Interview with Lorenz Jung, speaker for H2 Mobility Deutschland
For years, H2 Mobility has been working on the establishment and expansion of the infrastructure for hydrogen refueling stations. Despite the ambitiously set targets, the 100-station mark has still not been exceeded. Although more new H2 refueling stations are being built and opened, old ones are being dismantled at the same rate. Six and a half years after its founding, H2 Mobility Deutschland executed a change of leadership in April 2023: Nikolas Iwan, who alone has managed the company since the beginning, moved to the advisory board, where he is to take over as chairman in the course of the year. Iwan was replaced by a team of three managing directors. H2-international talked to CCO and spokesman Lorenz Jung about the reasons for this restructuring as well as the further goals of the company.
H2-international: Congratulations, belatedly, on your promotion and your new position at H2 Mobility Deutschland GmbH & Co. KG. How does it feel to be up in front?
Jung: Very good! But you also notice very quickly that the wind blows a bit stronger there.
You have been with H2 Mobility virtually since the founding and have worked your way up quickly. Initially, you were the team leader for the network construction, 2021 you were Chief Projects Officer (CPO) and 2022 Chief Commercial Officer (CCO). Now, you are also managing director and speaker for the company to the outside world. Did the appointment as managing director come as a surprise, or were you kind of working towards that?
The decision of Nikolas Iwan really surprised us. The management team – Frank Fronzke, Martin Jüngel and I – came quickly to the agreement, however, that we wanted to take over the management together.
Before your time at H2 Mobility, you worked at Siemens Energy and Linde. In what ways can you bring your experiences from then into your work today?
It helps me a lot, in fact, that I was able to gather a lot of previous experience and knowledge in plant engineering, in the gas industry, and in the power generation and power transmission sector. Because H2 Mobility at its core is not only about the transformation of transport; it is part of the greater energy transformation. So it helps to understand how large amounts of energy can be transported and stored, and what advantages and disadvantages molecules have over electrons.
You just mentioned that you share the management of the company: Frank Fronzke was at Praxair and has been Chief Operation Officer (COO) since 2016. Martin Jüngel changed over from Air Liquide to H2 Mobility as Chief Financial Officer (CFO) in 2020. Neither of them has really made a public appearance so far. What else can you tell us about them both?
I am very happy and grateful to share the management with these two colleagues. Both are absolute professionals in their fields of expertise. The three of us are united above all by the desire to lead the topic of hydrogen in mobility to success with our business. Frank Fronzke, our COO, is a brilliant engineer. He with the operations team in recent years has managed to raise the availability and reliability of our hydrogen refueling station network to a very high level, despite a number of challenges. Thanks to the competition that is now emerging, it will soon be possible to properly appreciate it. Frank is distinguished by the fact that with a great deal of creativity, ambition and foresight, he finds a solution to every technical problem, no matter how complicated.
Martin Jüngel, as CFO, is the mastermind behind our figures. He is not only responsible for the company’s finances; he is also responsible for accounting, monitoring and IT, purchasing and public funding. Martin combines the bird’s eye view and the long view, and can impart these very well. With acumen and care, he thus clears all commercial hurdles out of the way.
What will your division of tasks look like?
In principle, everyone is retaining responsibility for their previous task area. Martin additionally is assuming the role of speaker to our shareholders. With a colorful and not so small circle of partners, a big task. Frank concentrates completely on the technical topics. That is why we have now also located the project handling under him. As spokesman for the management board, I take care of the representation of H2 Mobility to the world, and additionally am responsible for sales, customers, and product and project development as well as digital solutions and human resources.
Fronzke, Jung, Iwan, Jüngel (from left to right)
Can you tell us something about what role Nikolas Iwan will take on in the future? On his LinkedIn profile, it says “in transition.” It is already clear where he will switch?
For us, he remains as Chairman of the Board. But since he won’t officially begin that role until the summer, “in transition” is an appropriate designation.
Let’s move from the people over to the material: What is the current status of the development of an H2 refueling infrastructure in Germany?
As you can gather from the press, increasingly more companies are now entering the market. A very good sign. Until the first hydrogen fueling stations materialize from the announcements, however, – so are available for customers – requires time, as we know from experience.
Why has there been no progress in this for years now? As a three-man team, will you now pursue a different strategy than the last? If yes, which?
When judging by the number of units, this impression may arise. Actually, however, the conditions have changed. When H2 Mobility got started, we were preparing for an H2 passenger car market. The idea was to quickly build many, small stations. Now, the commercial vehicle market is developing much faster than expected. Larger vehicles with greater demand must now be supplied at fewer but more centralized and robust stations, in some cases using a different technology. Accordingly, we are not simply expanding the network further, but are upgrading where H2 commercial vehicles have been announced. Furthermore, our new stations, with a capacity up to 15 times greater, are a different dimension.
