The reshaping of the energy landscape is well under way. And as the energy industry begins its transformation, it’s become apparent that hydrogen has a major role to play in the new world order – albeit not straightaway, but in the near future. Hence we see every imaginable organization jostling for position to take advantage of this restructuring and perhaps also to shape its direction.
Two-pronged approach causes controvers
Draft legislation on the regulation of hydrogen networks, which was recently unveiled by the German government, has been met with little enthusiasm by the gas industry. In particular, criticism has focused on the distinction drawn between gas and hydrogen infrastructure. This two-pronged approach will prevent coordinated development, it has been claimed. However, there are also those who take a more favorable view and cite the positive effects the legislation will have in terms of clear cost allocation. Further questions remain over hydrogen blending and the kind of possibilities that will be opened up by truly comprehensive cross-sector regulation that also incorporates electricity.
The evocatively named Heidekrautbahn, or heather railroad, has a long history: Since 1905 it’s enabled city dwellers to escape from the German capital into the surrounding Schorfheide countryside to the north. However, efforts to resume the passenger service between Basdorf and Berlin-Gesundbrunnen, which was discontinued in 1983, have been drawn out over many years. On Dec. 14, 2020, a grant was due to be awarded that would make this rail link a vital part of a large-scale hydrogen project. According to the proposals, the trains would be powered by fuel cells using renewable energy supplied from regional sources and an electrolyzer would be acquired along with additional hydrogen vehicles. In spite of these preparations, the pandemic has, nevertheless, put the launch on hold.
E4tech Fuel Cell Industry Review
In March 2021, the new Fuel Cell Industry Review 2020 was published, complete with market data and detailed analysis. Since 2014, the team led by E4tech has been contacting fuel cell companies from across the globe, aggregating their shipment figures and producing an independent report each year on the current state of the fuel cell sector. Several extracts are provided here.
2020 was not the year many of us expected. But despite the very difficult situation brought about by COVID-19, fuel cell shipments continued to rise. The increase was much less than we anticipated at the end of 2019, both because of supply chain disruption and local economic slowdown, but is a very encouraging sign.
ArcelorMittal plans to scrap the use of coke in steelmaking
Steel group ArcelorMittal has plans to build a pilot plant in Hamburg that will use hydrogen in its ore reduction process to produce pure iron as part of a construction project that is due to get underway in the third quarter of this year. In future, some of the gas could be supplied by a new hydrogen network that is being set up especially for the industrial park at the port.
The fuel cell working group of Germany’s association for the mechanical and plant engineering industry VDMA has been bolstered by the appointment of Fabian Kapp. At the general meeting held online in February 2021, the Gräbener Maschinentechnik director was elected to the board and now sits alongside four fellow board members. Kapp explained: “The working group has decided to take a new strategic direction and focus more intently on fuel cell manufacturing technologies.”
By the time of the next presidential election in 2022, France hopes to have regained the economic growth it last experienced in 2019. In order to stimulate the economy following the COVID-19 lockdown, the French government is rolling out a EUR 100 billion recovery program named France Relance. EUR 2 billion of the funds will be released over the next couple of years to support hydrogen projects. In total, the French government plans to channel EUR 7 billion of investment into this energy carrier in the runup to 2030. Meanwhile over the border, Germany has earmarked funds of EUR 9 billion to bolster its hydrogen sector. These financial stimulus packages and, moreover, the ambitions of these two countries to adopt a leadership stance in the future hydrogen economy, are also resulting in increasing efforts of French and German companies to work together.
In the German city of Oberhausen, a consortium is planning the development of a new hydrogen center. The Campus for Hydrogen Technologies Oberhausen, or HydrOB for short, aims to help bring hydrogen technologies to large corporations, the trade sector as well as private households. In order to support stakeholders at a local, regional and also international level and encourage the development of a hydrogen economy, the new center of excellence intends to provide production and laboratory space. Information events are also planned. Esther Stahl from the Fraunhofer Institute UMSICHT told H2-international that digitalization expertise will also be an important focus for the new center. First, however, a detailed conceptual plan needs to be drawn up before the campus can open its doors which will not be until 2023 at the earliest. Participating in the initiative alongside Fraunhofer UMSICHT and Oberhausen authorities are MAN Energie Solutions and OQ Chemicals in addition to several regional organizations.
Hot on the heels of the fuel cell-powered motor glider HY4, which was awarded a test flight permit in late 2020 (see cover story in H2-international, February 2021), another venture was given the green light at the beginning of this year. As part of the follow-up BALIS project, whose approval arrived in just six weeks, the four-seater HY4 aircraft is set to become a 40-seater. On Jan. 21, Steffen Bilger, parliamentary state secretary at the German transportation ministry, handed over EUR 26 million in funding to Josef Kallo from the German aerospace center DLR.
Thanks to new management and fresh financial backing, Günther Schuh is intending to push on with his plans for German-based e.GO Mobile – including the incorporation of fuel cells. At the end of February 2021, nd Industrial Investments B.V. reported the successful conclusion of a Series B financing round which brought in funds of EUR 30 million. The Dutch investment group nd Industrial B.V. had previously taken over e.GO Mobile AG on Sept. 1, 2020, and transferred it to Next.e.GO Mobile SE. The money should ensure that production of the e.GO Life goes ahead in June 2021. Among the investors are the once U.S. finance minister John Snow, Formula E chairman Alejandro Agag and the actor Edward Norton.