Hydrogen Regions series: HydroHub Fenne living lab
The power plant site in Fenne, Völklingen, a long-standing power generation facility which celebrates its centenary this year, is now the focus of Iqony’s plans to meet the future energy needs of the industrial region of Saarland. Owned by the STEAG Group, Iqony specializes in renewable energy, hydrogen projects, energy storage, district heating and decarbonization solutions.
The site is already a major energy intersection for the state of Saarland in southwestern Germany and is at the crux of the area’s district heating supply. Along with the present facility, the site will in future be home to HydroHub Fenne, an addition that will ensure it remains an essential part of Saarland’s energy system in the years ahead.
“Due to its existing infrastructure, we see the site as ideally suited to the building of a hydrogen production facility at this location. The existing grid connection allows us to draw sufficiently large amounts of renewably generated power to produce renewable hydrogen here, close to the point of use,” explains Patrick Staudt who is in charge of hydrogen at Iqony Energies, a Saarland-based subsidiary of Iqony.
The project will need to comply with the provisions of the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED) and its associated German legislation so that the hydrogen produced in Fenne can also be classified as climate neutral according to the strict criteria set out in EU law. Iqony’s own trading division will provide support to make sure this happens.
IPCEI notification is vital
Depending on the number of operating hours, HydroHub Fenne will produce approximately 8,200 metric tons of green hydrogen a year. “The current plan is to commission the plant in 2027 – assuming that the latest statements on the completion of the IPCEI notification by the European Union are correct,” says Patrick Staudt.
IPCEI stands for Important Project of Common European Interest. Iqony applied to have its Saarland hydrogen project recognized as an IPCEI back in spring 2021. Dominik Waller, who is responsible for project development alongside Patrick Staudt, explains the significance of the decision: “Our project needs to gain recognition as an IPCEI to allow the German government to support us financially with the investment. It’s impossible without IPCEI notification due to European law on competition and state aid.”
The prospects are looking good for the project in Fenne. A final decision is expected in Brussels by the end of 2023 – more than two years after the original announcement was due. “Once we have the funding authorization from the EU, it will then be a matter of the government putting specific funding in place. That should happen in the first quarter of 2024 which will mean we are on track in terms of the project schedule,” elucidates Patrick Staudt.
Public funding of the project is necessary because there is not yet a functioning market for hydrogen in general or for green, i.e., renewable, hydrogen in particular. Hydrogen can help industry or, for example, local public transport avoid carbon dioxide emissions. However, hydrogen finds itself in financial competition with other energy sources such as natural gas. In economic terms, hydrogen is no match for other energy forms at present, precisely because a competitive marketplace has still to develop.
“We see this as a classic chicken-and-the-egg problem: Potential hydrogen producers are holding back on their investment decisions, waiting for definitive signs of future off-takers. On the other hand, potential off-takers are not investing in converting their processes and plant technology while there is no guarantee that the required hydrogen will be available in sufficient quantities in the future. The only way of getting out of this dilemma is if public authorities provide investment security for both sides in the form of funding,” acknowledges Dominik Waller.
As for the level of funding for HydroHub in Fenne and the overall capital outlay, Iqony is not at liberty to divulge specific figures for competitive reasons. However, a few hundred million euros are expected to be invested in the project. “We won’t be able to give a more exact figure until the tender for the plant technology has been concluded,” says Patrick Staudt. Though this will only be when the funding letter has been received. According to Staudt, this once again shows how fundamentally important the conclusion of the IPCEI process is in order to progress the project further.
Fig. 2: Site development
Tenders on the market
Another stipulation resulting from the funding conditions for an IPCEI-designated project is that the hydrogen produced can’t simply be sold in the usual way. “We’re obliged to use tenders to bring our product to market so that all potentially interested parties have a chance to participate,” states Dominik Waller. This is where the Fenne location is said to be to the company’s advantage, since it already has a disused gas pipeline connection that could be employed in future to link HydroHub Fenne to the hydrogen supply network being created. Waller continues: “It’s also why we are paying close attention to the current discussion on the government’s plans for a core hydrogen network – and here we see the need for further improvement, especially for Saarland.”
This expressly applies not only to the delivery of the future electrolyzer in Fenne through the core network draft, which was presented by FNB Gas to Germany’s Federal Network Agency in November 2023, but also to the present STEAG and Iqony power plants in Bexbach and Quierschied (Weiher power plant). “At both sites we want to build new, hydrogen-compatible gas power plants – just like the government itself has set out in its 2030 target, so we can switch off old coal-fired units, meet our national climate goals while at the same time ensuring the security of supply if wind and solar power aren’t available in sufficient quantities,” says Andreas Reichel, CEO of STEAG and Iqony.