In February 2023, your press release stated that this change in managing director represented the completion of a fundamental realignment. This included, among other things, the addition of the eighth shareholder and partner in the meantime, Hy24. What did their entry mean for H2 Mobility?
The closing of the last financing round and the joining of Hy24 actually marks an important strategic shift: Our goal is to operate our network of hydrogen fueling stations economically and therefore sustainably. After the first few years, when the focus was primarily on proving the technical feasibility, this is a different direction. This also means that we are concentrating on high-volume commercial vehicle fueling stations with gaseous hydrogen. By the way: Hy24 is the first financial investor to invest only in H2 projects. And the fact that we were the first company to be selected in this is a big credit of trust. It also shows that hydrogen in mobility is an important component of the transport and energy transitions.
Were there any other restructuring measures?
Other than the ones mentioned above, no.
What do you see is the role of other players who are now also increasingly looking to install H2 refueling stations? Are you continuing with your collaborative approach until now or do you see GP Joule, Maximator, and so on, as competitors?
We are delighted that other companies are now risking the task. It shows that the market ramp-up is now beginning. Wherever possible, we like to work together with others. Competition additionally increases the number of offers to customers and gives us the chance to measure ourselves against the products of the competition. I am very excited about the first evaluations and the direct comparison.
Last question: How large is the share of green hydrogen at your fueling stations today and how do you plan to reach one hundred percent by 2028?
Let me first say that it is good and important that there is finally clarity on what is meant by green hydrogen with the passing of the corresponding EU delegated act. The proportion of green hydrogen still varies greatly depending on the sources in the vicinity of our hydrogen fueling stations. Until 2028 is no longer a lot of time. Many of the green hydrogen sources are just now getting established. With the demand we receive, we can be a support in this. It is therefore mutually beneficial to conclude offtake agreements with us. Since we aim to run our network exclusively on green hydrogen in the medium term, we’ve been working on this issue for some time now. We are talking to potential but also our existing suppliers, and are replacing old supply contracts, one at a time, with new ones. Here, the purchase price is – still – sometimes a major challenge. With the THG-Quote trading, however, the proper tool to lower H2 costs has been set.
Thank you very much for the interview.
In March 2022, H2 Mobility Deutschland carried out a capital increase of 110 million euros, in which, in addition to the old industrial shareholders Air Liquide, Daimler Truck, Hyundai, Linde, OMV, Shell and TotalEnergies, Hy24 also participated. Hy24 is a 50/50 joint venture between Ardian, which is a world-leading private investment house, and FiveT Hydrogen, an investment platform for clean hydrogen. Together, they contributed 70 million euros to the capital increase. The money is to be used for the construction of new hydrogen stations. Target is 300 stations by 2030.
Hy24 acts as the fund manager for the Clean H2 Infra Fund, the – according to its own statement – world’s largest investment platform for clean hydrogen. This fund was established on the initiative of Air Liquide, TotalEnergies and VINCI Concessions as well as Plug Power, Chart Industries and Baker Hughes. Additionally participating are industrial anchor partners like LOTTE Chemical, Snam, Enagás and GRTgaz, and financial anchor investors such as AXA, CCR and JBIC, as well as other investors (Groupe ADP, Ballard, EDF, Schaeffler). The fund seeks a volume of 1.5 billion euros.
Pierre-Étienne Franc, CEO of Hy24 and Manager of Clean H2 Infra Fund S.L.P., said: “Hydrogen is a crucial part of the European Union’s ‘Fit for 55’ plans that were underlined again by the recent REPowerEU proposal. Our investment on the part of the pioneers also supports the European Commission’s efforts to implement the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR) in order to significantly expand the European hydrogen refueling station network. This fits with our endeavor to act as a catalyst for a large-scale hydrogen economy – across the entire chain of systems and value creation, to reach a real change for our planet.”
Methanol is already one of the most important basic materials for the chemical industry and will become even more important in the coming decades – for plastics of all kinds as well as for the production of e‑fuels. For this, large quantities of green hydrogen and sustainably produced CO2 are required.
Formaldehyde, acetic acid, silicone, olefins – these intermediate products in the chemical industry generally require methanol as a base chemical. The report “Innovation Outlook: Renewable Methanol” published by the industry association Methanol Institute and the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in 2021 put the global annual production of the basic material at 98 million metric tons. Trend: quickly rising.
The main driver, according to the report, is the Chinese chemical industry. On top of that, the versatile alcohol is increasingly powering vehicles on land and in the water – in special engines or fuel cells, or converted to e‑fuels.
By 2050, the global production could lie at 500 million tonnes annually, estimates IRENA and the Methanol Institute. If these are generated from natural gas and coal, like so far, the greenhouse gas emissions from methanol production would rise from the current 0.3 Gt of CO2 equivalents to 1.5 gigatonnes per year.
