’Everything I need for work is in my backpack’

Simon Lux is a professor of energy storage technology and industrial chemistry and director of the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Battery Cell Production

Simon Lux, shown here with a battery cell in an innovation lab at the FFB PreFab
Simon Lux, shown here with a battery cell in an innovation lab at the FFB PreFab, completed his doctorate under Martin Winter at the MEET Battery Research Centre at the University of Münster. © Fraunhofer FFB
It all begins with a few ingredients: a bit of metal, a few powders. In the end, you have a finished battery cell. "This used to fascinate me even as a student. Back then, it was incredibly exciting for me to build a battery myself," recalls Simon Lux. "Today, it’s important to me that my research directly benefits society." The transfer of knowledge is a central concern to Professor Lux, as it offers an opportunity to bring about positive change.

Simon Lux, born in 1983, has been a member of the management trio at the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Battery Cell Production (Fraunhofer FFB) in Münster since 2022. At the same time he started at Fraunhofer FFB, he was appointed professor of applied electrochemical energy storage technology and industrial chemistry at the University of Münster. "The research in the Faculty of Chemistry and Pharmacy, at the School of Business and Economics and at the MEET Battery Research Centre dovetails perfectly with Fraunhofer research," he explains. "We are constantly exchanging ideas - these synergies characterise ’Battery City Münster’."

Fraunhofer FFB will be operating two research facilities, the "FFB PreFab" and the "FFB Fab", in the Hansa Business Park in Münster-Amelsbüren. The FFB PreFab is slated to open at the end of April. The facility will be capable of producing up to 100 large battery cells per day on a production line covering an area of 3,000 square metres. In the second construction phase, the planned FFB Fab (to be completed in 2027) will be a 20,000 square metre research facility of gigantic scale. Here, the production speed will be increased to two large or 30 small battery cells per minute. According to Simon Lux, the speed is unlike anything currently available in the battery research sector and corresponds to the rate of production in a large-scale, commercial battery factory. Only the number of parallel production lines is higher in industrial production.

Simon Lux, who comes from Villach in Austria, works at two offices: one at the Leonardo Campus at the University of Münster and one at Fraunhofer FFB. The Fraunhofer FFB offices are located in the Hiltrup district, opposite the railway station. There are no personal workstations there, which also applies to the management team. "Everything I need for work is in my backpack, mainly my laptop. I have all the documents I need digitally", says the chemist. On this day in March, he is wearing white trainers, jeans and a blue jacket. As he brews cappuccino at the fully automatic coffee machine in the open-plan kitchenette at Fraunhofer FFB and later loads the dishwasher, he could easily pass for a doctoral candidate. Yet he has long since left this phase of his scientific career behind him and is now a doctoral supervisor himself.

His career began in Graz where he studied technical chemistry, after which he completed his doctorate under Martin Winter at the MEET Battery Research Centre at the University of Münster. If you ask Simon Lux for an anecdote from his time as a doctoral candidate, he recalls a bitter disappointment. One year into his doctorate, he was due to present his results at a major conference in the USA. "I was proud of it and very excited - it felt like a reward for a year of hard work," he remembers. But shortly before his departure from Frankfurt, he learned of a recent change in passport rules. His papers were not valid, and he was not allowed to fly. Instead, he returned home to Münster defeated. However, this mishap did not detract from his scientific success. He completed his doctoral thesis in 2011 with the top grade of "summa cum laude".

Simon Lux went to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the US to complete his postdoc. In 2013 he landed a job in the commercial sector. He initially worked for BMW of North America in their Californian Technology Office in Silicon Valley as a technology scout for battery technologies, later becoming the team leader responsible for all projects related to the development of innovative electric drives. "I saw a lot of PowerPoint presentations from start-ups in Silicon Valley. But my goal was to turn these promising ideas into reality," says Simon Lux. That’s why he moved to Munich in 2017 to kickstart production technologies for next-generation lithium-ion cells for motor vehicles at BMW, among other things. The next and latest stop brought him back to Münster with his partner and his twoand four-and-a-half-year-old sons.

Simon Lux has plenty of reasons to be proud of his professional success. But above all, he is pleased that he has managed to reconcile work and family life. His former hobby, sport, has had to take a back seat. Be it ice hockey, badminton, table tennis or skiing - Simon Lux no longer has time for them. He only occasionally attends his favourite sport, ice hockey, as a spectator - regardless of which teams are playing.

Opening of the "FFB PreFab"

Following the commissioning of a coating facility with cleanroom technology at the AlexProWerk of the Alexianer-Werkstätten in Münster in 2021, the Fraunhofer Research Institution for Battery Cell Production (FFB) is currently building the FFB PreFab and FFB Fab at the Hansa Business Park in Münster-Amelsbüren. On 30 April the FFB PreFab, built in the first construction phase, will be opened in front of an invited audience. In the FFB PreFab, batteries will be manufactured according to industrial standards, but in smaller quantities. The cells are exclusively intended for research purposes and will not be sold commercially. The FFB Fab, to be completed in the second construction phase, will achieve factory-scale dimensions and cycle times.

The Fraunhofer FFB’s goal is to create the infrastructure to make battery production sustainable, efficient and scalable. The hurdles are certainly challenging. For the energy transition to work, significantly less energy needs to flow into battery production itself. It is also essential to reduce material consumption. At present, battery production is a waste-intensive industry. Thirdly, production must be expanded to keep up with the growing demand for batteries in Europe. Fraunhofer FFB’s task is therefore to transfer cutting-edge technologies to industry in order to drive technological progress for the energy transition.

This article first appeared in the University newspaper wissen