Siemens: “Hydrogen is the future for CO2-free provision of energy”

Markets Germany had the chance to put a number of questions about hydrogen to Armin Schnettler, CEO of New Energy Business at Siemens Energy, who sees bright things ahead for H2 in Germany and elsewhere.

July 2020

How important is the German government’s hydrogen strategy, and will it be bolstered by the goals formulated by the EU? Are the plans for getting hydrogen up to scale sufficient?

Armin Schnettler: Hydrogen is the future for CO2-free provision of energy, and Siemens Energy has big ambitions in this regard. We aspire to be a driving force behind decarbonizing energy systems around the world. That is the core and creed of our company strategy. In passing its national hydrogen strategy, the German government has laid the right groundwork for a new age in energy and climate policy, and stringently turning it into reality will strengthen Germany in the long-term as a location of innovation. The focus now should be on concrete projects based on this strategy. The European hydrogen strategy also aims at right goal: the establishment of a new competitive industry that serves European and global markets, creates and preserves jobs, and has the potential to be climate-neutral

What we need now is to create the conditions for a sustainable market for hydrogen and come up with financing plans to help it to get up to scale rapidly.

Thyssen Krupp has announced that it’s expanding capacities. Does Siemens have similar plans?

Schnettler: At the moment we have 10 megawatt facilities in the field and are developing one for over 100 megawatts. We are currently expanding our production capacities into the gigawatt area.

Have plans to make Siemens Energy autonomous had a big influence on Siemens’ hydrogen activities? Can you give us a look ahead?

Schnettler: As an independent company, Siemens Energy can be more focused and better able to adapt to the transition in energy, thus being more successful in the long term. Hydrogen is one of the major pillars of our strategy at Siemens Energy. Decarbonizing the world´s economy is one of today’s biggest challenges. The key for this is constantly expanding renewables and integrating them into established industrial, energy and mobility infrastructures. Siemens Energy is already producing “green hydrogen” from renewable sources using PEM electrolysis. This is an important contribution to Germany’s transition to clean energy.

Hydrogen will play an increasingly important role as an energy source and storage medium, whether it be for emissions-free energy for motor vehicles, for the production of synthetic fuels, methanol or ammonia, or as a basis of chemical raw materials. We are also focusing on producing green hydrogen economically and ramping it up quickly for the market. The EU and Germany’s hydrogen strategies provide the framework, so that we can make quicker progress.

In addition to hydrogen production, Siemens is also involved in other areas of the hydrogen industry. What are your points of emphasis?

Schnettler: Siemens Energy covers large parts of the value chain. We see electrolysis as a key technology. With our PEM (proton exchange membrane) technology, we’re among the leading developers in the field. Siemens is active is many parts of power-to-gas and power-to-liquid processes from the production, transformation and use of renewable electricity for electrolysis to the compression of gas flows in these processes and the use of instrumentation and control. Carbon capture technology is also part of our company’s extended value chain. A further foundation are our gas turbines, which we use to turn hydrogen back into electricity. And we shouldn’t forget our overall expertise in finding complete solutions for complex power generation or process industry facilities and our strength with digitalization, which has a positive effect on efficiency and costs, particularly when applied to volatile solar and wind energy.

What areas do you think have particular growth potential?

Schnettler: Transition to sustainable and ecological energy supplies will require major investments, and that represents a great opportunity for Siemens Energy. One example is the area of “new energy business.” In the future, hydrogen has the potential to replace hydrocarbons as an energy carrier. We need to exploit this potential.

The German government sees the situation in exactly the same way. A short while ago, it presented its hydrogen strategy including  EUR 7 billion to get the hydrogen technology market up to speed in Germany and a further EUR 2 million to build up international partnerships in this area. The EU Commission has presented its strategy for encouraging hydrogen technologies in its “Clean Hydrogen Alliance.” This alliance between governments and companies is designed to accelerate the production, distribution and consumption of wind- and solar-generated hydrogen. It foresees investments of up to EUR 180 billion and the creation of a million jobs by 2050.

What are your national and international aims for your Mireo hydrogen train?

Schnettler: Our new regional train program Mireo was developed to be used sustainably and flexibly, and as such it’s predestined for testing out alternative drives. It’s the basis for Siemens Mobility’s new drive concept that could replace diesel train engines.

Together with Canadian fuel-cell developer Ballard Power Systems, Siemens Mobility is developing a fuel-cell drive for the Mireo Plus H. Its new hydrogen fuel cells are intended to have three times the lifespan, 50 percent more power density and 5 percent higher efficiency factor. Our research partner is the university Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule Aachen (RWTH), and the project is receiving almost EUR 12 million in funding from the Ministry of Transportation and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) as part of the National Hydrogen and Fuel-Cell Technology Innovation Program. The program is administered by the National Organization of Hydrogen and Fuel-Cell Technology NOW.

The goal of our collaboration is to develop a modular drive system with fuel cells for the Mireo platform and then to integrate it into other vehicle platforms. We are planning to deploy our hydrogen fuel cells in 2021, and we expect we can achieve ranges of 600 to 900 kilometers with two- or three-car trains. The fuel-cell trains are designed to have the same performance as electric-drive trains, cause no local CO2 emissions and have low maintenance thanks to their long-life components. They are targeted for use on previous diesel-train routes and regions where wind-energy and chemical industries are located and hydrogen is readily available.

Where do you see the gaps in the value creation chain for hydrogen electrolysis in particular?

Schnettler: Experts favor solar- and wind-generated electricity to create green hydrogen via electrolysis. For Germany, we can already see that in Germany alone we won’t be able to expand renewable energy enough to the demand for electrolysis-produced hydrogen. We’ll need to acquire potential international partners who can provide extra renewable electricity for hydrogen production

We also see parallel value creation chains of various energy sources in today’s energy system. Electrical power systems and natural gas networks, for example, have thus far been planned, expanded and run independently of one another. But for a functional, technically and economically efficient hydrogen economy, we need an intelligent overarching system. Ideally, experts from both the electricity and gas industries will come together, establish strategic partnerships and cooperate on joint projects to develop the best possible system for their customers.

In downstream areas of the green hydrogen value chain there are gaps in large-scale hydrogen storage and transport as well as its further transformation into green energy carriers like methanol and ammonia. There is no nationwide infrastructure for storing and distributing hydrogen. Along with potentially storing hydrogen in caves, it is also possible to use the existing national gas network. Hydrogen converted to ammonia or methanol can be transported by ship. The coming years will tell what exactly the value chains will look like.

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