Likewise to electricity generation, methanol production therefore also needs a new basis. According to a well-to-wheel analysis, a switch to green methanol would reduce emissions by 65 to 95 percent. E‑methanol, so methanol produced with the aid of electrolytically generated hydrogen, is significantly better at this on average than biomethanol.
Methanol increasingly important as a fuel
Green alcohol has great potential for a climate-friendly economy. “Renewable methanol is one of the easiest-to-implement sustainable alternatives available, especially in the chemical and transport sectors,” says the report. It is easy to store and transport, and can be almost seamlessly introduced into industry.
The role of methanol as a fuel has already been growing since the mid-2000s. For one, it is the basis for biodiesel and serves as a base material for antiknock agents. From gasoline to LPG, methanol can also be blended with a wide variety of fuels in relatively large quantities. And this happened too during the oil crises in the 1970s and 1980s.
In recent years, the role of pure methanol in particular as a fuel has grown. In China and Israel, trucks with methanol drives are already on the roads. The combination with direct methanol fuel cells has also been tested, both as a drive on its own and as a range extender for e‑vehicles.
On the sea, methanol could replace the sulfur-containing marine diesel. That would not only spare the air a lot of CO2, but also sulfur and nitrogen oxides. At the time of the study, the authors counted already more than 20 large methanol ships in operation or on order. One example is the Stena Germanica, a 50,000-tonne, 32,000-horsepower ferry that travels between Germany and Sweden. She was converted to run on methanol in less than three months.
In addition to methanol, ammonia is also considered a promising candidate for green sea travel (see H2-international May 2022).
E‑methanol needs mega-electrolyzers
At the time of the study, the team of authors recorded only 0.2 million tonnes of methanol from renewable sources, primarily from biomass. But biomass is finite, even when wastewater, black liquor and household waste are made use of as sources. Almost unlimited, in contrast, is the abundance of wind and solar energy. E‑methanol from electrolytically produced hydrogen will not be avoidable in the long term.
The recipe: For one tonne of green e‑methanol, take 0.19 t hydrogen and 1.38 t carbon dioxide. Separate the latter from the air or from exhaust gas or biogas plants. To generate the required hydrogen, feed an electrolyzer with 1.7 tonnes of water. In addition, you need ten to eleven megawatt-hours of wind or solar power, mainly for the operation of the electrolyzer.
With a 100-MW electrolyzer – which can be acquired for example from Thyssenkrupp or Siemens Energy – it is possible to produce 225 tonnes of e‑methanol per day, the report calculates. The largest of today’s methanol plants are about a factor of ten larger in capacity, so electrolyzers in the gigawatt range would be needed. This level of scaling is still in progress.
The cost question: It depends
Until green methanol can compete with fossil in terms of price, some things still have to happen. Like so often, the economic efficiency depends on many rapidly changing factors, from the electricity costs to the investment in the electrolyzer, to a cheap CO2 source.
The cost of producing methanol from fossil fuels was put as 100 and 250 USD per tonne in the report, which however was compiled some while ago. Market prices in the first quarter of 2023 lay between 300 and 600 USD per tonne, according to the Methanol Institute. The study team at the time estimated the cost of biomethanol at 320 to 770 USD per tonne, which process improvements, they suggested, could lower to 220 to 560 USD.
In comparison, e‑methanol from green hydrogen has had it hard, since both electrolysis with renewable energies and CO2 capture are still not mass technologies. To fish CO2 out of the air would easily cost 300 to 600 USD per tonne. Catching it in a bioenergy plant, on the other hand, could be done for 10 to 50 USD per tonne.
The hydrogen price depends on, in addition to the costs for the electrolyzer, the costs for electricity generation in particular. Roughly speaking, the authors calculate: So far, one tonne of e‑methanol would cost 800 to 2,400 USD, and by 2050, the cost for it could reduce to 250 to 630 USD.
When and if the costs of e‑methanol and fossil methanol will meet is dependent on the scaling speed as much as on CO2 prices and energy market dynamics.
Methanol in a nutshell
With only one OH group and one hydrocarbon group, methanol is the chemically simplest of the alcohols. It is liquid at ambient conditions, water soluble, colorless and smells slightly alcoholic.
Methanol in small amounts occurs naturally in food and the atmosphere. In the past, it was obtained as a byproduct of charcoal production, which is why it also has the name wood spirit or wood alcohol.
In comparison to gasoline or diesel, the volumetric energy density of methanol is about half as high. It freezes at −97.6 °C, boils at 64.6 °C and has a density of 0.791 kg per cubic meter at 20 °C. When pure methanol is combusted, practically no smoke, soot or odor develops.
Methanol is highly flammable and corrosive. On top of that, it is toxic. So are other fuels, but it rarely comes up, since no one would think of drinking gasoline or diesel, whereas methanol is increasingly used to adulterate alcohol.
