Germany’s Future Hydrogen Clusters

Germany’s accelerated transition to renewables has further underscored the importance of green hydrogen, the carrier needed to exploit renewables to their fullest. A national strategy is in place, but how is it being realized on the ground? The town of Leuna provides some answers.

October, 2022

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There are big things afoot in Leuna, a town of just 15,000 inhabitants and part of central Germany’s “chemical triangle.” Ammonia has been processed there since the 1900s and it’s one of the most important German locations for mineral oil. But soon it may be better known for hydrogen.

The renowned Fraunhofer Society opened a hydrogen lab in Leuna in 2021, where it has since been testing various electrolyzers for the production of hydrogen (H2) from renewable energy. Gas and engineering multinational Linde is a key partner in the project and buys green H2. But it’s also building a massive 24-megawatt electrolyzer of its own. One of the largest in the world, it will be able to produce 3,200 tons of green H2 annually – enough to power 600 fuel cell buses. “Hardly any other site offers such a wide range of hydrogen-related plants and products,” explains Thierry Rousson, head of product management Hydrogen & Syngas at Linde.

Continued research on hydrogen is vital for Germany’s transition to clean energy and energy security.

© picture alliance/dpa/Martin Schut

Leuna is a prime example of how traditional German industrial regions are adapting to profit from the creation of a new hydrogen economy. Economist Michael Bräuninger from the Economic Trends Research institute recently published a study that identified 135 regions with great hydrogen potential. “Especially in the lignite mining areas, which have long provided cheap energy, hydrogen offers great opportunities,” says Bräuninger.

Making the hydrogen transition

The researchers grouped the regions with the greatest potential for H2 production into four clusters: Northern Germany, North Rhine-Westphalia, Central Germany and Berlin-Brandenburg-Lausitz to the east. These areas will receive lots of state assistance to transition to H2. “Significant investment in production and distribution infrastructure is needed to build the hydrogen economy,” Bräuninger explains.

Jürgen Ude, state secretary for structural change and major investments in Saxony-Anhalt (the region Leuna is part of) describes green H2 as “a true all-rounder” and points out that Saxony-Anhalt, with its mining history, offers “ideal conditions” for nurturing an H2 energy economy. The fossil fuel industry already produces 3.6 billion cubic meters of conventional (grey) H2 per year, which is consumed by regional companies. “The region already has large industrial production capacities for hydrogen, but it’s still mainly produced from natural gas,” says Ude.

Three Facts About H2

135

Number of regions with high hydrogen potential in Germany*

800 TWh

Potential demand for green hydrogen in Germany by the year 2050**

10 GW

Planned hydrogen generation capacity in Germany by the year 2030***

Sources: *Economic Trends Research, **Fraunhofer ISI, ***BMWK

Furthermore, a 157-kilometer-long H2 pipeline connects production sites and storage facilities, and an even longer pipeline linking to the Baltic Sea and western Germany is under construction. When finished, this will form part of a “European backbone” for green hydrogen.

Different strokes

The various regions all offer specific advantages. Berlin-Brandenburg-Lausitz, for example, benefits from the high demand for eco-friendly heating and mobility concepts from the capital city, Berlin. Brandenburg, which is sparsely populated, has also had ample land to build the required infrastructure. By contrast, property comes at a premium in highly populated North Rhine-Westphalia, but there is huge industrial demand, great expertise, a highly qualified workforce and a well-established industry.

Germany has accelerated its efforts to establish a hydrogen economy in the interests of energy security as well as climate protection. This has created business opportunities all over the country.

Thus, the German government is pursuing different approaches to strengthen the H2 potential of different places. “Individual concepts must be customized for each region,” Bräuninger says. Cooperation and knowledge transfer is the key to success – the regions must network with the important players in R&D and with investors. “This way, they accelerate the transfer of research into practice and maximize the impact of their projects,” he adds.

In April, Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action Robert Habeck pledged to greatly expand green H2 supply chains. In June, the funding program H2Global Foundation also invited tenders for various green H2 derivatives – the national government is funding it with EUR 900 million. The Atlas of Hydrogen Networks in Germany also provides invaluable advice and support for hydrogen SMEs.