Hydrogen takes the prize

Germany’s energy minister Altmaier
“This is where we need to make use of hydrogen.” – Germany’s energy minister Altmaier. © Handelsblatt

From January 23 through 25, many high-profile figures visited Berlin for the Handelsblatt magazine’s Energy Summit. Among them was Peter Altmaier, who used the opportunity to deliver a speech detailing what role hydrogen technology could have in a future energy system.

And the award for the most innovative business in the industrial sector went to 2G Energy for developing CHP systems fueled by the gas.

Never before did Altmaier seem so committed to hydrogen. In his keynote address, he took a look at multiple options for hydrogen use while painting a relatively straightforward picture of a future energy system. He said that Germany was intent on “creating a state-of-the-art grid. However, this system will not be able to function without the combined strengths of several sectors. And it will, if we aim to store renewable sources of energy, never work by simply adding thousands and thousands of lithium-ion batteries. This is where we need to make use of clean gas, that is, hydrogen. Electrolyzers could produce it from renewable electricity in summer, when much power is generated but comparatively little is used, to store it for the winter. Consequently, we have to ask ourselves how many transmission lines we still require, how many pipelines we can fill with it, and, above all, what the public will think about these changes. Many say they don’t want the number of wind turbines to increase fourfold, threefold or even twofold beyond today’s numbers. Thus, the transformation of the energy market is far from over. We must continue the debate.”

The aim, he said, was not only to create new jobs but also to speed up the planning process and make it future-proof. “Some suggest that, instead of using transmission lines, we produce hydrogen from electricity generated by wind farms in the North Sea and transport the gas in tankers to the coast. It could then be used in gas power plants to supply them with green sources of energy. Vehicles could run off it, as could power-to-liquid. We have recently invited bids for so-called living laboratories. Our goal is to test in four large labs if hydrogen technology could be scaled up and become economically viable,” he added. However, he professed that current legislation, for example, Germany’s renewable energy law, prevented many of these advancements from taking place

Attendees look to Japan for guidance

The summit’s other presentations and panel discussions made clear that transforming the energy sector would only be possible by including renewable hydrogen. The future of the energy system lay in the many power-to-X methods, virtually everyone at the three-day event said. Europe offered good prospects for their use, but their potential had yet to be tapped into. Japan, by contrast, was already preparing for a „hydrogen society,” a vision it wants to implement by 2020, when the next Olympic Games are held. The island nation currently imports gas from Australia, where it is produced in coal power plants, even though the country’s long-term goal is to create renewable hydrogen at local facilities.

Like Europe, Japan needs to know it can rely on a system producing enough energy at all times. In the past, the country replaced 50 nuclear power plants by their fossil fuel counterparts. Now, the goal for 2030 is to produce 300,000 metric tons of hydrogen, put 800,000 fuel cell vehicles on the road and have 5.3 million residential fuel cells up and running to supply households with electricity and heat. The battle between batteries and fuel cells, raging worldwide, would, in Japan, be decided in favor of the latter, a speaker at the event predicted. Over the longer term, they would be less expensive to produce, since the limited availability of battery materials offered fewer opportunities to cut costs. That is the why the Japanese government has been supporting the expansion of the national fueling network. To date, there are around 100 hydrogen stations in the country, a number that is expected to rise to 320 by 2025.

Overall, the impression was that hydrogen and fuel cell technology had been given fresh impetus compared to past years. It also became clear that the entire system to tax energy sources will need a fundamental overhaul.

Handelsblatt Energy Award for 2G

This year’s winner of the Handelsblatt Energy Award in the Industry category was 2G Energy, a stock company based in the German Münsterland region. Its aim is to build efficient and cost-effective hydrogen CHP systems to produce electricity and heat. It uses specially designed gas engines with capacities of between 80 kilowatts and 280 kilowatts.

“Thanks to the piston geometry we developed in-house, we can provide simple and highly customized solutions that can be adapted to work with the compression ratios of multiple gases,” Frank Grewe, the head of the R&D department at 2G Energy, said after being presented with the award. The result had been an increase in round-trip efficiency to almost 90 percent, he added. Moreover, the CHP device had the advantage of being much less susceptible to impurities in the hydrogen. Thus, it cost only half as much as a fuel cell module.

Written by Sven Jösting und Sven Geitmann

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