The greenest industrial region in Europe

Duisburg, being located on the rivers Rhine and Ruhr, is an excellent site for transport activities. Duisburger Hafen, the largest inland port in the world, is one of the most important shipping hubs globally. Settled in Duisburg are, among others, the major research institutes Fraunhofer IMS (Fraunhofer institute for microelectronics) and the ZBT (Duisburg fuel cell technology center). At the same time, the industrial activities there steel production, coal-based power production, port operation – are one of the city’s largest sources of CO2 emissions. ThyssenKrupp Steel Duisburg alone accounts for 2.5% of the CO2 emissions in Germany. An excellent place to start actively driving forward processes for the already necessary transformation of the industrial and transportation sectors toward a hydrogen economy and, with that, shape a renewed economic restructuring of the region.

Duisburg is located in the Ruhr area, which consists of eleven district-free cities and four districts. In the region called the Metropole Ruhr live 5.1 million people – of which 0.5 million reside in Duisburg (status on 2020/06/30). The Ruhr area is the largest polycentric metropolitan area as well as one of the largest urban areas and, with 31,000 workers, the largest steel site in the European Union. Each municipality and each district has developed its own field of expertise and industry concentration. Duisburg’s specializations, for example, lay in metal production and metalworking, warehousing and shipping services as well as the energy industry and maritime transport.

Green transformation

Germany’s energy transition and phasing out of hard coal represent a challenge for all municipalities and districts in the Ruhr area. Its economic restructuring into a service and knowledge location is in full swing. Throughout the Ruhr area, an increase in activities regarding digitalization, energy, sustainability and circular economy is taking place. How is Duisburg handling this climate and structural change?

Already in 2001, the ZBT in Duisburg – Zentrum für BrennstoffzellenTechnik GmbH – was founded. It was to be a nucleus that supported the needed transformation in the Ruhr area, in particular that involving fuel cell and hydrogen technology. The ZBT is an application-oriented research and development institute for fuel cells and hydrogen and battery technology with global renown. Its focus lies in meeting the needs of industry as an independent service and R&D partner. Currently, 150 full-time employees and about 25 student employees work there.

With numerous projects already early on, the ZBT was able to collect experience in hydrogen and fuel cell technology and to help in its development. Production processes for a mass market were created and, in the first independent testing lab at the time, standards for fuel cell systems were set.

With the hydrogen test field at the ZBT that went into operation in 2018, a research and development platform for high-pressure H2 applications was established, which today represents the decisive testing platform in various European projects.

H2 in steelworking

Because of the Paris Climate Accord and national provisions regarding greenhouse gas emissions, hydrogen is gaining momentum throughout the European Union. With this in view, Thyssenkrupp Steel in Duisburg has decided to invest in climate-friendly technology. The company’s blast furnace process is to be partially replaced by a hydrogen-powered direct reduction system of pig iron production within the next few years. The goal is to produce premium steel with low CO2 emission.

The planned direct reduction furnace is conceived for 2.5 million tonnes of crude iron and should avoid 3.5 million tonnes of CO2, as the CO2 emission in this first production step is to sink by about 20%. The total investment is 2 billion euros. A corresponding IPCEI project application has been submitted. As soon as the commitment from the EU comes, the building contract can be awarded and construction of the direct reduction furnace can begin. The expected start of production is currently in 2026.

Duisburger Hafen as well, the largest inland port in the world, is obligated, by internal regulations, to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. As part of the project EnerPort I, it has been investigating which approach should be taken to support the energy transformation process. Using the example of Duisburger Hafen, a strategy is to be developed based on data collection, concept selection, formation of scenarios and, finally, optimization of energy infrastructure and operations. This project will be completed shortly and has already spurred a subsequent project, started in 2021, to implement the results.

In the project EnerPort II, the worked out fundamentals are to be implemented and tested in a pilot project that involves construction of the trimodal Duisburg Gateway Terminal (DGT) in Duisburger Hafen. At the terminal, a sustainable energy system would be installed that is designed as a smart microgrid. Renewable energy production, storage and consumption would be coupled and optimally driven, and adjacent neighborhoods and city districts could be supplied through this.

Activities of this sort are bringing international companies as well to settle in Duisburg. Most recently, the US fuel cell manufacturer Plug Power Inc. opened its European service and logistics center in Duisburger Hafen (see H2-international May 2022).

TrHy – “The Hydrogen Proving Area”

TrHy came into being as an ITZ center (Technologie- und Innovationszentrum Wasserstoff) for the western area of Germany through a national competition. It is one of four ITZ centers throughout the country, which are dedicated to hydrogen innovation. Through TrHy, located on the grounds of the steel and power producer Hüttenwerke Krupp Mannesmann in the south of Duisburg, the entire spectrum of innovation development, knowledge transfer, standardization, certification and testing of fuel cell-based drive systems for the heavy transport sector is to be covered, thus giving Duisburg a national center for hydrogen-based mobility across various transport modes.