Reichel adds: “Current government plans do not yet envisage bringing the core hydrogen network to these two locations, which will be necessary to make this happen. That said, we’re grateful to the Saarland regional government for its reassurance that this is precisely what it will be campaigning for in Berlin.” If such efforts are successful, it would enable Iqony to build new power plant capacity in Saarland by 2030 which is urgently needed to guarantee security of supply as well as ensure the green transformation of power generation in Saarland.
In the medium and long term, it is then hoped that these and other new gas power plants will be run on hydrogen to provide a reliable, carbon-neutral supply of energy. If the core hydrogen network planned by the German government is not immediately routed to within close proximity of the sites, this will be completely impossible. Despite the unresolved issues, Iqony is optimistic about the realization of its hydrogen and power plant projects on the River Saar:
“We have the technical and commercial expertise from more than 85 years in the global energy industry, we have the right locations and we have proven through the construction and commissioning of one of the world’s most advanced combined-cycle power plants in Herne, Nordrhein-Westfalen, at the end of 2022 under difficult COVID-19 conditions, that we can carry out challenging large-scale engineering projects on time and on budget – if the regulatory environment allows us to do so,” concludes Andreas Reichel.
Author: Dr. Patrick Staudt, Dominik Waller, both from Iqony
Feathers from chickens or other poultry could in the future help make fuel cells more effective and cheaper as a material for membranes. Researchers at ETH Zürich and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore have extracted the natural protein keratin from waste feathers, which as a protein building block is an essential component of hair and therefore a natural product. Every year, 40 million metric tons of the waste accrue worldwide, which otherwise is for the most part burned. The researchers process the keratin into extremely fine fibers in order to weave membranes from them. These are then used as electrolytes in the fuel cells.
In conventional fuel cells until now, toxic chemicals have been used for such membranes. They additionally are expensive and not ecologically degradable. The new membrane, on the other hand, is much less expensive. The production in the laboratory, according to ETH Zürich, reduced the cost to one third of the conventional. The chicken feather membrane could also be useful in H2 production by electrolysis, because the membrane is proton permeable and allows the particle migration between anode and cathode necessary for water splitting.
As a next step, the researchers will now investigate how stable and durable the keratin membrane is. The team has already applied for a patent for the membrane and is now looking for investors or companies that want to further develop the technology and bring it to market.
Guest article by André Steinau, CEO of GP Joule Hydrogen
After all, the Ampel Coalition leading the German federal government did reach an agreement shortly before the end of the year. And the ramp-up of the hydrogen economy will – again after all – not be completely slowed down, but will continue. But: Among others, the subsidies for erecting refueling and charging infrastructure (“Zuschüsse zur Errichtung von Tank- und Ladeinfrastruktur”) will sink in the climate fund Klima- und Transformationsfonds 2024 by 290 million euros (from 2.21 to 1.92 billion euros), and – the second but – the framework until now was and is for the ramp-up of the hydrogen economy in Germany simply not sufficient.
This is particularly incomprehensible in view of the enormous relevance that hydrogen production has for achieving the expansion targets for renewable energies and thus also for achieving the climate targets. The generation of electricity from wind and sun is in any case dependent on the weather. Accordingly, everything that helps to integrate renewables into our overall energy system, temporarily store their energy and transport it to consumers must be promoted. Electrolysis has a particularly high value here, as it makes the energy in the form of hydrogen usable independently of time and then enables the distribution of the energy through transport on the road, by rail or in pipelines.
A gigantic market is growing here. Sustainable and at the same time vital if we want to avert the worst consequences of the climate catastrophe. In the USA, this has been recognized. There, in the framework of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), many billions will be invested in the development of the green hydrogen economy and thus also in the transformation of the industrial sector.
And here? Here, subsidies are still too often viewed as if they were gifts for risk-free entrepreneurship. The opposite is true. For the hydrogen projects alone that GP Joule is just implementing, a good 30 million euros in funding applied for or approved spurred nearly 60 million euros in private investments.
But uncertainty scares off investors, whether banks, entrepreneurs or other financiers. Financing green hydrogen projects is becoming increasingly difficult. Banks are demanding higher risk premiums. At the same time, subsidies are falling – see above – rather than attracting. The German government behaves hesitantly. Previously announced funding programs are a long time coming. All not good signals.
The promised calls of funding for electrolyzers, hydrogen refueling stations and, above all, fuel cell trucks should swiftly be put on the road, because the ramp-up of hydrogen production requires security of purchase. Hydrogen producers, infrastructure operators and truck manufacturers only have this security if vehicles are subsidized.
However, with a coherent policy, the state would need to be not only a giver of consumption security but also investment security as a guarantor. If the financing of hydrogen projects – also due to the international crises from Ukraine to the Middle East – becomes increasingly impossible, it will also become increasingly difficult to produce green hydrogen competitively and cheaply. Banks and companies from the world of capital and finance are indeed looking for ways to finance H2 projects. However, in the current market ramp-up phase, the state is also urgently required to provide financial impetus through industrial and economic policy.
