"Siemens Research Center" Starting at RWTH
Siemens and RWTH want to achieve the first worldwide external "Siemens Research Center" together. Siemens is providing a total of 6 million Euros for the ambitious undertaking, which is planned for four years. January 1, 2012 is the start of the project, and it is expected that at least nine doctoral students will complete their studies through the Siemens Research Center. "A cooperation of this scale and with such an ambitious research program is a first, even for RWTH Aachen, which is positioned extremely well among industry cooperations. I am pleased that Siemens and RWTH Aachen take this important collaborative step," said Professor Ernst Schmachtenberg, Rector of RWTH, during the agreement signing at the end of October.
Research at the new center focuses on so-called "Rare Earth Elements (Seltene Erden)," important raw materials in key technologies and high-tech products. Siemens AG also uses rare earth elements for a number of its products, for example industrial drives, generators in wind turbines, or modern medical engineering technology.
Rare Earth Elements
In the processes currently used for the mining and production of rare earth elements, there is considerable potential for optimization regarding sustainability and long-term ecological tolerability. In order to guarantee long-term sufficient supply of these metals, which are essential to high-tech industries, the methods and practices of rare earth element production have to be taken into account, in addition to the mineral deposits themselves. Siemens and RWTH are taking up these prominent issues in the newly established collaborative research center. The goal is to develop methods and processes for the environmentally friendly and efficient allocation of rare earth elements for permanent magnets.
There are a total of four clusters that deal with the secure evaluation of deposits: the development of sustainable processes, the production and extraction of the metals, the life-cycle analysis during rare element production, and the development of efficient methods for recycling rare earth methods. Four RWTH academic departments, Forschungszentrum Jülich, and experts from the Siemens sector in industry are all involved. Coordination for the content of the research project is led by Professor Bernd Friedrich, Head of the Institute "IME Process Metallurgy and Metal Recycling" on the RWTH side; Professor Dieter Wegener, Head of Product Development in the Industry Sector, is responsible for the coordination of the involved business branches at Siemens.
Siemens Center of Knowledge Interchange
The DFG support instrument "Collaborative Research Center" (Sonderforschungsbereich, SFB) served as a model for the new "Siemens Research Center." As an SFB, ambitious, long term research programs are funded and become innovative topics and issues that are worked on through an interdisciplinary perspective. "Even in innovative enterprises, particularly in ones so technology-oriented such as Siemens, there are long term oriented research topics that encompass basic and application oriented fields. These are best worked on in cooperation with high quality research partners. That is why we analyzed the SFB model, to see what we could learn from it about forming our own research partnerships," said Wegener. The Siemens Research Area (also SFB for short) concept and content was developed with the help of involved RWTH Aachen professors.
RWTH Aachen University is one of eight worldwide strategic partner universities in the "Siemens Center of Knowledge Interchange" program. The goal of the CKI exchange program is the construction and support of an F&E network between the involved institutions, as well as the identification and development of joint research topics. "Our long-term close collaboration with RWTH within the framework of the CKI program outlines an important prerequisite for establishing the Siemens Research Area Rare Earth Elements at the Aachen university. In addition to the evident technical excellence of RWTH researchers, it was important for us to bring a reliable and well-experienced partner on board for collaboration with Siemens," said Professor Siegfried Russworm, CEO of Siemens Industry Sector and sponsor of the CKI partnership with RWTH Aachen.