District becomes hydrogen pioneer

District becomes hydrogen pioneer

Hydrogen Regions series: HyExpert region AachenPLUS

There was once a well-known German sports channel that would promote its TV shows with the slogan “Mittendrin statt nur dabei” – meaning at the heart of the action, not just on the sidelines. Had the broadcaster not claimed ownership of this phrase, the German district of Düren could have justifiably considered appropriating it for itself. After all, you would be hard pressed to find a place in the Rhineland that is more involved in the action. This is especially the case, given that the brown coal opencast mines of Inden, Hambach and Garzweiler are largely situated within the district. So when it comes to swiftly putting clean energy technology ideas into practice, Düren is not just involved, it’s right at the forefront. And hydrogen has played a key role from the start.


The largest project overseen by the district of Düren is the full-blown conversion of train and bus fleets to green hydrogen. The sustainable fuel is to be produced locally from early 2025 via a 9-megawatt PEM electrolyzer facility. In addition, an ever-increasing number of hydrogen projects are appearing at exceptional speed which will help the area achieve its goal of becoming net-zero by 2035 (see p. 26). These schemes also act as a good example to others. Industrial-scale production plants for green hydrogen, like those being developed near the town of Jülich, are still few and far between. According to the International Renewable Energy Agency, only 4 percent of the hydrogen manufactured globally in 2021 was green.

“We need pioneers who lead the way,” said German transportation minister Volker Wissing when handing over funding letters for grants worth EUR 81.6 million in May 2023. The money is being channeled into a range of projects including the building of electrolyzers, the purchase of 17 hydrogen railcars which will replace the existing diesel railcars by 2026, and the installation of a hydrogen train refueling facility in the district. In another project, the district is converting the fleet of bus company Rurtalbus. So far, a total of five hydrogen-powered buses are now circulating on the area’s roads. A further 20 buses are expected to join them by the end of the coming year.

In Wissing’s view, evidence of Düren’s pioneering attitude can be seen particularly in the fact that, rather than just running hydrogen-powered trains, carbon-neutral green hydrogen production will be introduced as well. “Hydrogen projects are great. But where is the green hydrogen going to come from? The smart approach is to tackle this question head-on and say: It’s best if we make it ourselves.”

Ahead of the grants

That a flagship project of this kind is now taking shape in Düren is thanks to the head of the district authority, Wolfgang Spelthahn (see fig. 3), who incorporated the use of hydrogen very early on in the planning process. At the time when he expressed the ambition of turning Düren into a model region for hydrogen, there was still no sign of the EUR 14.8 billion in funding that was later earmarked in the 2020 structural enhancement law which outlined the plans for restructuring in the Rhineland and signaled the phaseout of power generation using brown coal. “We recognized the benefits of green hydrogen early and took a long view to invest in the future. This enabled us to gain a considerable advantage,” says Spelthahn.

In 2020, the German government decided to phase out brown coal by 2038 and approved billions of euros in grants for this purpose. A year later, the then North Rhine-Westphalia economy minister Andreas Pinkwart paid a visit to Düren and described the Rhineland as the “greatest climate action project in the world.” The statement remains true today: The Rhineland is the largest mining area for brown coal in Europe, making it a major emitter of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide.

What FDP politician Pinkwart could not know is that the subsequent conservative-green coalition would, a year later, further step up the pace of restructuring significantly. Consequently, the date for extracting the last brown coal from Germany’s western minefields was brought forward from 2038 to 2030.

This move drew much criticism, for example from industry quarters. Industry representatives denounced the phaseout as too rapid since new technology would be too slow to set up. As a result, the Cologne Chamber of Industry and Commerce refused to sign the recast regional agreement in early summer. Behind the refusal was this simple calculation: To compensate for the energy no longer produced due to the withdrawal from brown coal, the region would have to build an additional 1,500 wind turbines. According to the Cologne chamber, it currently takes too long to construct a wind turbine, with the period from initial proposal to commissioning lasting seven years. The conclusion: It’s not just the energy-intensive industries situated in and around the Rhineland that have concerns about security of supply.

Visible progress

Against this backdrop, Düren’s hydrogen initiatives set it apart from other districts. The majority of the projects that have managed to get underway in the Rhineland, despite everything, are located there. The solar park, with a capacity of up to 9.2 megawatts, which will supply a large part of the green energy for electrolysis, is already installed. In all, 18,200 solar modules will generate enough power to supply almost 3,000 homes. The amount of carbon dioxide saved each year will be 4,604 metric tons.