Commercial e‑methanol production still in the early days
Around the world are first projects for the production of e‑methanol. Most of these involve pilot and research plants with small capacities. In a search for commercial projects, one company comes up again and again: Carbon Recycling International (CRI) from Iceland.
CRI started up a commercial e‑methanol plant back in 2012, according to its own information. It is located in Svartsengi next to the famous Blue Lagoon and a geothermal power plant. Along with hot steam, dissolved CO2 and hydrogen sulfide come up to the earth’s surface – the last provides the typical smell of rotten eggs at Iceland’s hot springs.
Inspired by the energy source, the trademarked name of the product is Vulcanol. With after all 4,000 tonnes annual production, this plant can be considered the first industrial plant for e‑methanol. The hydrogen for the process comes from alkaline electrolysis.
The large project at a coke plant in the Chinese city of Anyang – 110,000 tonnes annual production – also links back to CRI. An electrolysis with green electricity is not present there, however. Rather, the coke oven gas contains methane, hydrogen and CO2 – the compounds for methanol production. According to CRI, the plant has been in operation since the third quarter of 2022.
Another plant, likewise in China, is to go into operation before the end of 2023, in order to obtain 100,000 tonnes of methanol annually for plastic production out of CO2 and hydrogen from a petrochemical complex. A primary user and the owner will be Jiangsu Sailboat.
The first large-scale plant in Europe could appear in Finnfjord in northern Norway, and utilize CO2 from a ferrosilicon plant and green hydrogen from an electrolysis station. The investment decision, however, is not scheduled to take place before 2024. In addition, CRI mentions in its reference list four older projects, which were part of the EU research support program Horizon 2020.
Small off-the-shelf methanol plants
The Leipzig-based firm BSE Engineering offers, under the product name FlexMethanol, standardized small-scale plants for e‑methanol production. Input powers of 10 and 20 MW depending on module are possible, which can be combined for a system up to 100 MW, according to the brochure. As target groups, the company names waste incineration plants, paper mills, fossil fuel-fired power plants and all heating processes.
The process consists of four steps: the electrolysis, CO2 capture (scrubbing), the methanol synthesis itself and distillation.
BSE Engineering is responsible for the integration of the entire methanol plant, and furthermore, according to the brochure, is the exclusive supplier of catalysts developed by BASF for the methanol synthesis. Also on-board are AkerSolutions for the CO2 extraction, InvraServ-Knapsack for the detail engineering and Sulzer for the distillation. For the electrolysis, there is no fixed partner.
E‑methanol from the wastewater treatment plant
In October 2022, the company Icodos was spun off from KIT (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology). The goal: To generate e‑methanol from CO2 point sources such as biogas that develop in wastewater treatment plants, in addition to pure biomethane for the natural gas grid in the case of biogas. Besides the biogas, hydrogen is required for this.
The methanol-water mixture produced from the reaction of CO2 and hydrogen absorbs CO2 from the previously purified biogas. Remaining in the gas is methane, which can be fed into the natural gas grid. The dissolved CO2, in turn, is expelled from the solvent by feeding in hydrogen, and is converted to methanol and water in a synthesis reactor. Some of this product is fed back into the loop and can thus serve as an absorbent over and over again.
A pilot plant funded by the German research ministry is in the construction phase, and is to be tested at KIT at the end of the year. Following that, it is to be tried out on real biogas in the sewage plant in Mannheim (Mannheimer Kläranlage). This is to be followed by a larger test together with EDF (Électricité de France) in France. A rollout could still be possible within this decade. The typical size for the plants is expected to be in the one- to two-digit megawatt range in terms of electrolysis capacity.
Institutes and chemical companies working together
In Germany, there is a whole series of research projects concerned with obtaining methanol from green hydrogen. In most cases, established research institutes and large refining or chemical companies are working together in this. The overview compiled here makes no claim to completeness.
Westküste100/Raffinerie Heide: At a real-world H2 lab in Heide in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, a consortium aims to investigate a whole range of hydrogen technologies – from cavern storage to methanol synthesis (see H2-international Oct. 2020). The last is to take place at Raffinerie Heide. The CO2 is to come from a cement plant, the hydrogen from an electrolysis plant. However, the final project description regarding methanol synthesis still only mentions a feasibility study. The challenge, it is said, is to integrate the large-scale process that takes place between the cement plant and the refinery. Responsible for the corresponding work package is Thyssenkrupp. The real-world lab is running from 2020 to 2025. A scaling up to “several hundred megawatts” of electrolysis capacity subsequent to the lab, according to the project description, is the goal. In the end, kerosene for Hamburg Airport (Hamburger Flughafen) is to come out of this, is the vision.
