“Green” hydrogen from green power

Economical and safe - the large-scale implementation of hydrogen technology is the aim of HYPOS

HYPOS, a project sponsored by the Federal Government and the state of Saxony-Anhalt, is a network of companies and research institutions based in Halle (Saale) in the German federal state of Saxony-Anhalt. It studies the use of power from renewable energies for the production of hydrogen. The aim: to become less dependent on petroleum and other fossil energy sources. The chemical process is not new. HYPOS is working with its 114 members, including Siemens and Linde AG, to make it economical and safe. At Intersolar Europe in Munich, the network now wants to show why Saxony-Anhalt offers ideal conditions for this. At the joint stand of the federal state in Halle A3, Stand 560, new partners’ enthusiasm for the technology is to be generated.

Saxony-Anhalt is one of Germany’s trailblazers in the development of renewable energies. And it is a power exporter: 50 per cent of the energy produced here from wind, biomass and the sun is sold, as more green power is produced than can be consumed in the state. A sustainable, value-adding alternative would be to use the surplus power to produce hydrogen and store or process it. The project Hydrogen Power Storage & Solutions East Germany (HYPOS), a network of companies from the energy sector, the chemical industry and plant engineering as well as universities and research institutions, is working on this. HYPOS was founded as an association in 2013, initially with seven members; it now has 114 members, including Siemens, Linde AG, gas supply system operator VNG and electrolytic device manufacturer Kumatec. The project is funded with up to EUR 45 million by the German federal government as part of the “Twenty20 - Partnership for Innovation” programme, with the industry contributing its own share of EUR 25 million.

The research and development services of HYPOS are to cover the entire value chain, from the power producer to the gas user. The aim: hydrogen is to be produced by means of central electrolytic plants supplied with power by wind farms, solar parks or biogas plants. Professor Ralf Wehrspohn, head of the Fraunhofer Institute for the Microstructure of Materials and Systems (IMWS) in Halle - which is involved in the project - and deputy CEO of HYPOS, calls this project “Green Hydrogen”. This is because renewable energies are used for the process and, unlike in conventional processes, the hydrogen is not acquired from fossil energy sources. The green hydrogen can serve as an energy storage unit, on the one hand, while on the other hand it is transportable. Via existing pipelines it can reach a large number of consumers, for example from the chemical industry. “Hydrogen could be used as a basic chemical. Plastics, fuels and pre-products for the cosmetics industry can be produced from it. Actually the whole range for which petroleum-based systems are used today,” explains Professor Wehrspohn.

It is thus hoped to achieve lower dependence on petroleum. “That is the major advantage of our system: the regional value creation. We have the power here, we convert it into hydrogen, and then we can supply our chemical chain directly and no longer need to purchase petroleum and natural gas from remote regions. And we are sustainable, as the power is acquired from renewable sources.”

From surplus power, to be precise. There are two types of this, Ralf Wehrspohn explains. For one thing, there is the time surplus, which arises because, due to the conditions - a lot of wind, for example - simply too much energy would sometimes be generated. This, he says, is currently being tackled by the shutdown of wind power plants. “And then there is the regional surplus, as Saxony-Anhalt produces considerably more power than it uses itself.” It was this regional proportion above all that HYPOS wanted to use. The prospects of power production from renewable energies were reliable. The current expansion plan even provided for a proportion of 80 per cent up to 2020.

It is no coincidence that the network came into being in Saxony-Anhalt. East Germany, says Professor Wehrspohn, is a “burning glass” of the energy transition. “Many advantages are combined here. There is a large proportion of renewable energies and there are potential consumers from the chemical industry. Moreover, a pipeline runs along the A9, approximately from Leipzig to Berlin. At 150 kilometres long, it is Germany’s second-longest pipeline.be used to supply hydrogen."

Additionally, Saxony-Anhalt is a region with many salt caverns, huge hollow spaces in the salt 300 metres under the earth’s surface. These are currently being used to store natural gas – with a capacity of millions of cubic metres. Of course, other regions were also checked out before Central Germany was opted for. In Northern Germany, for example, there is also a lot of wind energy - but no pipeline. In North Rhine-Westphalia, in turn, there is the longest pipeline, but there are no caverns there and renewable energies have so far made up a very low proportion of the total primary energy consumption there.

Thus, according to Professor Ralf Wehrspohn, the “optimal combination” is found in Saxony-Anhalt, and since the infrastructure is in place, it is hoped that green hydrogen can be produced economically by the project end in 2022. The process itself already exists but it is currently still too expensive. Economic efficiency is one of the two points the project is focusing on. The other is the topic of safety. “We determine safety factors for the technology. The topic is to be taken into account from the start, in order to achieve a high level of acceptance among the population,” says Professor Wehrspohn. This also included determining people’s needs. One could be, for example, the use of hydrogen as a fuel for fuel-cell cars or, similar to natural gas, as a heat source.

A further effect is also being investigated as part of the project: in electrolysis, water is split into hydrogen and oxygen. This effect has been ignored so far, but is now arousing an increasing amount of interest in the network, since oxygen could also be used economically, for example in the biological cleaning of wastewater purification plants.

The number of HYPOS participants is growing continuously; investors are welcome. Since the project has become better known, enquiries have been received from around the world. “Delegations from companies have already been here who have considered joining the project. A few have even become members,” says Professor Wehrspohn. It was hoped that the network’s presence at Intersolar Europe would provide it with further good opportunities to present, strengthen and expand it.

 Author: Anja Falgowski