However, in the long term, the power generated will not be sufficient to produce the targeted 162 kilograms of hydrogen per hour at the expected 4,000 to 5,000 full-load hours a year. For this reason the district is planning to use additional renewable sources. The electrolyzer is being built and operated by HyDN. The company has involvement from both the holding company Beteiligungsgesellschaft Kreis Düren and industrial gases enterprise Messer Industriegase in Bad Soden.

Hydrogen capability on show

A key aim for the district is to show people what hydrogen can do. At the end of 2022, a hydrogen-powered rapid response vehicle joined the fleet of Düren’s ambulance service. The Hyundai Nexo is used by service leaders to reach their assignments and carries essential equipment on board for assisting accident victims.

It is also hoped that the first hydrogen ambulance will enter service before the year is out. The vehicle will be specially built in a collaboration involving several companies. “If we bring a hydrogen-powered ambulance onto the district’s streets, then the people will see that this type of power system works in everyday practice. That sends exactly the right signal to the public,” described Wolfgang Spelthahn at the signing of the letter of intent for the production of the hydrogen ambulance.

The advantages of hydrogen are obvious according to Spelthahn: Instead of long charging cycles for electric vehicles, hydrogen can be refueled in eight minutes. The range is higher than for a battery-driven ambulance. In short, the ambulance is available for longer and can be deployed more flexibly, especially as hydrogen refueling stations are being constructed in the area. The first station, located right next to the A4 autobahn, was opened in September 2022 and has been in regular operation since the summer in the Im Großen Tal industrial park in Düren.

The district’s focus on hydrogen is also plain to see in Düren’s welcome center which includes a hydrogen information center. From October 2023 this will feature a public exhibition with an interactive display about hydrogen. It will explain various aspects, starting with basic principles, extending along the value chains and concluding with end use.

Hydrogen fair boosts network

Düren’s annual hydrogen trade fair, which took place in August 2023 for the third time, carries an additional message: While one person alone can achieve a great deal, the energy transition with hydrogen as a key technology will only be successful if many people work together. The hydrogen fair in the Kulturmuschel exhibition space in Jülich brings together experts and offers local people the chance to acquire a wide range of information about the subject. New ideas, networks and collaborations are formed as a result. On the eve of the fair’s opening, the Hygo award is presented by the district. The hydrogen prize, with Young Researchers, Start Up Innovation and Hydrogen Champion categories, recognizes those people who are driving forward the energy transition while at the same time focusing on hydrogen as the fuel of the future.

A key part of this exhibition from the very beginning has been the FZ Jülich research center. The scientific research that takes place here, for instance into electrolysis and fuel cells, has attracted worldwide attention for many years. The research center is among the main driving forces behind restructuring in the Rhineland. This is particularly evident in its newest institute.

The Institute for Sustainable Hydrogen Economy (INW) has been under construction for nearly two years at the Brainergy Park near Jülich, the latter being an industrial park designed with state-of-the-art supply infrastructure. Düren, which along with its partnering organizations is building its proton exchange membrane electrolyzer on the edge of the park, is one of the shareholders of the Brainergy Park. The INW conducts fundamental research into the storage and transportation of hydrogen. However, it is also at the center of a cluster where research findings will be put straight into practice.

The Helmholtz hydrogen cluster HC-H2 is the largest funded project within the Rhineland’s restructuring program with a grant sum of more than a billion euros. And it’s the biggest hydrogen infrastructure project in Germany, with the expectation that its staff numbers will top 500 employees. It is hoped it will act as a magnet, attracting to the area other companies that intend to explore hydrogen in the pursuit of net-zero.

“It is extremely helpful that the Düren district is located in a region that is so quick when it comes to deploying hydrogen,” says INW director Andreas Peschel. “It greatly furthers the hydrogen cause if the people, for example, see trains and ambulances running on hydrogen.”

