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.
Last November, H2-international published a first market overview of residential fuel cell systems. This time, we will take a closer look at electrolyzers. To try and map the current situation on the electrolyzer market, we contacted 18 manufacturers, primarily from the German-speaking region, but also from across Europe and North America. Ten of them have sent us details on their electrolyzers. Nine of them have made it onto the product list; Diamond Lite and Proton OnSite provided virtually identical information.
Splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen with the help of electrical energy is commonly known as water electrolysis. This process matches the oxyhydrogen experiments one may remember from the classroom, albeit in reverse. If the anode and cathode in an electrolyzer cell are separated by a semipermeable membrane or a diaphragm, the gases produced by the process can be directed out of the cell individually.
This March, Shell presented a new study carried out in collaboration with the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Environment and Energy. Focusing on transportation, the authors compared several different production pathways for hydrogen and took a closer look at the three regions spearheading global development: Germany, Japan and the United States. Jörg Adolf, who headed the project at Shell, said that hydrogen technology had made big advances over the past years, “not just in car use.”
Heliocentris Energy Solutions, which filed for bankruptcy in late 2016, will be no more, although its expertise will live on. The manufacturing and the education division were sold to different companies, but many employees who worked in Berlin lost their job.
For many years, heating systems based on fuel cells had played a central role on the joint booth Hydrogen + Fuel Cells + Batteries at Hannover Messe. This time, however, the Fuel Cell Initiative, IBZ, was nowhere to be found, not because there was no interest in the technology, but because it has been made available on the market.
At the beginning of 2017, several businesses joined forces to advance the energy transformation and spread the vision of a hydrogen economy. On Jan. 18, 2017, during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, the heads of thirteen globally operating businesses held a press conference to announce the launch of the Hydrogen Council. The council’s secretary general is Pierre-Etienne Franc, vice president of advanced business and technologies at Air Liquide and formerly board chair of the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking, and its chair is Benoît Potier, Chief Executive Officer of Air Liquide.
Although the aviation industry was the starting point for hydrogen developments, commercial applications in that industry have been few and far between. 1783 marked the launch of the first hydrogen-filled hot-air balloon; later, hydrogen-powered airships crossed the Atlantic. But since the Hindenburg disaster in Lakehurst in 1937, the most lightweight element of all has fallen out of favor in every field except for the space industry.
The Paris Motor Show seemingly went all-out electric: There hadn’t been so many electric vehicles at one single trade show for a long time. From Oct. 1 to 16, 2016, Opel showcased its Ampera-e (500-kilometer or close to 311-mile range; priced at EUR 39,000), the “currently hottest rod from Germany,” as car blogger Fabian Messner put it. Renault showed the Zoe with a large 41 kWh battery. And VW announced a battery storage unit for its e-Golf with an increased capacity.
Despite the fuel cell industry’s recent growth spurt, the market still looks like a pyramid. At the top, you will find the stack and system manufacturers which offer commercial products and have a clear understanding of the costs involved and the wishes customers may have. These businesses are either driven by policy, as in Japan, or the forces of a free market, like FuelCell Energy. But of the worldwide more than 200 stack and system providers, fewer than 30 have made it this far.