmbH, the Aachen Chamber of Commerce IHK, and the companies AixACCT Systems GmbH, AIXTRON SE, AppTek GmbH, ELMOS Semiconductor SE, RWTH Innovation GmbH, and STAR Healthcare Management. Also involved are the start-ups AiXscale Photonics UG, Black Semiconductor GmbH, Clinomic GmbH, and Gremse-IT GmbH. Professor Max Lemme from the Chair of Electronic Components and Managing Director of AMO GmbH will be coordinating the consortium’s work. The aim is to develop neuromorphic hardware for artificial intelligence applications and make Germany and Europe technologically independent. The German Ministry of Education and Research provides a total of up to 45 million euros for these projects.

In Europe, there are only a few global corporations in the hardware and software sector. Technological independence is of strategic importance, as artificial intelligence will be the building block for the next stage of global development. However, this critical technology is not only the basis for future economic growth, but it is also crucial in helping us master the major societal challenges of our time, such as climate change, health, work, or mobility. At the same time, artificial intelligence (AI) brings new challenges. For example, training large neural networks based on modern graphics processing units (GPUs) with deep-learning methods causes high CO2 emissions, further aggravating the climate problem. GPU-based neural networks are therefore ecologically unsustainable.

Resource-saving neuromorphic hardware that makes neural networks more efficient and includes data security as a design component is becoming the key to the widespread use of AI. This is particularly relevant for application in autonomous vehicles, medical technology, and sensor networks for intelligent production or urban regions. Neuromorphic systems are modeled on the two basic building blocks of the human brain: neurons and synapses. By integrating new materials with specific properties, they can ideally perform on-site processing of data in a way that conserves resources. This is summarized under the keyword "memristive" - from the English "memory" for memory and "resistor" for electrical resistance.

Scientists at RWTH Aachen University and Forschungszentrum Jülich have already been able to demonstrate the functionality of neuromorphic devices made of memristive materials. However, there are no pilot lines or production capacities worldwide to manufacture or integrate neuromorphic chips on an industrial scale. The entire ecosystem of hardware, design, algorithms, and application-driven software must work together to take advantage of the great benefits of neuromorphic hardware. Therefore, what is needed is a whole paradigm shift, offering the chance to take a leading position in this new technology. The goal of NeuroSys is to be the drive for this shift by developing the decisive prerequisites here.

In addition to economic success, aspects such as social benefit and the ethics of artificial intelligence must be considered. These socio-economic conditions are essential for new technologies, especially those with such a potential range of influence. NeuroSys will also advance research in these areas and aims to develop recommendations for action in society and politics.

“The Future Cluster is a great opportunity for the Aachen-Jülich region, especially in connection with the structural change in the Rhenish mining region. We are committed to catalyzing the transfer of excellent science into companies and start-ups in the region. Our vision is to set up a production line for memristive devices in the Aachen region, where the co-integration of neuromorphic functions through new materials into conventional silicon technology will then take place,” says Professor Lemme.

“Hydrogen” - An Innovation Ecosystem for Hydrogen Production, Storage, and Use

RWTH Aachen University and Forschungszentrum Jülich were the applicants for the “Hydrogen” Future Cluster. So far, 24 institutes of the two research institutions are involved, as are 47 industrial partners and 16 other organizations. Professor Stefan Pischinger from the Institute for Combustion Engines at RWTH Aachen University is the research cluster’s coordinator.

Currently, the energy industry is still primarily based on limited fossil, carbon-based energy sources, which releases emissions that are harmful to the climate. Hydrogen is seen as the key to a sustainable, CO2-neutral energy economy. With its “National Hydrogen Strategy,” the German Government has set out to advance hydrogen technology. Here, too, Germany will be an energy importer but could achieve a leading international position with technologies to produce, store, distribute, and utilize hydrogen. A prerequisite for this is to continue the research into future-oriented hydrogen technologies in the areas mentioned above while also investigating sustainable production processes. The Future Cluster is pursuing a holistic approach to this.

The Hydrogen Future Cluster’s vision is to implement a CO2-neutral economy. To achieve this, it is necessary to overcome the so-called “Valley of Death” – the valley where many new ideas get stuck on the way to implementation – and transform new innovative solutions into marketable technologies. The challenges are to reduce the material and production costs of the technologies, increase service life and efficiency, and create further incentives for infrastructure investments to strengthen social acceptance.

The Aachen/Jülich area offers a unique high-tech innovation environment along the entire value chain. The scientists at RWTH Aachen University and Forschungszentrum Jülich have already been able to research topic-specific hydrogen technologies in numerous large-scale projects. The Future Cluster brings this network together and into a direct exchange with industry. In this way, all the various pillars of the hydrogen economy are addressed and networked in a comprehensive and in-depth manner: Generation, storage, distribution, and use.

In ten projects, key technologies and innovations are advanced in collaboration between research and industry partners. The topics include electrolyzer and fuel cell technology, low-maintenance, mobile high-pressure storage systems, hybrid separation processes, and the hydrogen combustion engine. An eleventh project addresses the measures that must be part of such innovation in order to create the necessary networks, especially in society.

In the Future Cluster, researchers and their partners will be working on the field of hydrogen in a highly interdisciplinary manner. Aside from relying on the expertise gathered at the interface of technology development, the cluster will also incorporate the developments’ socio-economic aspects.

“We have already formed a powerful network here in the region as part of the Hydrogen Future Cluster today. We are thrilled with the response from the regional and national industry. These are the ideal conditions for us to realize our vision and to create a model region for hydrogen technologies made in Germany,” declares Professor Pischinger.