The plan is to coordinate the activities in the field of standardization and to be available as an independent testing institute to market partners. For this, the state of Nordrhein-Westfalen (NRW) and the federal government have allocated up to 122 million euros of funding. Investigation of the feasibility of such an institute was carried out and confirmed. Wide support from the industry was obtained in the form of documents and assurances beforehand. With the laboratory and testing capabilities that are to be set up, an essential gap in the successful establishment of hydrogen-based transportation will be filled. For the research and development, a large network of partners throughout NRW, as satellites of TrHy, stand available.

H2 industrial park

The city of Duisburg itself must also be active in order to comply with regulations and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Over the next few years, it will be investing heavily in the expansion of climate-friendly transportation. The provisions of the EU’s Clean Vehicle Directive (CVD) were transferred into German law as the Saubere-Fahrzeuge-Beschaffungs-Gesetz (SaubFahrzeugBeschG) by policymakers in 2021. In response, the public transit provider Duisburger Verkehrsgesellschaft AG (DVG) acquired seven battery-electric buses, which have been in use in the Duisburg urban area since March 2022. In May 2022, the city council made the decision to procure ten H2-powered buses by 2026. At the end of November, it was decided to purchase a further 100 units by 2030.

The company for municipal operations, Wirtschaftsbetriebe Duisburg (WBD), has also committed to fuel cell drives. In 2021, the nation’s first hydrogen-powered trash collection vehicle went into service – another in October 2022 – and five units are yet to be delivered.

With this, Duisburg is well on its way to claiming the title of “hydrogen capital” for itself, since the H2 demand at this time is the greatest in Duisburg and its state of NRW. The steel and shipping industries are counting on hydrogen to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which is creating the ideal conditions for establishment of a sustainable H2 economy. The following map offers an overview of the hydrogen activities in the Duisburg urban area.

Cooperations and networks

To participants, it is clear that the market ramp-up of the hydrogen economy can only happen if they work together. Duisburger Hafen (DuisPort) is cooperating with Dutch seaports to study the potentials of various H2 carrier technologies and to establish an international supply chain for hydrogen. In addition, there is the RH2INE (Rhine Hydrogen Integration Network of Excellence), which is an initiative of the Dutch province Zuid-Holland and the German state Nordrhein-Westfalen, in cooperation with the ports of Rotterdam and Duisburg and the company RheinCargo, founded with the goal of creating a climate-neutral transport corridor in the Rhine-Alpine area (Transportkorridor Rhein-Alpen) and advancing the use of hydrogen in freight transport.

Furthermore, in 2020, the region DüsselRheinWupper, which includes Duisburg, won the NRW competition to become a model region for hydrogen transportation (Modellregion Wasserstoffmobilität NRW). Consequently, the initial concepts for a complete hydrogen-based transportation system in the region were worked out and the fundamentals for an implementation in Duisburg were drawn up.

Duisburg is also actively participating in the project HyMR (Hydrogen Metropole Ruhr) of the regional land use association Regionalverband Ruhr. Within this network, the various regional initiatives exchange information in order to jointly move the region forward in the field of hydrogen through synergy effects.

With the association Hy.Region.Rhein.Ruhr eV, founded in 2021 in Duisburg and in which 40 companies and scientific institutions are now active, a strong network of industry partners stand available in the fields of hydrogen production, distribution and use in the industrial and transportation sectors. The stated objective of Hy.Region.Rhein.Ruhr is to promote the implementation of a cross-sector hydrogen economy. For this purpose, the members want to actively work together and carry out projects in the Rhine-Ruhr region.

H2 education center

A green transformation only works, however, if it is accompanied by a social transformation. Employees who are being affected by this need precisely tailored continuing education and retraining measures – this ranges from skilled and technical trades to a strong academic environment in the relevant key technologies. Such measures give employees a hopeful future, not only for themselves, but for a healthy overall social and societal fabric.

This cannot be accomplished by the companies alone, however. That’s why the City of Duisburg together with strong partners from the region is planning the construction of an H2 education center, to be able to offer a wide range of continuing education and retraining services for the region and its companies. By the signing of a letter of intent between the City of Duisburg, DuisPort, KWS Energy Knowledge eG and the ZBT, it was decided that a hydrogen training center would be set up in Duisburg. The corresponding project applications for a systematic analysis of the qualification needs of the different professional groups as well as a system to recognize the skills that they acquire have already been prepared and will be sent off with the support of the various industry partners.

Matthias Heina, hydrogen coordinator for the City of Duisburg

Image: ZBT, Duisburg

Fig. 4: Hydrogen activities in Duisburg – with no claim of completeness


Image: Thyssenkrupp Stahlwerk Schwelgern
Source: City of Duisburg

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