HyPe+/Raffinerie Schwedt: Raffinerie Schwedt presented a study in May 2023 together with Enertrag, in which it reveals the refinery in Schwedt could become completely climate-neutral by 2045 (see p. 18). Instead of fossil raw materials, it wants to rely on green hydrogen from the region. Of wind and solar plants, there are plenty in the surrounding area, and a hydrogen pipeline under the project name Flow is planned. The numbers make an impression: 300 MW of electrolysis capacity are to already appear in the first expansion stage, then 400 MW by the end of 2027 with hydrogen production of over 30,000 tonnes. For 2030, the study envisages 160,000 tonnes of in-house hydrogen production; another 80,000 are to be purchased. With this, about a fifth of the quantity foreseen for this period according to the national hydrogen strategy would land in Schwedt. The refinery aims to eventually produce two million tonnes of “aviation fuel, methanol, and high-value chemicals” annually, and another tonne in biofuels along with that. The question of the CO2 source has unfortunately so far remained unanswered.
Chemiepark Leuna/TotalEnergies: At the site in Leuna two years ago, TotalEnergies, Fraunhofer CBP and Fraunhofer IMWS as well as electrolyzer manufacturer Sunfire announced a project with the title e-CO2Met. The Raffinerie Mitteldeutschland located there hosts, according to TotalEnergies, with 700,000 tonnes of methanol per year, the largest methanol production in Europe – completely fossil-based until recently. The high-temperature electrolyzer from Sunfire is, with an input power of 1 MW, comparatively small. Sunfire confirms that it has been in operation since February 2023. An update on the overall project from TotalEnergies was, however, not able to be received.
H2Mare– Methanol production at sea: With distance to the coast grows not only the possible energy yield from offshore wind farms, but also unfortunately the expense for connection to the electric grid – even more so if several cables are necessary because of the high power requirement. That’s why these wind farms could instead produce hydrogen, which can be brought ashore by ship or pipeline, is one idea, among others, taken on in the project Aquaventus Gestalt. The lead project, H2Mare, in which KIT also participates, goes still a step further in one of the four wide-area projects. Directly at sea, the hydrogen is to be processed into ammonia, LNG, methanol or liquid hydrocarbons (e-fuels). One of the project goals is to demonstrate for the first time a complete process for the production of e‑fuels on a floating platform off Helgoland in summer 2025. Such facilities must be able to cope with fluctuating electricity production from wind energy as well as with a swaying platform and weather conditions at sea. The dynamic production of e methanol is being tested by KIT, while H2Mare is only testing the production on land.
H2Mare is pursuing still other approaches: Distillation modules adapted for offshore operation, from the 3D printer, are to separate the methanol from the water that also arises in the process. This saves transport capacity, and the water after treatment should be available again for electrolysis. In the future, the required CO2 could be extracted from the sea by means of electrodialysis, which would simplify the logistics. And the technical university TU Berlin is working on operating an electrolyzer directly with salt water.
OMV Deutschland, Munich: Sustainable aviation fuels (SAFs) based on e‑methanol are the aim of the project M2SAF. The consortium consists of BASF Process Catalysts, the plant manufacturer Thyssenkrupp Uhde, the refinery OMV Deutschland, the German aerospace center (DLR) and the testing lab ASG. The project started in November 2022 and is conceived for two and a half years. Details from Uhde on the quantities and capacities were not to be found.
The e‑methanol projects in Germany so far are varied, but so far rather small. How quickly and whether they scale at all in this country remains to be seen. The will is there, but alone the building of generation capacities for wind and solar power takes time and money. And yet one of the advantages of methanol is that it can be transported around the world by ship without problem. As long as Germany does not completely cover its own energy needs and there is no hydrogen pipeline across the Mediterranean Sea, it is only logical that green methanol will be imported to a significant extent.
Author: Eva Augsten Source: CRI, Irena/Methanol Institute, Markus Breig, KIT,
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and for many years has promised to play a significant role in clean energy solutions. Its sheer abundance alongside its clean combustion products would suggest hydrogen is an ideal candidate to liberate us from our fossil fuel dependency. It is, however, important to consider the entire hydrogen value chain when assessing its viability as a clean energy source. The value chain can be broadly segmented into three key fields: production, storage and distribution, and end use application. The European Patent Office (EPO) and International Energy Agency (IEA) recently issued a report analysing the global trends of innovation along hydrogen value chains. The existing and emerging technologies corresponding to each stage of the value chain can be seen in the figure below, which comes from the EPO/IEA report.
Today, approximately 95 % of hydrogen is produced from fossil fuel sources through processes such as natural gas reforming. This process is not only still dependent on fossil fuels for raw materials, but requires significant energy input, which is also commonly derived from fossil fuels.
Electrolysis is an alternative means of hydrogen production, which does not require fossil fuels as a raw material, but currently accounts for an exceedingly small proportion of global production (around 0.04 % in 2021). This process involves the use of electricity to decompose water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. Whilst electrolysis appears promising, the process is currently only around 75 % efficient and more than 99 % of the total hydrogen production by electrolysis is produced using energy from non-renewable sources.
