Materials, processes, and systems for future energy

DIFFER's research was, is and will be focused on materials, processes, and systems in the fields of solar fuels and fusion energy. In the years 2023 to 2028 we extend our research to other energy applications, we open our facilities to more users, we invest in new facilities and we enhance our relations with academia, applied research, industry, and society.

DIFFER’s mission is to perform leading fundamental research on materials, processes, and systems for a global sustainable energy infrastructure. We host unique user facilities for energy and materials research. We work together with universities, universities of applied sciences, research institutes, and companies that can further develop the technology of our energy research into commercially scalable solutions. In addition, we play an active national and international role in bringing together various parties within the energy community. We believe that only through collaboration can we realize ground-breaking energy solutions for the future.

Focus on four actions

Energy research in the Netherlands is far larger than DIFFER alone. Consequently, DIFFER cannot and should not try to organize the field. However, a major opportunity is emerging for DIFFER to establish relevant partnerships and facilities for stakeholders. Therefore, in our Strategy 2023 – 2028 (pdf) we are focusing on four actions:

1. We strengthen our focus on the DIFFER mission
Our research was, is and will be focused on materials, processes, and systems in the fields of solar fuels and fusion energy. Within this context, we extend our research to other energy applications.

2. We open our facilities to more users
Our flagship facilities are Magnum-PSI and Upgraded Pilot-PSI for fusion research, the Ion Beam Facility for materials research for nuclear fusion and fission, and solar fuels. These facilities are highly relevant to academic and private partners in solar fuels and fusion research.

3. We invest in new facilities
Those investments focus on research into materials for energy. They are centered around fabricating and characterizing high-performing materials for energy applications. The results will be fed back to advanced materials modelling, which will provide better selections of candidate materials. We are currently realizing the Liquid Metal Shield Lab to investigate liquid metal walls in fusion reactors. We have decided to realize a Pulsed Laser Deposition Facility with multiple in-situ diagnostics, a system for in-situ and operando ion beam measurements, and a Compact X-ray Facility.

4. We enhance our relations with academia, applied research, industry, and society
We valorize our science in co-development with industry and through technology transfer. We foster the interaction with academia, applied research institutes, society, and private nuclear fusion endeavors, where these are in line with our own scientific interests and strategy.

Text continues after schematic representation of the energy transition.


Schematic representation of the energy transition from 2000 to 2100. Energy demand is increasing (dotted line) while fossil fuels are becoming less available (light brown area). In the beginning, the increasing energy demand can be met with so-called renewables (blue area), such as solar panels and wind turbines. After a while, there will be need for dispatchables or 'energy on demand' (purple area). Examples are large batteries, hydrogen gas, methane, ammonia, all produced with surplus energy from sun and wind. At a later stage, there might be the need for nuclear fusion power plants. (c) DIFFER

Science for society: future energy

With the Paris Agreement, most countries have declared that they will limit global warming to less than two degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. This calls for zero net CO2 emissions to be reached during the second half of the 21st century, and thus requires a transition towards a fully sustainable energy supply. By performing fundamental, cross-disciplinary research in the fields of solar fuels and fusion energy, DIFFER can make significant contributions to the crucial phases of the energy transition in developing CO2-neutral energy systems. This will benefit the entire of society.

Energy storage and conversion

Besides the energy transition, a far-fetching electrification of industrial processes is required. All these challenges are exacerbated by the evident problems with nitrogen oxides, carbon dioxide, and the exposed vulnerabilities with gas supplies and high energy prices. In the future, a significant part of our energy will be produced by solar panels, wind turbines, and other renewables. Given the intermittency and seasonal effects of renewables, solutions for energy conversion and storage are required. Energy from renewables can be stored or converted in technologies, such as fuel cells, electrolyzers, and batteries or in chemicals like ammonia, kerosene, and hydrogen.

Inherently safe nuclear power

Furthermore, we are convinced that there will be an important role for modern, inherently safe nuclear power plants with low waste production, such as molten salt thorium fission reactors, small modular reactors, and nuclear fusion reactors. DIFFER works on a broad spectrum of the solutions mentioned above.

Materials, processes, system

The energy transition is a materials transition, a process transition, and a system transition. Most of DIFFER’s research is focused on materials and processes. We develop materials for catalysts and reactors that make chemical reactions run faster and more efficiently or that can withstand extreme operating conditions.

Models, interfaces, controllers

Systems and process aspects manifest themselves in our work. Examples include investigating chemical and physical processes far from thermodynamic equilibrium or developing control systems to measure, estimate, forecast, and optimally control those processes. Moreover, system engineering models, which account for functionality, disturbances, requirements, and interfaces, will be used to design our high-end instruments, integrate various plasma controllers, and derive supervisory controllers.


We are pleased to see this changing playing field with new parties and initiatives. It provides us with the opportunity to recalibrate our priorities. In addition to our own research, and our role as a national institute, we want to collaborate with (inter)national research groups and new initiatives to facilitate and accelerate both their research and ours.

Read more: DIFFER Strategy 2023 – 2028 (pdf) 


Strategy 2023 – 2028 (pdf)

Strategy 2017 – 2022 (pdf)