There are plenty of suggestions as to what these impulses could look like, how the state can become a guarantor: instead of pure investment funding, a type of fixed remuneration on the basis of the capacity of the hydrogen refueling station that is payed out over a period of eight to ten years under the condition of a consistently high performance of the refueling station, which makes the now needed infrastructure establishment commercially possible.
The state could also really be a guarantor and provide cheap credits for hydrogen projects, for example through a loan program of the public fund KfW.
For the ramp-up of the hydrogen economy in Germany, strong incentives are urgently needed. The instruments are on the table. If they are not used, Germany could, after the relocation of the solar and wind turbine industries, be facing the collapse of the next crucial pillar of the energy transition. It would not only be bad news for the climate, but also for the country’s economic status.
Author: André Steinau, GP Joule Hydrogen, email@example.com
Progress is being made at EU level – albeit extremely slowly. This was the case with RED II (Renewable Energy Directive), this is the case with the IPCEI projects and even more so with the 37th BImSchV. RED III also took a long time, but now it’s here. On September 12, 2023, the European Parliament approved the amended Renewable Energy Directive (RED), and on October 31, it was published in the Official Journal of the European Union.
What must now follow is the transposition into national law. The hope is that this will lead to a significant acceleration in the expansion of renewable energies – mandatory 42.5 percent by 2030 – and a faster reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
“[…] reduction of net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55 % compared to 1990 levels by 2030. […] Renewable energy plays a fundamental role in achieving those objectives, given that the energy sector currently contributes over 75 % of total greenhouse gas emissions in the Union.”
The German government has shown that it is willing to pick up the pace. For example, federal economy minister Robert Habeck during the German worker’s day event called for acceleration of the expansion of the hydrogen economy. Stefan Wenzel, parliamentary secretary of the federal ministry for economy and climate protection (BMWK, see photo) stated in Berlin that the motto of the BMWK is “faster, more digital, simpler.”
Also Dr. Christine Falken-Großer, department head at the BMWK, explained at an EEX workshop in Berlin: “We have achieved an incredible amount in recent years. There may be little in the ground, but we have funding instruments, strategies, etc.” Furthermore, an H2 acceleration act (H2-Beschleunigungsgesetz) is on the way. This legislative package will “contain things that will bring about substantial acceleration.”
There has been a reform backlog in many areas for years, for example in the revision of the ordinance on the implementation of the emissions reduction law (37th BImSchV). Werner Diwald, chairman of the German hydrogen and fuel cell association DWV, has long pointed out the enormous importance of this ordinance. “We have been waiting twelve years for the 37th BImSchV,” said Diwald.
Commission adopts 6th PCI list
Not quite as long, but also too long, many companies have been waiting for notification of their funding applications for IPCEIs (Important Projects of Common European Interest). Only with this explicit “go” may the EU member states approve subsidies that go beyond what is normally permitted under competition laws. There are now individual cases of pre-approval for an early project start, but the risk then lies with the companies. Only a handful of companies have already received a funding decision; the majority of players are still waiting for positive feedback from the EU.
Alexander Peters, managing director of the Neuman & Esser Group, said recently in Berlin: “I know many companies that have since left the IPCEI procedure.” Similarly, it has been reported from other sources that a number of players would no longer submit their funding applications in the same form today in view of the higher prices. Stefan Wenzel holds the view, however, that at least for the infrastructure projects the commitments from the EU should turn up at the turn of the year.
Nevertheless, at the end of November 2023, the news came from Brussels that the European Commission had adopted the sixth PCI list (Projects of Common Interest). Among the total of 166 infrastructure projects it contains are 85 projects for an offshore and intelligent electricity network as well as 14 for a CO2 network – and 65 hydrogen-related projects, most of them in Western Europe.
A total of 179 applications for hydrogen were submitted. However, as activities such as the continued operation of natural gas projects are no longer supported, the overall success rate was “only” 37%.
Daniel Fraile, head of policy at the association Hydrogen Europe, said: “The adoption of hydrogen projects in a PCI list for the first time is a big step forward and shows the commitment of the EU to laying the foundations for a European hydrogen backbone. This first selection process is also a valuable lesson that we have learned. We will work with our members to ensure that the next list includes more diversified projects (both in terms of type and geographical distribution).”
Now, a corresponding delegated act with the 6th PCI list lies before the European Parliament as well as the European Council. The vote should then take place two, maximum four months from now.
The aspiration of Landesmesse Stuttgart with Hy-Fcell is to host an international industry feature. This was also the case in earlier years, when the symposium with accompanying exhibition called F-Cell was a meeting point for numerous well-known representatives of the hydrogen and fuel cell community. Now, however, there are other events that are far larger and much more international, while the Hy-Fcell in September 2023 exhibited mainly regional companies within Germany.