The EPO/IEA global trend analysis found that hydrogen production technologies accounted for the largest number of hydrogen related patents in the 2011 to 2020 period. Technologies motivated by climate concerns generated nearly 90 % of International Patent Families (IPFs) related to hydrogen production in 2020. With a strong focus on decarbonising hydrogen production, there has been a rapid increase in electrolysis related patents and a substantial decrease in patent applications for hydrogen production from fossil fuels. These trends are visible in the figure below from the EPO/IEA global trend analysis report.
With high natural gas prices, the economic climate has shifted in favour of low-emission hydrogen from electrolysis, attracting further investment. It is clear that further innovation is necessary to enable renewable, low carbon hydrogen production and while several families of electrolysers of vastly differing technical maturity are under concurrent development, there is still no consensus on a preferred solution.
Storage and Distribution
Pure hydrogen is currently transported in pipelines and tube trailers as a gas or in cryogenic tanks in its liquefied form. To fully exploit the potential of hydrogen as a fuel, efficient, standardised, and cost-effective means of storage and transport is imperative.
Current hydrogen storage and transport remains the subject of many challenges, such as the substantial weight and volume of storage systems, energy losses associated with compression and liquefication, and durability of storage systems. Patent trends across hydrogen transport and storage can be seen in the figure below from the EPO/IEA report, which shows a strong focus on infrastructure to support hydrogen uptake.
Unlike hydrogen production technologies, universities and research organisations account for very few of the patent applications for the storage and transport of hydrogen. This suggests this portion of the hydrogen value chain is predominantly based on mature technologies with a focus on incremental innovation. However, some emerging technologies, such as the use of liquid organic hydrogen carriers or synthetic methane, have shown promise for future large-scale deployment.
Whilst this article has focused heavily on hydrogen as an alternative fuel, hydrogen demand is primarily driven by the chemical industry, of which around 75 % was directed to ammonia production and around 25 % for methanol production. Innovation in the hydrogen sector, accelerated by an appetite for clean energy, will likely result in greater efficiency of the existing hydrogen supply chain and thus decrease the carbon footprint of the entire industry.
Emerging hydrogen applications and patenting trends are focused heavily on transport, with more IPFs for automotive applications of hydrogen since 2001 than for all other emerging uses of hydrogen combined. Fuel cells appear to be the most mature technology for hydrogen powered transport, with some market uptake already. Alternatives such as hydrogen internal combustion engines are of demonstrable capacity and lag slightly behind the maturity of fuel cell technology. Hydrogen powered solutions for road and rail are significantly more refined than their air transport counterparts, with scalability and the mass of hydrogen storage posing significant challenges in aviation. Patent trends across hydrogen applications can be seen in the figure below from the EPO/IEA report, which shows a strong focus on the automotive sector.
Challenges still persist with on-board vehicle storage of hydrogen as well as how to convert the chemical energy from hydrogen into motive force. Within the automotive and aviation sectors, patent applications for means of propulsion dominate. In particular, hydrogen fuel cells account for a significant portion of innovation in the last decade. For aviation, it is expected that fuel cells may be viable for shorter haul journeys. For longer haul flight, it is expected that the higher power of turbines and energy density of hydrogen-based fuels will offer greater performance than the combination of a fuel cell and motor.
It is apparent from the EPO/IEA global trend analysis that hydrogen remains a focus for innovation across the world. To fully exploit hydrogen as the clean energy source of the future, innovation is necessary throughout the value chain to ensure efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable practice from production through to end-use application.
We all rely on innovators to provide us with the technology to progress towards a hydrogen-powered future. Investment in new technologies is key to further commercial success and more than 80 % of late-stage investment in hydrogen start-ups in 2011 to 2020 went to companies that had filed a patent application in areas such as electrolysis, fuel cells, or low-emissions methods for producing hydrogen from gas.
Forresters specialises in providing clear direction to innovators as they seek crucial legal protection for their IP and enable the implementation and commercialisation of their ideas. We look forward to contributing to a sustainable future by supporting innovators with practical and valuable IP advice.
Author: Elliot Farrell, Forresters, Liverpool, United Kingdom, firstname.lastname@example.org
Shipping is responsible for roughly 3 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions around the globe. The International Maritime Organization or IMO therefore set itself the goal of at least halving this figure by the year 2050, relative to a 2008 baseline. Due to the high power requirements and the large distances traveled by ships, fully electric solutions are only possible in isolated cases. Hydrogen and its derivatives are therefore attracting increasing interest from the maritime industry because of their potential to greatly reduce ship emissions. The challenge in this sector is, firstly, how to store the hydrogen on board safely in a minimal amount of space and, secondly, how to engineer the overall energy system to meet various requirements while optimizing its control.
