Sustainability of and through Materials

Shaping our future in terms of sustainable technologies, new materials and industrial processes is one of the most important topics of our generation and we are in need of scientific and engineering answers. How can we avoid the use of carbon as energy and reductant carrier in the entire field of materials science and engineering? How can we make better and rare-earth free permanent magnets for electrical vehicles? How can we render alloys sustainable and improve recycling rates? Which are the novel materials that can withstand embrit­tlement caused by hydrogen? And what is the potential of new thermoelectric and so­lar cell absorber materials for green power generation? We have devoted our efforts to provide answers to these pressing ques­tions, showing you here some of our cur­rent research in the field of sustainability.

All about Hydrogen
Here you will find all information about hydrogen research at the MPIE. The list contains research projects as well as press releases on latest publications and explanatory videos. more

Explanatory Videos 

All topics concerning sustainability and decarburization

World record in solar cell efficiency achieved

Researcher team published recent findings in the journal Nature more

Hydrogen-associated decohesion and localized plasticity in a high-Mn two-phase lightweight steel

Hydrogen embrittlement (HE) is one of the most dangerous embrittlement problems in metallic materials and  advanced high-strength steels (AHSS) are particularly prone to HE with the presence of only a few parts-per-million of H. However, the HE mechanisms in these materials remain elusive, especially for the lightweight steels where the composition and microstructure significantly differ from the traditional plain-carbon steels. Here we focus on a high-Mn and high-Al lightweight steel and unravel the effects of H-associated decohesion and localized plasticity on its H-induced catastrophic failure.


The dual role of martensitic transformation in fatigue crack growth

About 90% of all mechanical service failures are caused by fatigue. Avoiding fatigue failure requires addressing the wide knowledge gap regarding the micromechanical processes governing damage under cyclic loading, which may be fundamentally different from that under static loading. This is particularly true for deformation-induced martensitic transformation (DIMT), one of the most common strengthening mechanisms for alloys. Here, we identify two antagonistic mechanisms mediated by martensitic transformation during the fatigue process through in situ observations and demonstrate the dual role of DIMT in fatigue crack growth and its strong crack-size dependence. Our findings open up avenues for designing fatigue-resistant alloys through optimal use of DIMT. They also enable the development of physically based lifetime prediction models with higher fidelity.

Hybrid hydrogen-based reduction of iron ores

Replacing carbon by hydrogen as the reducing agent in ironmaking offers a pathway to massively reduce the associated CO2 emissions. However, the production of hydrogen using renewable energy will remain as one of the bottlenecks at least in the next two decades. The underlying reasons are the low electrolysis productivity and the insufficient capacities in both renewable electricity and industrial infrastructures to produce sufficient amounts of green hydrogen, especially in view of the gigantic demand for currently 1.8 billion tons of steel being produced every year, with forecasts predicting 2.4 billion tons by the year 2040. We therefore demonstrate how the efficiency in hydrogen and energy consumption during iron ore reduction can be dramatically improved by the knowledge-based combination of two technologies: partially reducing the ore at low temperature via solid-state hydrogen-based direct reduction (HyDR) to a kinetically defined degree, and subsequently melting and completely transforming it to iron under a reducing plasma (i.e. via hydrogen plasma reduction, HPR) more

Iron powder as metal fuel

To successfully transition from fossil fuels to a sustainable carbon-free energy supply, a safe and stable energy storage technology is required. Recently, metallic powders, and particularly iron powder, have been proposed as a high energy density, easily storable, and commonly traded fuel. Energy production is obtained through the heat of oxidation, and the combusted products can then be reduced at the solid-state using hydrogen coming from sustainable energy sources, resulting in a complete CO2-free energy cycle. While the combustion of iron powders seems very promising in this regard, hardly anything is known about its in-process morphological, microstructural, and chemical evolution, which are critical for the circularity of the concept and the subsequent reduction process.

Hydrogen plasma-based reduction of iron ores

Iron- and steelmaking is the most staggering single source of CO2 emissions on the planet, accounting for ~7% of the global emissions. This fact challenges the current technologies to achieve carbon-lean steel production and reduce CO2 emissions by 80% until 2050. Among the sustainable alternatives for ironmaking, the hydrogen plasma reduction (HPR) is a promising route, as the associated by-product is water. In this process, a hydrogen plasma arc is ignited between an electrode and the ore in a conventional electrical arc furnace (EAF), Figure 1 (a). Thus, melting and reduction occur simultaneously, enabling the production of liquid iron in single step. The highly energetic hydrogen species existing in a reducing plasma also enable exothermic redox chemical reactions with enhanced kinetics, permitting energy savings.