Authors: Guido Jansen, Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, Institute for Sustainable Hydrogen Economy (INW),,

Anne Schüssler, District of Düren,

Overcoming hurdles – restructuring – creating knowledge

Overcoming hurdles – restructuring – creating knowledge

Hydrogen Regions series: HyExpert region AachenPLUS

The HyExpert region of AachenPLUS in Germany is facing up to the challenge of how to manage the long-term restructuring necessitated by the phaseout of brown coal. The plan is to use the emerging hydrogen economy as a means to keep value in the region, create a sustainable energy supply and facilitate a transition to cleaner modes of transport. The focus is on exchanging ideas and linking up different hydrogen projects so that the experience gained can be swiftly put to use in the region.


It’s all happening in the west! Be it in mid-sized industrial enterprises, local public transport, local rail networks, neighborhood schemes or research initiatives, new hydrogen projects abound in the southwest of Nordrhein-Westfalen between the Rhine area in the east and the border with Belgium and the Netherlands in the west. The HyExpert region of AachenPLUS encompasses the city and the wider Aachen area, the districts of Düren, Euskirchen and Heinsberg, and the town of Kerpen and has all the right ingredients to build a strong and sustainable hydrogen economy. The large number of regional stakeholders also means that there is a vast array of different needs and approaches.

The region has excellent research capabilities thanks to RWTH Aachen University, FH Aachen University of Applied Sciences and the FZ Jülich research center all being situated here. At the same time, there is also an innovative and agile base of medium-sized industrial companies which covers virtually the entire hydrogen value chain from green power generation to hydrogen production and storage through end use. In addition, participating regional bodies are using hydrogen to develop their local public transport into carbon-neutral networks.

Kickoff in May 2021

The aim of the HyExpert project was to develop a strategy for how the region could use the various approaches to successfully ramp up the hydrogen economy. Since the region, which is home to the Garzweiler, Hambach and Inden brown coal opencast mines, is an area undergoing structural change, the issue of retaining and creating value here is also of high importance. Even before the project started, it was recognized that it would be beneficial for activities to be coordinated at a regional level. For this purpose, the Hydrogen Hub Aachen was founded in May 2021.

As part of this initiative, a project office, sited at the Aachen Chamber of Industry and Commerce, is responsible for coordinating regional hydrogen schemes in the districts of Düren, Euskirchen and Heinsberg as well as in the city and metropolitan area of Aachen. Its work is supported by the Aachen society for innovation and technology transfer AGIT.

A look ahead to a future hydrogen supply makes it clear that a combination of different supply pathways is necessary for successful market ramp-up in the AachenPLUS region. For an inland area, the AachenPLUS region offers good potential for the expansion of renewable energy in the form of wind and photovoltaics. The Heinsberg district, for example, is currently extending its own green electricity portfolio in order to create local electrolyzer capacity in the near future. An initial electrolyzer site is already being instigated in Heinsberg-Oberbruch. Other sites for decentralized power generation should follow.

Hydrogen pipelines: a lifeline

Despite this potential, the energy-intensive mid-size industries and the through traffic on the large autobahns mean that the region remains a hydrogen “sink” that is unable to meet its hydrogen needs from its own production. Consequently, the region must rely on imported hydrogen in addition to local production. Here, its position on the border with Belgium and the Netherlands gives proximity to their ports, thus creating an added advantage: Plans for a core hydrogen network envisage the building of a hydrogen pipeline that will pass across the region from west to east, starting from the border crossing point at Eynatten in Belgium. According to Thyssengas, proposals exist to convert the Weisweiler-Düren line to hydrogen from 2027 onward.

In addition to the highly likely connection to the planned hydrogen backbone, the Delta Rhine Corridor offers another option for supplying the AachenPLUS region with hydrogen. While plans to date foresee the construction of this pipeline only as far as the Dutch town of Sittard, it will be down to the region to campaign for a continuation of this pipeline infrastructure. In this regard, it will be important for the region to create appropriate exit points for the supply of local consumers and to expand cross-border activities.

Many individual projects

The opportunities offered by the connection to the core hydrogen network should not, however, distract focus from local and decentralized solutions, of which there are many different approaches in the region: At the Brainergy Park in Jülich, a solar farm is being built that will include an electrolyzer for the purposes of supplying future fuel cell trains in the Rurtalbahn network and fuel cell buses operated by Rurtalbus. In Hellenthal, plans are afoot for an electrolyzer project that will serve as electricity storage. In Mechernich, meanwhile, a project is being devised to extract hydrogen from green waste. Back in Aachen, an electrolyzer to supply local public transport operator ASEAG is in the offing and in Herzogenrath the company Saint-Gobain is planning to build electrolyzer capacity in order to supply energy for glass production.