The Hitzler Werft shipyard in Lauenburg, Germany, is currently building the Coriolis research vessel for the Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon research center in Geesthacht. The ship will be fitted with a diesel electric power system in addition to batteries and a hydrogen system. The latter was designed by Hereon together with the DLR Institute of Maritime Energy Systems and the engineering consultancy Technolog in Hamburg.
Hydrogen system lab on board
The hydrogen system lab – H2SL – is designed to be a hydrogen system that is spread across the vessel. The main components are a metal hydride tank, which was developed by Hereon, and a low-temperature proton exchange membrane (PEM) fuel cell. Accompanying these are various pieces of peripheral equipment, such as a bunker station for hydrogen, a tank connection space at the metal hydride tank and two vent masts.
For a comparably small vessel such as the Coriolis, whose length is just under 30 meters (100 feet), extremely careful consideration is needed when arranging the components. One of the reasons for this is because there are no binding regulations yet that govern the use of hydrogen on board.
The definition of hazardous zones and the distances that need to be maintained between ventilation facilities come from the IGF Code, which regulates the handling of low-flashpoint fuels in shipping and has been primarily used for liquefied natural gas up until now. The code does not yet take into account the special properties of hydrogen, for instance its much higher volatility compared with LNG. Among other things, this evident in the size and shape of the hazardous zones (see the spherical hazardous zones around the vents and air inlets). Work on the IGF Code is currently ongoing to extend its scope to include the use of hydrogen.
The tank system, consisting of an actual metal hydride tank and the mandatory inertable tank connection space, will be built on a 5-foot container base plate and have around half the height. In addition to the weight of the metal hydride itself, the overall weight is made up of the steel tank shells, pipework and, in particular, the pressure vessel of the tank connection space. The overall system volume of around 4 cubic meters (140 cubic feet) and an overall system weight of 5 metric tons mean that the tank system stores approximately 30 kilograms of hydrogen.
This allows the fuel cell to supply the ship with roughly 500 kilowatt-hours of green energy. That said, this can only happen if the bunkering of green hydrogen is actually possible and permitted – a challenge in itself, as initial exploratory talks with port authorities and hydrogen producers have shown.
Prior to the shipyard tender, the energy requirement for craft propulsion was ascertained at SVA Potsdam using a model test and subsequently scaled up. The shape of the Coriolis is optimized for operation at low speed as this matches the primary operating profile of inshore journeys (see fig. 3).
Due to the low power requirement for creep speed, the fuel cell, which will have a rated electrical power of around 100 kilowatts, can be used in combination with the battery for numerous monitoring activities and in the other operating states of the Coriolis e.g., during layovers, without having to switch on a diesel engine. As well as the propulsion system, the electrical consumers on board also need to be supplied, although these only require a fraction of the power needed for propulsion.
Metal hydride tanks
From Hereon’s perspective, the following properties make metal hydride or MH tanks attractive for a range of maritime applications:
Moderate loading pressures of well under 100 bar at operating temperatures below 100 °C
Cold start of a MH tank possible in principle even at temperatures below 0 °C (Hereon EP 3 843 190)
By the very nature of MH tanks, the hydrogen is chemically bound meaning the tanks cannot suddenly release large quantities of hydrogen, which is a significant on-board safety advantage.
The low loading pressures allow a flexible structural form which makes it easy to adapt to the shape of the ship à saves space. Today’s pressurized hydrogen tanks take up a lot of room, especially on small vessels, which reduces valuable cargo space.
The high weight can even be advantageous in certain applications, e.g., for sailing ships where it can be used instead of the obligatory “deadweight” ballast for stability.
Research in the H2SL
Hereon and DLR are working together to investigate which types of ship are best suited to the combination of a low-temperature fuel cell and a metal hydride tank for the propulsion system. The goal of the two research institutes is to create a guiding principle that enables the Coriolis energy system concept to be adapted and integrated easily into other ships and types of craft.
The H2SL offers many more opportunities to pursue innovative research approaches in addition to facilitating zero-emission operation. Hereon and DLR are planning an intensive program of research using the power system and are expecting to gain valuable knowledge and real-time data on relevant research issues. This will be made possible by running the H2SL in a real maritime environment with the option to access operating data remotely online and immediately adjust the control parameters. The effects of these changes will then be the subject of further study.
DLR will develop a digital twin of the hydrogen energy system based on the operating data in order to produce a continuous record of the system status, optimize the system control and derive feedback for the operation.
What’s more, the information should allow operational strategies to be developed for the Coriolis’ hybrid energy system. The variation in energy sources, i.e., battery, fuel cell and combustion engine, creates a high degree of flexibility with regard to operation in a wide range of energy consumption scenarios. The goal is to achieve an optimal balance in relation to fuel consumption and operating costs through intelligent load sharing for a wide variety of traveling and loading states.
A benefit of carrying out this kind of investigative work on a research vessel is that strategies developed from theoretical principles can be transferred directly to the energy management system, allowing them to be swiftly validated during operation.
