Hello to Green Hydrogen

The green hydrogen economy in Eastern Germany is a key element in Germany’s plan to transition to renewable energy sources by 2020. The HYPOS cluster demonstrates how hydrogen can be a safe, cost-effective and widely-used energy carrier.

August, 2018

The Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011 changed the course of Germany’s energy policy by cementing the government’s decision to phase out the country’s reliance on nuclear power. But even before Fukushima, legislation was put in place in 2010 to support the Energiewende (Energy Transition), which resulted in a huge expansion in renewable energy sources, particularly wind power. But this, in turn, created an unforeseen problem: what to do with the surplus power produced?

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Hydrogen Power Storage & Solutions East Germany (HYPOS), a cluster of German companies and research institutions including Siemens, Linde and the Fraunhofer, Max-Planck and Leibniz Institutes, promotes the use of surplus energy from wind farms and solar parks to produce hydrogen (H2), which is then fed into the chemical delivery pipelines, natural gas grid and electricity supply networks in eastern Germany. The aim of this groundbreaking project is to make safe, green hydrogen a widespread, cost-effective energy carrier and reduce dependence on fossil ­fuels. The project is partly funded by the German government, and has funding totaling €45m for the next four years.

H2: a clean, green solution

Hydrogen, which can be generated by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen molecules through electrolysis, is an underused energy carrier. It is not only environmentally-­friendly but, unlike electricity, can be easily stored and later converted back to electricity or heat. It can also be used in mobility and as an industrial raw material. “Hydrogen can be used to produce plastics, fuels and precursors for the cosmetics industry – in fact anything for which petroleum-based systems are used today,” says Ralf B. Wehrspohn, deputy CEO of HYPOS and Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for the Microstructure of Materials and Systems (IMWS) in Halle.

H2 can be used to produce anything that petroleum-based systems can.

Saxony-Anhalt has been a pioneer in the development of renewable energy projects: every second kilowatt hour generated in the state now comes from wind, sun or biomass. With an annual hydrogen-generation capacity of approximately six billion cubic meters – mainly still through conventional hydrocarbon processes – the region’s infrastructure provides excellent conditions for HYPOS. It includes the electricity and chemical flow grids in Leuna and Schkopau, and a large gas storage facility in Bad Lauchstädt. Researchers in Leuna are also investigating using electrolysis to split water into H2 and oxygen on an industrial scale.

As half of the energy generated by these sustainable technologies is sold outside the state as surplus, the H2 economy provides a significant boost to the region. “We have the power here, we convert it into H2, and then we can supply our chemical chain directly and no longer need to purchase petroleum and natural gas from more distant regions,” Wehrsphohn explains.

Since its inception in 2013, the HYPOS network has grown from seven to over 100 members today. It operates as a platform for the exchange of knowledge on production, transport, storage and utilization of green hydrogen. It’s still early days, but HYPOS aims to produce green H2 economically and safely by 2020, when it could be used in hydrogen fuel cell cars, domestic heating, in industrial applications and also to compensate for fluctuations in solar or wind energy generation. These and other benefits, such as ease of transportation, make it a potential game-changer in the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.