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Cheaper and more efficient electronics solutions are not only good for the climate, but also for our health

‘When we talk about CO2 reduction and fighting against climate change, electronics are super important.’

So says Thomas Ebel, who researches in power electronics at the Centre for Industrial Electronics. In the Centre, they have committed themselves to working with the 3rd, 7th, 8th, 9th and 11th SDGs, as this is where they feel their skills can best be expressed.

Specifically, Thomas Ebel says of their work:

‘We are working on new components for semiconductors and passive components to improve the drive train of electrical and other electrical vehicles. When you get more power out of the battery then you can extend the range, and you don’t need to charge your vehicle so often.’

This can also be transferred to other devices that rely heavily on electronics, points out Thomas Ebel. Examples include refrigeration systems and air conditioning.

Fortunately, Denmark does not have the same problems with heat as other countries. In hot countries, there is a great need for cooling systems and air conditioning, which use a large amount of electricity. In this context, power electronics can have a significant impact by improving cooling systems and at the same time improving living conditions in cities by reducing their energy consumption.

‘Big cities suffer from air pollution due to traffic, and if we could accelerate the transition of private and public transport to electric vehicles, then the pollution would go down, so it’s all linked to power electronics,’ argues Thomas Ebel.

How can a city become sustainable?

A city as a whole uses a lot of electricity. Not only does this mean that we consume a lot of electricity, but also that there is a lot of waste associated with it,’ says Thomas Ebel, explaining that this affects not only cooling and heating systems and transport options, but also food supply.

He argues that if we reduce our consumption and, for example, minimise food waste, we will not only increase efficiency but also reduce CO2 emissions.

‘The less energy you need, the better,’ is the conclusion.

However, there is a big difference in how sustainability is understood in large cities than it is in small cities.

Large cities have more problems related to heat, as they typically have more and larger buildings that generate heat. Therefore, they more often need cooling systems. 

At the same time, the planet Earth is getting warmer, so there is generally a greater need for cooling systems to ensure good living conditions.

Power electronics, noise reduction and better living conditions

Power electronics not only has an impact on the reduction of CO2 emissions. It can also have an impact on noise and therefore on people’s quality of life, as too much noise can affect our health on several levels.

‘Electric machines are usually not as loud as capacitor machines,’ says Thomas Ebel, explaining why electric machines do not damage our hearing to the same extent. 

‘In the direct path, noise can damage hearing even at lower dB levels,’ explains Oliver Niebuhr, associate professor and specialist in acoustics at the Centre for Industrial Electronics, adding that the extent of exposure to noise, both daily and in the long term, is also important.
In this connection, he explains that there are four aspects to consider if we want to reduce noise levels in cities.

  1. Electric vehicles alone will not solve the problem of traffic noise. ‘The surface noise created by the tyres of a car is also a major noise source,’ says Oliver Niebuhr, explaining that the tyres of an ordinary petrol-powered car typically make more noise than the engine. Therefore, work is currently underway to develop new ways of creating asphalt to reduce the noise of moving cars. Of course, this depends on the speed of which the car drives, but is especially relevant for speeds above 50-60 km/h.
  2. What we find noisy and annoying is very subjective. At the same time, whether the sound is predictable or comes as a surprise also depends on whether we can identify where it is coming from. Can we control the noise level ourselves? Are we ourselves to blame for the noise? Is the noise related to something that benefits us – for example, when we use a vacuum cleaner?
  3. Noise is typically associated with both acoustics and culture. How is a room laid out, and are we still able to talk to each other? Or does the noise around us affect us so much that it is impossible to hear what is being said? Culture is also linked to the fact that different languages use different frequencies. Therefore, one type of noise may be more stressful and annoying in Denmark than it might be in Czech Republic.
  4. We need to tell engineers and politicians that noise is not understood solely in terms of decibel levels. ‘Rather, it is the “colour/nuance” and “nature” of the noise that determines how much we like or dislike it,’ says Oliver Niebuhr, explaining that the decibel level is simply an easy way to understand and calculate noise.

About his work, Oliver Niebuhr himself says:

‘I am very happy to be personally and research-wise so closely integrated into the R&D landscape of the IME. I think we can really make a difference in that way because we get first-hand problems.’

Denmark and Power-to-X

As Thomas Ebel began by saying, power electronics has a special role to play in working towards a sustainable future and reducing our CO2 emissions.

This relates in particular to Denmark’s work with Power-to-X, which produces fuels, chemicals and materials based on green hydrogen produced through electrolysis*.

‘Right now, we have three projects related to Power-to-X activities,’ says Thomas Ebel, who also mentions a project in collaboration with Danfoss.

‘In this project, we’re trying to use less electricity to produce hydrogen. When you do that, you reduce costs, which besides the environmental impact is a huge driver.’

Electricity is often not the cheap option, and it is typically more economically costly to produce sustainably. That is why it is important for researchers and businesses to produce cheaper electricity.

This is where hydrogen has a role to play.

‘In the future, we’ll hopefully see more processes using hydrogen. This is also why the Danish government are trying to establish Energy Islands, where wind power will be installed as direct hydrogen electrolysers.’

However, Thomas Ebel recognises that this development will not happen overnight. It is a complex issue, and the government, businesses and researchers will need to work closely together to achieve the goal.

‘It is our task to accelerate the process directed by the government,’ concludes Thomas Ebel.

*Definition taken from the Danish Energy Agency’s description of Power-to-X

Thomas Ebel on the SDGs

‘The SDGs are interconnected. In the end, our work and research are not based on only one topic.’ For Thomas Ebel, the UN Sustainable Development Goals cannot be seen as standing alone. They are interlinked and are still just as important as when they were created. ‘For example, I work with power electronics, so at first glance it’s about hydro production and energy, which is linked to SDG 7. But there’s an impact on society, so now it’s linked to SDGs 9 and 11 regarding innovation, industrial and infrastructure in cities and communities. The thing about energy is that it’s so fundamental in our society, and if we improve the usage and production of energy we can reduce not only our pollution, but also noise, and then it’s linked to SDG 3 which is Good Health and Well-Being. This is why all of it is important and why it’s important we work on it.’ The SDGs guide and motivate. Working on sustainability means working on research that is relevant to everyone, and Thomas Ebel argues that the UN Sustainable Development Goals make this work accessible to everyone.

Meet the researcher: Thomas Ebel

Thomas Ebel is head of the Centre for Industrial Electronics and professor at SDU Sønderborg. For 27 years, he worked in industry in Germany, where he is from, but for the last five years he has worked at SDU.

Thomas Ebel

Last Updated 05.04.2023