Prof. Dr. Max Fleischer studied technical physics and received his PhD from TU- Munich, his habilitation and honorary professorship from the TU-Budapest and became an honorary member of the Hungarian Academy of Science. He has been a long-years member of the Corporate Technology of Siemens, advancing gas sensors for various applications, tunable laser and IR-spectroscopy for chemical process analysis. His recent activities focus on energy related topics: conversion of CO2 using renewable electricity into chemicals and fuel, new energy storage and dispersed photovoltaic energy generation. Acting as Chief Key Expert Energy Technologies he took the scientific lead of the research directions and long-term technology road mapping. In 2020 he joined the newly formed Siemens Energy Organization working in the corporate department for Strategy & Technology and Innovation in the role as Chief Key Expert. There he is supporting the CTO and working on a corporate level for Siemens Energy Innovations for the new energy system.
Max Fleischer is engaged in various entities, member of the editorial board of the Journal for Measurement Science & Technology, member of the board of trustees for Max Plank and Fraunhofer Institutes, chairing the industrial board of the European cyclic energy initiative SUNERGY, being member of the steering committee in various conferences and in the industrial board of various institutes and projects. He has 330 publications and has delivered over 70 keynote lectures yielding an H-index of 35. Fleischer is also co-inventor in about 180 international patent families. He is lecturing at the Technical University of Budapest on “Trends in New Technologies and Products.”
How would you define LICROX?
LICROX is a consortium of partners with complementary state of the art knowledge. It’s a worldwide action working to create a renewable energy system. LICROX has a sustainable approach that will allow for our well-being as well as industrial goals without depleting our resources. I see different technologies are being pursued for this cause, but what I like the most about the LICROX project (that other systems don’t present) is its direct use of sunshine, without too many processes involved.
What is the future potential of LICROX’s photoelectrochemical cells (PEC) to produce renewable energy?
LICROX has great potential. As the main outcome of the project, I would expect the basic demonstration that the LICROX system works. Later on, this approach will need to be developed to reach the industrial scale, but for now, we first need proof that this interesting approach works.
We come from a centralised energy system and at some point, we’ll need to decentralise the production of energy and fuels. Renewable energies tend to be more decentralised, which is the path LICROX is embracing. The project’s device plans on using sunshine as the only energetic input to produce fuel precursors, which means we will be able to generate chemicals and energetic products in sun-rich countries, de-centralising their production. This way, you avoid the need for lengthy production processes, which also has the potential to improve the processes’ efficiency while avoiding the need to transport both the fuels as well as the product. With the LICROX approach, sun-rich countries can generate fuels and chemicals on-site and consume them where they are generated. In the future, this system can be expanded and work at a larger scale where production is based in sun-rich countries and then part of the products are transported to other countries.
The EU Green Deal focuses on sustainability and climate protection. Isn’t there a big gap between the Commission’s goals and the energy sector? How should it be bridged?
No, there’s no gap. The energy sector is fully in line with the green deal. We will still see a growth in energy usage, which is good business for the energy sector, we will just see a change of products. Classically, it used to be coal burning and oil products. But now we know sustainability is good for our society, so the players of the energy system are really keen to step into products that generate renewable energy for society.
Renewable products will become a huge business in the future, we will need a lot of huge machines to be able to generate, store and distribute these renewable energies. The energy sector is preparing itself to be able to deliver this to its customers. It’s just a change of the product, of the technology used.
Do you think it’s achievable for the EU to have no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050? What are in your opinion the key stepping stones to do so?
It’s a very ambitious goal! When I look at our climate goals, I have the feeling we are late and that we need to speed up. The technology to achieve this is already available so, we need to accelerate the implementation of these carbon dioxide neutral technologies. It’s starting, but too slow. Right now, we need to differentiate between existing technologies and future ones: we need to use what we have available and in parallel, we need to develop the next generation of sustainable technologies – this is where LICROX contributes.
I think our society is ready to take on clean energy but we need to be aware that currently clean energy in Europe is more expensive than fossil energy, so I think there need to be some economic incentives. As an example, when we buy fuel at a gas station, the cost of fossil fuels is 0,40 € the rest is distribution and taxes. Today we produce clean fuels but their cost is something above 1,20 €, this means it will be much more expensive for the consumer, but if it’s cost-competitive people would use it. I think the European Commission needs to work on economic incentives to accelerate the take-up of renewable energies.
What do you think is the best formula to foster collaborative research between industry and academia?
I think that for a technology company like Siemens Energy, collaboration with academia is of utmost importance. As a company, we can only survive if we have state of the art technology that covers our customers’ needs. Academic research shows what can be done or what will become feasible in five or ten years but it’s the industry that has a better view and the trust of both customers and the market to implement the changes. One of my main missions at Siemens is having close connections to academia to learn what is going on and to see where Siemens can help to bring innovation to the market and eventually bring these two worlds together.