Hybrid energy systems are being built into ships with increasing frequency. The knowledge gained from sailing the Coriolis will supply valuable information in future that can also be transferred to other types of craft and thus contribute toward reducing emissions in the maritime sector.
Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and is a renewable energy source, so it’s no surprise that people are interested in feasible ways to produce more. A particular area of focus involves creating hydrogen from seawater. Here’s a closer look at recent progress in that area.
Many researchers quickly realize they’re more likely to make meaningful gains by working with other experts with the same focus. That’s the primary concept of a project involving multiple institutions. The goal is to create a prototype that makes hydrogen from low-grade liquids, including seawater and wastewater.
Participants will work toward that goal by relying on experts with knowledge of electrolyzers and membranes. Over the project’s four-year span, researchers hope to find membranes using abundantly available metals like nickel and iron. They also want to find alternatives to options that cause pollution or have persistent adverse effects, making the associated electrolyzers easier to recycle.
Researchers hope to accelerate their prototype-creation process after identifying future options. Ireland’s University of Galway will be the project’s lead institution. However, participating organizations from Israel, Spain and Germany will also be involved.
This project is part of larger European Commission endeavors to find feasible routes toward the increased production of green hydrogen. For example, the recently announced European Hydrogen Bank’s goal is to domestically produce 10 million metric tons of renewable hydrogen by 2030. That amount would be on top of 10 million metric tons sourced from imports.
People could replace hydrogen with fossil fuels if these collective efforts succeed, resulting in cleaner, more environmentally friendly transportation options. Additionally, facilitating hydrogen production could provide the chemical industry with a more sustainable raw material for producing fertilizers, steel and more.
A newly developed electrocatalyst
Many companies are working on achieving net-zero status. However, there’s no single way to do that. One option is to pursue new technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Researchers also investigate or create pioneering technologies in their quests to get hydrogen from seawater. Electrolysis involves splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, and improving that process could make hydrogen from seawater more accessible.
Consider how a team from the Texas Center for Superconductivity at the University of Houston (UH) in the United States made a nickel- and iron-based electrocatalyst that interacts with copper cobalt during seawater electrolysis. That achievement could overcome previously identified challenges associated with obtaining hydrogen from seawater. For example, current electrocatalysts used to achieve oxygen evolution reaction (OER) are prohibitively costly.
The researchers determined that the OER electrocatalysts they made were among the best performers of all multimetal candidates. Another exciting revelation is that the associated technology and process could make hydrogen production extremely affordable.
As lead researcher Zhifeng Ren explained, 1 kilogram of hydrogen currently requires about 50 kilowatt-hours of electricity to make. If the rate for grid-sourced power is USD 0.10 per kilowatt-hour, it costs USD 5 per kilogram of hydrogen for the power alone. That’s far too expensive to make the possibility attractive.
However, a feasible workaround identified during this study is to use surplus power produced by wind turbines or solar panels. That approach would make the power cost less than USD 0.01 per kilowatt-hour. Ren clarified that this option only becomes viable if people continue pursuing hydrogen creation methods that rely on green energy. Researchers can apply the things learned now to future developments in this area.
Researchers make improvements
Hydrogen research is moving forward in ways that go beyond seawater. For example, Italy has Europe’s first hydrogen-powered residential building, which doubles as a living lab. A hydrogen fuel cell powered by solar and geothermal sources provides all the facility’s heat and electricity.
However, one of the most appealing things about making hydrogen from seawater is that the liquid is plentiful and easily available. Getting clean power from the liquid becomes a more realistic prospect when scientists develop better ways to split the hydrogen and oxygen in seawater.
A team from Pennsylvania State University in the US built a proof-of-concept seawater electrolyzer that uses an electric current to accomplish the splitting mechanism. It relies on a thin and semipermeable membrane originally utilized to purify water through reverse osmosis.
The researchers experimented with two commercially available reverse-osmosis membranes and discovered one performed well while the other proved unsuccessful. They clarified more work is necessary to pinpoint the difference in results. However, since they measured the amount of energy needed for reactions, the membrane’s deterioration rate and how well it resisted ion movement, the team already had lots of useful data.
In another case, a group at the University of Central Florida, also in the US, made a thin film with nanostructures on its surface. The nanostructures featured nickel selenide with added phosphor and iron. Previous efforts had limited efficacy due to competing reactions.
The researchers confirmed the new method overcame that problem and is a reliable, cost-effective solution. Experiments revealed the innovation remained highly efficient and stable for more than 200 hours. Future work will focus on making the newly developed materials more electrically efficient and searching for new options to commercialize and fund these efforts.
There’s still a long way to go before getting hydrogen from seawater becomes a widespread and often-utilized option. However, the efforts highlighted here and elsewhere show that people worldwide are eager to reach that goal.