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Actually, time is running out

if you like engines, on the way to Konstantinos Boulouchos. It is a tour through the history of the European car industry. In the ETH building at Sonneggstrasse in Zurich old Diesel and petrol engines of the 90s, the most exciting piece of the closing, a few meters from the office of the ETH Professor. The hybrid engine from the year 1993, a prototype, was developed by the ETH engineers in cooperation with the VW group. The combination of combustion engine and electric motor was then, 25 years ago, technologically uncharted territory.

"it would have been, Mr Boulouchos?" On the unusual address of Welcome and the prompt reply comes: "VW, then decided to focus on Hybrid, Toyota, hindsight is always smarter," says the Professor of aerothermodynamics, chemistry and combustion systems at the ETH Zurich . Today, the hybrid engine is no longer indispensable, he is regarded as a transitional technology on the way to the electrification of the global energy supply.

The times have not changed, however. Technological Decisions made today are just as difficult as in the past. Perhaps even more difficult. "We have done 20 years in climate protection too little, now everything has to go faster, and is correspondingly more expensive", says Boulouchos. The mechanical engineer is an eloquent conversation partner. To tell a cue, and he starts always from the point of view of the big picture.

To lost a lot of time

He is convinced, with views of the entire energy system it would have been preferable, once the European coal-fired power plants by renewable energies and, if necessary, by gas-fired power plants replaced. At the same time, the oil heaters have to be replaced by heat pumps. Only then will the motorized individual traffic have to be electrified increased. With this strategy, the Consideration of Boulouchos, would have been to have the climate protection with an optimal price-performance ratio. "Because we have lost valuable time, no longer applies to this tiered approach today, which will have to run everything in parallel," says the 63-year-old engineer.

the conversion of The global energy supply must now go faster than he expected. "There are developments you can't predict." Boulouchos has witnessed some technological change. A native of the Greek – today's Greek-Swiss double-citizen – grew up in Chalkida, on the island of Euboea. "Very close to the sea, because you can smell the sea and the salt," he recalls. After his studies in mechanical engineering at the National Technical University in Athens in 1978, he received a "random" opportunity to take a doctorate at the ETH Zurich promo. That was the beginning of the 80s. It was dying, the time of the Forest debate in Europe. Scientists and politicians discussed the introduction of catalytic converters for petrol cars.

After the doctoral studies of young scientists leaving for three years in Switzerland and in the USA, to the University of Princeton. In spite of excellent conditions of work in the States, he returned to Zurich. "The decision was not easy, but I liked it and my wife also in Switzerland, as the lake is, the good air, not quite like the sea, but still." Has lured, but the Job that was offered to him. He should build a new research group for optical diagnostics and computer simulation of combustion processes. His work is supplemented with research at the Paul-Scherrer-Institute (PSI) in Würenlingen. "We have tried in cooperation with the PSI, to bring the findings from basic research through experiments closer to the application", says Boulouchos. Later, he is also head of the laboratory for combustion research at PSI. The goal was to optimize the combustion processes, for example in engines and reduce emissions.


Boulouchos is now one of the sought-after energy experts in Europe. His decades of accumulated Knowledge in his bright office in the ETH research building from the 30s, also physically visible. Documents are stacked on the ground, on the body, in the open cabinets. The Board is littered with tables, graphics, and images. A cliché could belong to the office and an eccentric scientist.

this is not The case, however, Boulouchos. He thinks in a modern, pragmatic and focused on the future. He is not only the researchers but also knows from experience how national and international policy is ticking. For many years he was a member of the scientific Advisory Board of the former energy Minister Doris Leuthard. In the last two years, he led a group of researchers of the European academies Alliance, stated in Brussels this week in a new report, what requirements have to be met in order for the mobility in Europe CO2-free.

hybrid engine from the year 1993, developed by the ETH Zurich and the VW. Photo: Fabienne Andreoli

he Speaks of the recommendations in the new report, raises his voice. He knows that scientifically, almost everything can be plausible to explain it. "But how do we put that?" he asks. Rearrangement of motorised transport to rail and public transport, energy efficient vehicles, replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources, use of synthetic fuels. These are not new Considerations, new is the urgency: 20 to 30 years is, however, to meet the objectives of the Paris climate agreement.

The power Boulouchos. Apart from Switzerland, the railway network in Europe lay sick. "How to work the transfer on the Rail?" The poorer countries in the EU wanted a cost-effective transportation, the Development of rail transport but it is expensive. Boulouchos’ list of doubts is long. "What is with the long transport route, the trucks, ships and aircrafts?", he continues to ask. The ETH Professor sees is actually only in synthetic fuels a Chance to reduce the CO2-emissions. Hydrogen, produced with electricity from Wind and solar power, by electrolysis of water. But also hydrocarbons such as methane are an Option that can be made from hydrogen and from the atmosphere and removed CO2.

Although he viewed technological innovations as essential, looks Boulouchos of the biggest hurdles in the goal of conflict in politics and society. "Without a significant increase in the cost of fuels such as coal, oil, and kerosene, there will be no time to redesign," he says. "Actually, we're out of time."

(editing Tamedia)

Created: 22.03.2019, 18:54 PM

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