Electrolyzer Manufacturers Stake Their Claims

M-Series
M Series, © Proton OnSite

There has been quite an interest in energy storage recently. And as ever more power-to-gas systems have been popping up all over Germany, project planners are increasingly turning their attention to the key elements found on-site: electrolyzers. These electrochemical units to create hydrogen have been around for a long time.But ever since this energy source was put back into the spotlight of the storage debate, it has sparked a contest for devices that best respond to load fluctuations and ensure greatest possible efficiency.

The German Energy Agency, or dena for short, launched its Power to Gas Strategy Platform in late 2011 and organized its first P2G conference in 2012. These events were followed by breaking ground on the plant in Falkenhagen, Germany, and an increasing number of other projects (see HZwei issues from January 2012 and January 2013). The idea to use hydrogen as a chemical storage medium to help with eco-power reserves has meanwhile taken hold in people’s minds. It goes even beyond that, actually. The buzzword “sector integration” as a term for combining the power, heat and transportation industry has been making the rounds over the past one or two years. Today, it has become clear that hydrogen can be a defining link between these markets.

Hydrogenics

Such integration requires components that can convert one type of energy into another in the most efficient way possible. This is where electrolyzers come in. Depending on the model, their efficiency of converting electrical into chemical energy ranges from 70 to 80 percent.

The rising interest in the technology has led to the creation of a whole new industry: Whereas previously, many stakeholders from various, sometimes very different, markets had worked on their own electrolyzer solutions, the past years have brought about some new alliances. Numerous businesses have joined forces to explore new markets.

Global market players

For example, Areva – a corporation owned by the French government – founded its own subsidiary for hydrogen, Areva H2Gen, a merger of the electrolysis divisions of Areva Energy Storage and French-based CETH2, and ultimately relocated to Cologne, Germany. …

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Another large global player with extensive experience was Norwegian-based Statoil, which had acquired its hydrogen expertise after merging its oil and gas operations with the ones of Norsk Hydro years ago. In 2006 at Hannover Messe, the business unveiled its Inergon® (see HZwei issue from August 2006), a PEM electrolyzer

Nel acquires Proton OnSite

On Feb. 27, 2017, Nel announced that it intended to buy Proton OnSite. It said that there was a non-binding agreement between both partners. The price of the acquisition, which could be completed during the second quarter of 2017, is reported to match the current market value of Proton Energy Systems of USD 70 million, of which USD 20 million were to be paid out in cash. Additionally, Nel shares were to be transferred in two tranches after 12 and 24 months.

Jon André Løkke, CEO of Nel, explained: “We are proud to announce our intention of merging Nel and Proton OnSite and turn the company into the world’s largest supplier of hydrogen electrolyzers.” The Oslo-based energy corporation, which itself has had a production business for alkaline systems (see fig. 1), views Proton OnSite as “the number one provider of PEM electrolysis systems.” The acquisition would mean both technologies can be covered by the new business. Said Løkke: “The combined entity will be able to offer the entire range of electrolyzer technologies and capacities.”

“We have always maintained that both technologies would keep their usefulness over the medium term and that there would not be a sole ‘winner’.” Franz Lehner, e4tech

Hydrogenics is another manufacturer of electrolyzers based on both alkaline and PEM fuel cells (see fig. 2). Headquartered in Canada, it also has locations in Belgium and Germany and more than 60 years’ experience in hydrogen technology. It has so far installed 500 electrolyzer systems worldwide, for example, an off-grid system with a 350-kW electrolyzer and a 120-kW fuel cell at Glencore’s Raglan nickel mine in northern Canada (see fig. 1).

German-speaking region

The know-how gained by project planner Enertrag through the construction of the hybrid power plant in Prenzlau, Germany – which broke ground in 2009 – has meanwhile ended up at McPhy (see fig. 4). While the former …

Additionally, GP Joule acquired Lübeck-based H-Tec Systems together with its sister company H-Tec Education, a business dedicated exclusively to the education industry, at the beginning of this decade. The manufacturing division of H-Tec is primarily concerned with the production of electrolysis stacks and systems and sells them as “power gap fillers” through its parent company (see fig. 2 on p. 20).

Uwe Küter, formerly managing director of H-Tec, has since founded his own consulting business, h2agentur, and represents clients such as Giner, a U.S. manufacturer of electrolyzer stacks that are installed by German startup iGas energy.

At Siemens, people are preparing for the Silyzer 300, …

ELT Elektrolyse Technik, a years-long leader in alkaline electrolyzers, hasn’t fared that well. Before the new hype even started, the business filed for bankruptcy in late 2010. However, a new investor was found and operations could continue from early 2011 under the name ELB Elektrolysetechnik. Mate Barisic, managing director of ELB and previously of ELT, told H2-international: “We have concluded a purchase agreement with the bankruptcy trustee about the assets of ELT Elektrolyse Technik, acquiring all of ELT in the process.” Barisic added that this measure had made it possible to keep part of the staff and the expertise of Bamag and Lurgi, from which ELT was spun off in 1995.

Other business operating on the market include IHT Industrie Haute Technology, a small company based in Monthey, Switzerland, and Sunfire from Dresden (see fig. 4). Based in the German state of Saxony, the latter has collaborated with corporations such as Boeing, with which it is currently testing a joint prototype in Hawaii. Another unit is said to be delivered to Salzgitter this summer.

It was also interesting to see what HydrogenPro presented during Hannover Messe: Founded near Oslo, Norway, in 2013, it has an exclusive partnership agreement for Europe and the United States with Chinese-based Tianjin Mainland Hydrogen Equipment, by its own account, the global leader in alkaline electrolyzers. In January 2017, HydrogenPro also managed to get hydrogen expert Hans Jörg Fell as CTO on board. Fell, who worked for years first at Norsk Hydro, then Statoil and Nel Hydrogen, and had a brief stint in the CO2 capture and storage segment from 2013, presented in Hanover his new employer and its products.

Competitive by 2030

Most systems, however, are still in the testing or demonstration stage, as there hardly have been any viable business plans for their use. Additionally, the investment in such systems is comparatively high – on average, EUR 1,000 to 1,700 per kilowatt for PEM and EUR 600 to 1,000 per kilowatt for alkaline units. [1] One can expect, however, that at the latest in 2030, fuel produced by electrolysis at H2 refueling stations can be offered at a price competitive to steam-reformed hydrogen.

[1] Study on development of water electrolysis in the EU, E4tech, 2014

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