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The research fields of material structure, energy, space research, nanotechnology

One of the primary aims of scientific research over the centuries has been to explore the structure, behavior, and usability of materials around us. This subject has always been complemented by the question of where the energy to transform materials, form our environment, and optimally exploit materials can be obtained from.

In Hungary, the key players in energy research are the HUN-REN Institute for Nuclear Research (HUN-REN ATOMKI), the HUN-REN Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences (HUN-REN CSFK), the HUN-REN Centre for Energy Research (HUN-REN EK-CER), and the HUN-REN Wigner Research Centre for Physics (HUN-REN Wigner RCP). These institutions achieve important results using their own equipment or large international infrastructures, often as participants in megaprojects. Their research activities are at the cutting edge of international science, and their results may deliver a competitive advantage for domestic industry if successful technology transfer is achieved.

Given the challenges our civilization faces, space exploration is among the disciplines that require the highest technology. The following research sites belonging to the HUN-REN network conduct research on phenomena in outer space: HUN-REN ATOMKI, HUN-REN CSFK, HUN-REN EK-CER, HUN-REN CER, and HUN-REN Wigner RCP. They put special emphasis on raising the level of Hungarian activity in the programs of the European Space Agency (ESA). A space research development laboratory and space industrial testing centre in compliance with the European space industry standards has been established at HUN-REN EK-CER. The facility was audited by ESA.

As for space astronomy and space weather research, HUN-REN CSFK and HUN-REN Wigner RCP are participating in several outstanding European space astronomy missions. HUN-REN ATOMKI examines the chemical processes induced by radiation in the environments of large planets within the EUROPLANET collaboration. Research into space weather, which includes the detection, monitoring, and prediction of processes and their effects influencing planets in the solar system, is gaining in importance. The researchers at HUN-REN EPSS, HUN-REN EK-CER, and HUN-REN Wigner RCP are prominent participants in projects aiming to explore and model space weather. They also take part in the development of devices and onboard equipment used to measure space weather parameters.

Concerning developments related to space research, the Government of Hungary has expressed its intention to send a Hungarian astronaut to the International Space Station (ISS) by 2024. The research program is already in the preparatory phase. According to the agreement to be signed, HUN-REN Wigner RCP is to develop three devices capable of measuring the magnetic field, detecting particles, and observing space junk and micrometeorites, respectively. According to the plans, HUN-REN EK-CER is to participate in the project with onboard dosimeter systems and a measurement system to detect changes in radiation levels reaching the ISS. In recent years, several innovative device development projects have been launched and implemented at HUN-REN CSFK that can be followed up by direct industrial usage. HUN-REN CSFK is participating in various R&D projects concerning satellite technology, such as the HERMES and CAMELOT programs.

The Government of Hungary published the National Energy Strategy in 2020. Its primary aim is to completely decarbonize energy production in line with European initiatives. One major pillar of the strategy is to enhance the reliability of energy supply and to reduce Hungary’s dependence on energy imports. A basic objective of energy management is to search for energy-efficient and environmentally friendly solutions, and to explore the development and usage of new materials and technologies. Hungarian R&D objectives are aligned with this strategy: to maintain domestic nuclear competence and to prepare for the technological challenges of the decades to come. RDI activities need to be coordinated in order to support future technologies, including fusion energy production and nuclear power stations of the 4th generation, and to resolve the closure of the nuclear fuel cycle.

In the field of energy research, the research into renewable energy sources conducted by HUN-REN EK-CER and HUN-REN CSS stands out. Their aim is to promote the use of renewable resources for power generation by developing new storage systems and energy conversion methods. When electricity is produced from weather-dependent renewable sources, there are times when excess energy is produced, requiring storage systems to be created and networks developed in order for the electrical grid to manage this excess energy, with researchers modeling these developments in simulations. Scientists are also focusing on highly effective, sustainable, long-life, cheap and safe fuel cells and Li-ion batteries, as well as performing experiments to prepare them for manufacturing.

Finding new, cost-effective chemical processes to produce hydrogen as a fuel is also an important objective. HUN-REN EK-CER has achieved significant results in the past decade in the evaluation of the environmental and social effects of various energy scenarios. Some alternatives, such as the increasing use of biomass as a fuel, may cause serious damage to the ecosystem and humans by increasing air pollution. By applying the measurement techniques developed for nanotechnology, revolutionary new results may be obtained on the sources and health effects of ultrafine particles in the environment, which are still currently unknown.