Colorful path to a green future

2nd round of HyLand competition kicks off

“We’re not talking about Champagne, we’re talking about table water.” This was the pronouncement of Katherina Reiche, chairwoman of Germany’s National Hydrogen Council, as she instigated proceedings at this year’s H2Congress. On Jan. 26 and 27, 2021, over 3,000 attendees gathered online for a joint conference consolidating the NIP General Assembly and the German Hydrogen Congress. In among the discussions came the announcement that the second round of the HyLand competition would soon open.

Although some audience members had already anticipated this disclosure, news that the HyLand initiative would enter its second stage in spring 2021 still came as a surprise. This triggered a rush of meetings, both during and immediately after the conference, between the many potential partner organizations eager to be involved in this second part of Germany’s hydrogen regions project.

So far, 25 areas nationwide have received grants to help with driving forward the integration of hydrogen as an energy carrier. The latest round makes it possible for regions with HyStarter status to become HyExperts or for HyExperts to upgrade to the HyPerformer category. New regions that have not previously taken part are also invited to join. HyStarter applications can be submitted in March/April, while HyExpert proposals are welcomed through to May. This is to encourage a wide range of applications from various hydrogen proponents up and down the country.

Not just a diverse mix of attendees at the H2Congress. Both Katherina Reiche and Thomas Hüwener from Open Grid Europe referred to the “diverse colors” of hydrogen, thus sidestepping any reference to “blue” hydrogen – a variant which has drawn criticism by some industry players.

Competition for site of hydrogen center

In his keynote address, German transportation minister Andreas Scheuer appeared delighted that a total of 15 applications had been received for the hydrogen technology and innovation center, a facility previously announced by his department that would focus on mobility solutions. From these submissions, a shortlist of three candidates is due to be agreed before the next stage when the winner of the tender will be selected.

What may be interesting to see is whether the decision of the CSU-led transport ministry favors the submission from its political home ground of Bavaria or whether the promising applications from Berlin-Brandenburg, Chemnitz or Duisburg, for example, have a genuine chance. The choice of location for the German battery research center, as decided by the federal research ministry, prompted a major row in summer 2020 when Ibbenbühren, a town in Minister Anja Karliczek’s own electoral district, gained the advantage over Ulm (see H2-international, October 2020).

Three grants awarded

At the event, Scheuer also took the opportunity to reveal the recipients of three grants for initiatives supporting the development of fuel cell-powered commercial vehicles. A figure of almost EUR 17 million was handed to Achim Kampker from the SeLv project. A collaboration between Quantron and AE Driven Solutions, SeLv is itself a spin-off from RWTH Aachen University with involvement also from the Neuman & Esser Group. The consortium is working jointly on the conversion of heavy trucks, regardless of make, to fuel cell powertrains through the development of a modular powertrain kit (see H2-international, October 2019).

Some participants were surprised to hear that Opel may still be continuing to work on fuel cells given the prolonged silence on the subject. Since January 2021, the German automotive manufacturer has been owned by Stellantis following the merger of its French parent PSA Group with Fiat Chrysler. Now Opel Automobile has announced its return to the fuel cell sector and is benefiting from around EUR 5.7 million for the development of a light commercial vehicle of up to 3.5 metric tons with a fuel cell power system and for the testing of five prototypes. Other partners in this HyLightCOM project are Faurecia, Mechelin and Symbio Fuel Cell. According to current plans, this undertaking should pave the way for large-scale manufacturing of the Opel Vivaro-e from 2025. An initial B2B test fleet could go into operation in early 2022. According to Lars Peter Thiesen, who received news of the funding approval digitally, “it’s not about showcasing the nth demo fleet.”

The third award was bestowed on the University of Kassel, supported by the Kassel Mercedes-Benz plant, which received approximately EUR 1.8 million for the Scale-e-Drive project for their work on commercial battery electric vehicles (3.5 to 7 metric tons).

“The question is not if but when battery electric, hydrogen and fuel cell drives will become competitive for road freight transport. We are working proactively in this area, since around 90 percent of CO2 emissions within the transport sector originate from road traffic, and a third of that comes from trucks. […] Only if hydrogen is truly green can we convince people and make transportation more environmentally sound.”

Andreas Scheuer, federal transport minister

Werner Diwald, chairman of the German Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association that helped organize the event, voiced criticism during the congress that Germany’s national hydrogen strategy does not go far enough. At the same time, he was also confident that the 21st century “will enter the history books as the century of hydrogen.” As he explained, his aim is to make “Europe the leading H2 continent.”

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