HyCentA becomes COMET K1 center

Austria focuses on pioneering hydrogen research

Austria’s first and leading hydrogen research center HyCentA began life in 2005. Now promoted to become part of the COMET funding program (Competence Centers for Excellent Technologies), it is continuing its research on the campus of Graz University of Technology as a K1 center of excellence.

The Hydrogen Research Center Austria located at Graz University of Technology, better known as HyCentA, is Austria’s top research center for hydrogen technologies. Since it was founded in 2005, HyCentA has specialized in developing novel technological solutions for electrolysis, hydrogen storage and fuel cells, delivering innovations in cooperation with partners and supporting technologies as they progress from initial idea to market maturity.

Alexander Trattner, scientific director of HyCentA, explains: “We want to push the sustainable hydrogen society much further because we’re convinced that green hydrogen has to be part of the solution for a net-zero energy system. Approval as a COMET K1 center allows us to carry out extensive research into hydrogen technologies that are especially relevant for the future: electrolyzers, storage systems and fuel cells. We’re also able to concentrate more on a holistic view of hydrogen within the areas of electricity, heat supply, transport and industry. The COMET K1 program enables long-term research to take place at HyCentA, underpinned by decades of experience in research and development as well as hundreds of successfully completed projects.”

COMET network

COMET’s mission is to build bridges between science and industry for a sustainable future. As Austria’s flagship science and industry program, it is intended to support pioneering research. The network funds the setup of technological centers of excellence referred to as COMET centers.

The work conducted by the 80-member team at HyCentA is divided into four areas. The goal is to lower the cost of technologies, reduce degradation and raise the efficiency of electrochemical cells. In addition, the intention is to identify the ideal combination of key technologies and optimization potential by coupling the energy, industry and mobility sectors. Ultimately, it is hoped that this will enable a higher degree of self-sufficiency in renewables, increase the resilience of the energy system and safeguard international competitiveness through in-country value creation. A total of around 40 leading national and international businesses and academic partners are contributing to the research alongside HyCentA as part of the COMET program’s work on hydrogen technologies.

Area 1: Electrolysis and Power-to-X

Area 1 covers all technologies that support the sustainable and emission-free production of hydrogen and chemicals for storing hydrogen. The main technologies for electrolytic hydrogen production are the more developed techniques of alkaline and proton exchange membrane electrolysis (AEL and PEMEL) as well as applications with mid-levels of technology readiness (anion exchange membrane and solid oxide electrolysis: AEMEL and SOEL) and promising methods with a low degree of readiness (proton-conducting ceramic electrolysis: PCCEL). Other research focuses on approaches for splitting water by means of solar energy (photoelectrolysis) and the electrochemical manufacturing of chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide and ammonia.

The aim is to further develop the technologies, starting with the materials and progressing through the cell and stack and continuing all the way to system level. Although the general goals of increasing longevity and efficiency and lowering cost apply to all technologies, the specific research approaches vary. When it comes to raising efficiency, it is the design and operational strategies that need to be optimized. For extending the life of electrolyzers, on the other hand, the focus is on accelerated aging tests. Meanwhile, for improvements in production processes, the research sets its sights on increasing the automation of manufacturing and assembly processes.

Area 2: Green Energy and Industry

Area 2 concentrates on key technologies that are essential for hydrogen applications in the energy and industry sectors. Under consideration are stationary and mobile storage technologies based on compressed gas storage as well as metal hydride and liquid storage. Synergies from bringing together stationary and on-board applications are exploited by developing an intelligent combination of distribution and logistics systems with stationary forms of infrastructure. Investigations are carried out into areas including electrochemical compression and purification in addition to power conversion using stationary fuel cells. Alongside the efficiency of the technologies examined, the reliability and safety of systems are also a key research priority.

Area 3: Green Mobility

The focus of Area 3 is on fuel cell and hydrogen storage systems, particularly for mobility applications. These comprise PEM and AEM cells, stacks and systems as well as optimized forms of existing and alternative storage systems. The research work aims to generate a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of fuel cells and storage systems so the problems of performance, degradation, cost and industrialization can be better appreciated and solved using suitable countermeasures.

Relevant results for the interface definition at the level of vehicle integration and refueling infrastructure are used to create the best possible basis for future developments. Key knowledge is used to improve production and manufacturing so that market readiness and viability can be rapidly achieved.

Area 4: Circularity and System Optimization

Area 4 develops seamless tool chains in order to examine and optimize resilient, cross-sector energy systems based on renewable primary energy and hydrogen. These simulation tools allow operational strategies for power-to-X plants to be devised and business cases created.

Innovative testing and measuring instruments for fuel cells and electrolysis as well as underlying measuring and diagnostic methods are developed for the purposes of gaining knowledge about degradation, state of health and predictive maintenance. Efficient and cost-effective measuring tools and systems are deployed for applications across the entire hydrogen value chain, and extensive knowledge is acquired about the suitability and compatibility of materials in conjunction with hydrogen applications.

Analyses and concept developments are translated broadly into systemic and economic market models and recycling options for the purposes of creating a circular economy. The future potential of recycling processes and technologies is also assessed and evaluated on a representative small scale. An environmental performance model is being developed for recycling scenarios which methodically compares and contrasts new and recycled materials.

Hydrogen, fuel cell & electrolyzer test center

Testing is an integral part of the HyCentA research portfolio. The center’s facilities are used to test and inspect performance, safety, degradation behavior and reliability in real hydrogen operations. This work is undertaken by numerous labs and testing areas which meet the unique and stringent demands of established testing and inspection routines as well as specialist customer requirements.

The various tests which can be conducted in these facilities include quality assessments, calibration services, performance and efficiency tests, safety tests, service life tests and examinations under real environmental conditions. Among the amenities at the 1,200-square-meter (12,900-square-foot) test center are two single-cell electrolysis test stations, two short-stack electrolysis test stations, a high-pressure test station up to 1,000 bar with climatic chamber, two multifunctional test stations, a fuel cell cathode subsystem test station, a fuel cell system test station up to 160 kilowatts with climatic chamber, a gas analysis lab, an analytical and electrochemical lab, an electrochemical compression test station, a 350-bar and 700-bar hydrogen refueling station, a test cell for hydrogen permeation and an autoclave for hydrogen material compatibility analysis of samples.

TU Graz and HyCentA

The HyCentA research center aims to benefit the community as a whole. Researchers work in close cooperation with Graz University of Technology, also known as TU Graz, particularly when it comes to industrial research into electrolysis, fuel cells and hydrogen infrastructure. HyCentA shareholders are TU Graz, which owns a 50 percent stake, Magna, OMV and the combustion and thermodynamics research organization FVT. The COMET center of excellence is financed by the Austrian government – specifically the climate action ministry and the economy ministry – and the states of Steiermark, Upper Austria, Tyrol and Vienna. The Austrian research promotion agency FFG has been in charge of program management for more than 20 years.

TU Graz is Austria’s most tradition-rich technical and scientific institution for research and education. The university has been successfully researching electrochemistry and hydrogen for more than 50 years. Today, the TU Graz campus is home to a 160-member team working in hydrogen research and across its unique lab and research facilities, making it one of Europe’s leading establishments. The university covers the entire value chain for the renewable hydrogen industry, from production via storage and distribution to deployment, and is a one-stop shop for hydrogen technology research –from the fundamentals through applied technologies and systems.


Author: Alexander Trattner, HyCentA Research GmbH, Graz, Austria, trattner@hycenta.at

1 thought on “HyCentA becomes COMET K1 center”

Leave a Reply