Work is also underway in Kerpen on the Speicherstadt energy storage project and the Mobilitätshafen mobility hub project which together will supply hydrogen to the local public transport network. In Heinsberg, the H2HS project intends to create a complete hydrogen ecosystem. In this case, the hydrogen is expected to supply trade and industry, local public transport, the logistics sector, heavy-duty transport and the housing sector. What’s more, the waste heat from the electrolyzer is to be fed into the local heating network and the oxygen used in a nearby sewage plant.

Other, somewhat surprising, application examples can be found in the region’s heating sector. In Linnich, hydrogen is used to generate heat through a microgrid; in Euskirchen, it acts as a means of seasonal energy storage for a residential area.

All these projects offer solutions that have a valuable part to play in ramping up the hydrogen economy. They enable business cases to be drawn up and allow clarification of unresolved technical issues. Vital experience can also be gathered about approvals procedures and the regulatory framework. Furthermore, these projects can be used to develop long-term solutions for areas with a hydrogen deficit aside from a connection to the backbone.

Essential for the further development of the HyExpert region AachenPLUS will be the ability to harness the knowledge gained from these projects. This is to be organized through the Hydrogen Hub where experiences can be exchanged and knowledge transferred between projects. A matchmaking facility will also be set up to link producers with potential off-takers in order to encourage further projects and ensure the viability of planned projects.

Another area of application is mobility. All local public transport operators in the region have either already procured fuel cell buses or have plans to do so. Additionally, the Düren district will shortly see the operation of fuel cell trains on the Rurtalbahn rail network. Funding letters for these projects were delivered in May 2023 by German transportation minister Wissing. More information on the Düren projects can be found on page 28.

The study that was created as part of the HyExpert project has shown that the conversion of fleets to fuel cell vehicles can also be expected in the logistics sector. To meet the needs of these vehicles, at least 13 hydrogen refueling stations will need to have been installed in the region by 2035. It is therefore envisaged that the working group comprising members of the local public transport and logistics sectors, which was established as part of the HyExpert project, will be continued in order to facilitate targeted and coordinated planning of this infrastructure.

Hunt for skilled staff

An aspect that will have a crucial role to play in bringing projects to fruition will be the securing of skilled staff. These workers will be essential for translating plans into action and capitalizing on research and development capabilities so as to accelerate the local hydrogen economy. With this in mind, efforts by the Hydrogen meet&connect network to encourage interaction between small- and medium-sized businesses and academia need to be stepped up. Information events should be held at schools to ensure there is widespread coverage in terms of education and training. In addition, new specialized training centers and vocational courses must be initiated which will, for instance, provide instruction on the safe handling and transportation of hydrogen as well as on hydrogen heating, fuel cells and hydrogen mobility. As the training of new employees will not in itself be sufficient to fulfill staffing needs, extensive further education schemes should also be coordinated and made available, for example through trade guilds or the chambers of industry and commerce.

Author: Fabian Müller-Lutz, Aachen Chamber of Industry and Commerce,

Daimler Truck + Volvo = cellcentric

Daimler Truck + Volvo = cellcentric

As previously announced (see H2-international, August 2020), Daimler Truck and the Volvo Group have embarked upon a joint venture in which each company holds a 50 percent ownership stake. At the beginning of March 2021, the two organizations announced that the company formerly trading as Daimler Truck Fuel Cell GmbH & Co. KG had been renamed cellcentric GmbH & Co. KG.

Time to take a different route

Time to take a different route

Kagermann, Scheuer
H. Kagermann, A. Scheuer, © BMVI/Ralf Brandt

Hardly anything is as important to people around the world as getting from one place to another. Nearly everyone on Earth uses some mode of transportation.

Shortage of fuel cell buses

Shortage of fuel cell buses

Sora, the name of the bus shown in the photo, is an acronym standing for sky, ocean, river and air
Sora, the name of the bus shown in the photo, is an acronym standing for sky, ocean, river and air, © Toyota

In many communities, electric buses have been the latest innovation to grab the attention of passengers and mayors alike. While passengers are just thrilled about the quiet and smooth ride, mass transit companies are looking for businesses that can deliver these types of vehicles, especially fuel cell ones, as quickly as possible. However, few options are for sale, despite a boost in demand.