We could have had it so much easier. Everything we need today, we could have built and prepared long ago. But we knew, or at least suspected, that it might eventually come to this. The Club of Rome had prophesied exactly this scenario already fifty years ago.
The developments in the electrolyzer sector are continuing in great strides. Particularly in costs, where most manufacturers have been able to achieve substantial price reductions in the recent months, even if this has not been reflected in a reduction of the final price in all cases. In addition, both stacks and whole systems are becoming increasingly more compact and efficient.
Up to now, Germany has had an energy supply system that’s as centralized as possible. Large power plants generated electricity and heat, which was then distributed nationwide by means of an extensively branched infrastructure. With the emergence of renewable energies two decades ago, the idea of decentralization became increasingly widespread: since local solar and wind power plants or biogas plants generate electricity or heat on site, this energy can be used locally, without the need for loss-ridden transports. This basic idea is now also being pursued with hydrogen production by electrolysis. Whether such an approach might be sensible was investigated by the Reiner Lemoine Institut in its newest study “Netzdienliche Wasserstofferzeugung” (grid-serving hydrogen production). The results were presented in an online press conference March 10th, 2022.
A consortium has shown that it’s possible to extract climate-neutral hydrogen from seawater. Involved in the SEA2H2 project are automotive and industrial supplier Schaeffler, the startup Hydron Energy, which joined the Schaeffler Group in summer 2021, and Wageningen Food & Biobased Research, or WFBR for short, which is in turn part of Wageningen University.
For the production of the 14 TWh of green hydrogen capacity the German federal government expects by 2030, no more water is needed than what a city with around 200,000 inhabitants consumes. This was the calculation of the DVGW (Deutscher Verein des Gas- und Wasserfaches), the German association for gas and water standards, in the study “Klimaschutz und Resilienz” (climate protection and climate resilience) from April 2021. According to it, the use of electrolyzers with comparatively low input of water is feasible. Electrolyzers also perform favorably in comparison to coal-fired power plants. For example, the water demand of the energy industry today, which is primarily coal-fired, is more than 50 percent of the total water withdrawal of Germany for the year 2020, according to data from the federal environmental agency UBA (Umweltbundesamt).
The realization that we need a lot of green hydrogen very quickly, not only in Germany and Europe, but also worldwide, is becoming more and more widespread. Germany has already made the decision to phase out nuclear energy and coal. And after Putin’s attack on Ukraine, natural gas is also under examination. The plan was to make the gas grid greener and greener. Now, there is discussion about a much faster ramp-up of the hydrogen economy. Which scenarios are conceivable for this?
The heating sector is still seen as the “sleeping giant” that needs to be awakened in order for the energy transition to be reached. A major problem is the lack of alternatives to heat generation with fossil fuels. A major beneficiary of the phase-out of coal and nuclear energy is likely to be the gas industry, which is already advertising the replacement of natural gas by green hydrogen, although so far hardly any carbon-free-generated H2 gas is available. Nevertheless, suppliers of fuel cell-coupled heating systems are currently having a hard time profiting from the upswing in the H2 industry, because their units are still dependent on fossil gases for the time being.
Bioenergy is not talked about as much as solar and wind energy in the context of H2 production, but biogas, for example, is perfectly suitable for the production of green hydrogen. To bring some more light into the bioenergy darkness, the waste management association of Nordrhein-Westfalen (Bergische Abfallwirtschaftsverband, BAV) and the Austrian energy startup Rouge H2 Engineering (RGH2) put a research reactor at the Leppe dump site in operation in February 2022. There, in a test operation lasting several months, a decentralized production of high-purity hydrogen from landfill gas is to be tried and further developed.
Hydrogen was a dominant feature at this year’s Handelsblatt Energy Summit, which took place online and in Berlin from Jan. 17 to Jan. 20, 2022. The discussions covered its many production-dependent colors and possible applications and underlined the major role the energy carrier has to play in successfully transforming the planet’s energy ecosystem.
NOW GmbH (Nationale Organisation Wasserstoff- und Brennstoffzellentechnologie), the German organization for hydrogen and fuel cells, is getting a new head of business. On April 25th, 2022, Alina Hain is taking over the position of managing director and chief operating officer (COO). Spokesman of the managing board remains Kurt-Christoph von Knobelsdorff.