In the past, F-Cell was especially a conference. Parallel to this, several companies exhibited their products and services. Trade fair company Landesmesse Stuttgart is attempting to reverse the ratio by attracting more companies to the exhibition grounds, which are located directly by the airport in Stuttgart.
Compared to the previous year, a noticeable increase in the number of exhibitors was also recorded. Particularly regional players from the industrially strong surrounding area used the opportunity to present themselves and their products. Of course, foreign companies were also on site, but compared to the Hydrogen Technology Expo, the percentage was rather low. While almost solely English was spoken at the trade fair in Bremen, the chatter in Stuttgart was mainly German.
The significance of the conference, which was held in a rather remote location, seems to be diminishing substantially. During the opening session, there was a conspicuous number of empty chairs in the large hall. In the talks that H2-international held with participants, it also became clear that to the majority, the knowledge gained and the conference fees didn’t align.
Hy-Fcell Award for Ionysis
Noteworthy is that the innovation prize for hydrogen and fuel cells Hy-Fcell Award was given to the team around Matthias Breitwieser for the fourth time. This three-category prize worth 30,000 euros in total is given out every year by the German state Baden-Württemberg and supported by Wirtschaftsförderung Region Stuttgart, the Baden-Württemberg ministry for environment and energy, and Landesmesse Stuttgart.
This time, Breitwieser with the company Ionysis GmbH (see H2-international May 2023) competed in the category Start-up. The young company was founded in 2022 as a spin-off of Universität Freiburg and the research association Hahn-Schickard-Gesellschaft für angewandte Forschung, and currently has 15 employees who, among other things, specialize in finding alternatives to so-termed forever chemicals.
The young scientists developed membrane electrode assemblies (MEAs) that do not require the use of environmentally harmful fluorine compounds called PFAS (per- and polyfluorinated chemicals) – without sacrificing performance or costs. They replaced the previous standard material Nafion with hydrocarbons. Already in 2015, 2019 and 2022, the working group “Elektrochemische Energiesysteme” of Uni Freiburg as well as of the Hahn-Schickard-Gesellschaft received an award.
Breitwieser (see H2-international Oct. 2018 and Jan. 2016) said to H2-international: “The prize has high importance to us – visibility that comes with it has helped us a lot each time: in 2015 with our small academic research group that had just formed and while we were still doctoral students; 2019, as at the time Severin Vierrath and I had taken over the working group from our predecessor Simon Thiele and with the prize received the first public proof of our own successful academic work; and of course now in 2023 with our own first spin-off company. I hope the prize lands a few more times in Freiburg.”
Further prizes went to the institute of vehicle concepts of the DLR (German aerospace center) as well as to Robert Bosch GmbH. Interesting here was the affirmation of Bosch that it is saying goodbye to the fuel cell heating appliance for single-family homes and with the new 100‑kW SOFC system wants to advance up to the megawatt range.
Hydrogeit Verlag is proudly celebrating its 20th anniversary as a renowned specialist publisher in the world of hydrogen and fuel cell technology. Founded in 2002, the journey began under the visionary leadership of mechanical engineer Sven Geitmann, who wrote a thesis on “Hydrogen as a fuel for vehicle drives” in 1997.
20 years of pioneering work in hydrogen and fuel cells: Geitmann’s passion and commitment to hydrogen and fuel cell technology is reflected in the publisher’s long-standing history: for two decades we have strived to share the latest developments, innovations and success stories as well as detailed knowledge for the entire H2 and FC sector. Our primary concern is to ensure objective and independent reporting that provides confidence and clarity to our readers.
Outstanding Achievements: Over the years, Hydrogeit Verlag has achieved significant milestones. The HZwei magazine is enjoying increasing popularity, both in digital form and as a high-quality print version. The hydrogen blog shines with current articles and exclusive interviews. And the calendar offers a comprehensive overview of events in the hydrogen and fuel cell industry. The extensive business directory is a proven resource for companies and experts. The first-class Google rankings, which make the content accessible to a wide audience, are the result of many years of dedicated work.
A look back and into the future: Sven Geitmann, founder and owner of Hydrogeit Verlag, remembers the beginnings, when he personally put content online and even designed the first editions of his books himself.
“I had to spend hours trying to log into the university server via modem. But it was worth it – and luckily I no longer have to do everything myself. Today, when I look back on the past 20 years, I realize how far we have come together. I would like to emphasize that this success is not solely due to my work. A great team of professionals and talented authors accompanied me on this journey. Their dedication and expertise are essential parts of our outstanding reporting and information resources.
We are grateful for the support of our readers, authors and employees and look forward to further successful years in the service of hydrogen and fuel cell technology. We assure you that we will do our best in the future to continue to provide high-quality content and advance hydrogen and fuel cell technology,” explained Geitmann.