Multiscale and Operando Studies on the Role of Micro- and Nanostructures in Hydrogen-based Direct Reduction of Iron Oxides

The HYDRI project aims at disentangling the correlation between material micro-/nanostructures and the hydrogen-based direct reduction (HyDR) kinetics, to reveal the vital role of acquired defects in HyDR processes. A multiscale and time-resolved operando approach will be used to characterize micro-/nanostructures in HyDR. Gaining better insights into these effects enable improved access to the microstructure-based design of more efficient HyDR methods, with potentially high impact on the urgently needed decarbonization in the steel industry. more


Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF) is the most commonly used Additive Manufacturing processes. One of its biggest advantages it offers is to exploit its inherent specific process characteristics, namely the decoupling the solidification rate from the parts´volume, for novel materials with superior physical and mechanical properties. One prominet example are so called High Modulus Steels, where the combination of strong, ductile and tough metallic matrices with stiff ceramic particles allows the specific modulus (E/ρ) to be increased compared to conventional materials such as aluminum or steel, thereby reducing weight. The aim of this project is to elucidate the synthesis/microstructure/property causalities of high modulus steel fabricated with the LPBF process. more

III-V Semiconductors and alloys at the nanoscale: materi-als design for novel optoelectronic and elastic properties

Designing and controlling the nanoscale structure of semiconductors and alloys is a promising strategy in order to create materials with targeted optoelectronic and mechanical properties. In this context, III-V and III-N nanostructures are particularly attractive candidates for surmounting materials-related challenges in applications ranging from optoelectronics, power electronics and hydrogen diffusion barriers to hard and wear resistant coatings. more

Fundamentals of sustainable hydrogen-based metallurgy

The massive CO2 emissions associated with modern iron- and steelmaking have become one of the largest environmental burdens of our generation, and the international steel market is forecast to grow by at least 30–35 % during the next 30 years [1, 2]. Therefore, the institute conducts interdisciplinary and multiscale research on the physical and chemical foundations for improving the sustainability of steels, with a focus on reduced CO2-intense production and low-energy synthesis. These goals can in principle be reached by combining several types of iron carriers, such as oxidic fines, lump ore, or scrap, with a variety of carbon-free reduction media, such as hydrogen or ammonia, in different types of furnaces.

Improving the performance of thermoelectric materials by microstructure design

Ecological concerns drive the exploration of “green” alternatives to generate electricity. One environmentally-friendly approach is to recycle waste heat by thermoelectric devices to realize the heat-to-electricity conversion. These devices are without moving parts, noise- and carbon-emission free, and can be miniaturized and combined with other energy conversion technologies such as direct solar thermal energy conversion. more

Fe–Al - Sustainable alloys for demanding applications

Iron aluminide (Fe–Al) alloys are materials based on the intermetallic phases Fe3Al and FeAl [1, 2]. Due to their relatively high Al content they form Al2O3 scales in oxidising environments. Specifically α-Al2O3 scales, which are dense, thin and adherent, are very protective against degradation of Fe–Al in aggressive environments [3, 4]. Also due to their Al content, a passive hydroxide layer forms in humid air, which acts as a lubricant, thereby minimising friction and contributing to the excellent wear behaviour of these alloys.

Materials for electrocatalysis

The world’s transition to a more sustainable future requires innovative solutions for energy conversion and storage. Strategies to develop stable, active and durable catalytic materials are an essential part of this development. The continued and concerted effort of different groups at the MPIE to enhance our understanding of the fundamental processes governing the stability, activity and degradation of, e.g., electrolysers in realistic environments and under operando conditions, opens new routes towards designing efficient and long-lived catalysts. more

Providing ab initio simulation techniques to describe the dynamics and reactions at electrified interfaces

Developing and providing accurate simulation techniques to explore and predict structural properties and chemical reactions at electrified surfaces and interfaces is critical to surmount materials-related challenges in the context of sustainability, energy conversion and storage. The groups of C. Freysoldt, M. Todorova and S. Wippermann develop various methods to incorporate finite electric fields in density-functional theory (DFT) and apply them to answer fundamental questions in corrosion, field evaporation, and the thermodynamics and transformation of electrochemical interfaces.

Fundamental Dislocation Processes in Superalloys

Project C3 of the SFB/TR103 investigates high-temperature dislocation-dislocation and dislocation-precipitate interactions in the gamma/gamma-prime microstructure of Ni-base superalloys. more

How do electrochemical reactions work at the quantum level?

Video interview with Stefan Wippermann about his latest research results more

Dr. Yan Ma receives Walter Benjamin Grant of the German Research Foundation<br /> 

Material scientist at the Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung will focus on green steel production

<div style="text-align: left;" align="center">How to avoid 3.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year</div>

The team of the Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung investigates a new route to produce green steel through hydrogen plasma more

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