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Refuting five H2 myths

Special Focus: Advances in H2 Production

T. KRÜGER, H-TEC SYSTEMS, Augsburg, Germany

According to many experts from technology, business and politics, the energy transition is not possible without hydrogen (H2), which will play a decisive role in mobility and the future global economy. The European Green Deal and further greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction targets will ensure that the legal requirements for emissions limits for vehicles will likely continue to become stricter, especially in the transport sector. This increases the pressure on vehicle manufacturers to introduce alternative drive systems more widely. 

Pressure on industry is also increasing. Does H2 have a role in industrial applications, and is it a building block for the mobility of the future? Despite positive expert assessments, some persistent myths about the energy balance and market maturity of H2 continue to circulate. Five common assertions about the future of the H2 global market are explored here. 

Myth 1: H2 is not so eco-friendly. H2 is considered to be a climate-neutral and efficient energy carrier. During its combustion, only water vapor is produced and no environmentally-harmful substances are released. However, if the energy required for H2 production comes from fossil fuels (gray H2), then this argument only applies to a limited extent. Green H2 is produced through the electrolysis of water, using only electricity from renewable energies. The production of green H2 by means of polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) electrolysis is, therefore, completely CO-free. In addition, green H2 is suitable as a storage medium for renewable energies and can be used, for example, to compensate for fluctuations in the power network, as it can be conveniently stored in the natural gas network or in tanks over a long period of time.

Myth 2: H2 production is too expensive. As the production of H2 is mature and technologically manageable, production can be ramped up quickly to meet corresponding demand. With technologies and processes, prices always fall significantly as soon as production capacities increase. The decreasing costs for renewable power also lower the costs of producing green H2 because up to 75% of the costs incurred for PEM electrolysis can be attributed to the electricity demand. In the best case, however, investment and maintenance costs only represent ~25% of cost requirements. 

Depending on the conditions, these costs distributions can fluctuateif the price of electricity drops, the costs for producing green H2 from PEM electrolysis also decrease. When considering higher global gas prices, green H2 is becoming increasingly more lucrative. According to calculations by analysts at Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), green H2depending on the country or region and its specific availability of energy from renewable sources like wind and sunhas already been less expensive than fossil H2 from natural gas in parts of Europe, the Middle East and Africa.  

The Hydrogen Council, an association of more than 90 international companies, expects the costs of many H2 applications to be halved in the next 10 yr. As a result, this will open up competitiveness for even more areas of application. 

Myth 3: Efficiency losses in H2 production are too high. The rule of thumb is that up to 25% of the energy used to produce H2 is lost in the form of heat. Depending on the process, this percentage is already lower today. If this heat is captured and fed into a heating network, the "loss of efficiency" can be used as an energy source for other applications. The sustainably generated energy can be fed into the district heating network or used directly to heat residential and business premises. The author’s company’s electrolyzera, for example, offers especially high efficiency. With a total electrolysis performance of 1 megawatt (MW), it achieves a system efficiency of 75%, and even up to 90% when using heat. 

H2 production provides the basis for a so-called sector coupling. By networking the three sectors of the energy industryelectricity, heating supply and mobilityprojects become significantly more sustainable and economical. 

Myth 4: H2 is unsuitable for mobility. H2 is frequently presented as a competitor to electric vehicles with battery storage. In each case, both approaches are suitable for different areas of application. Electric cars with batteries are becoming increasingly economical. However, the heavier the vehicle, the more impractical the required batteries would become, as they would weigh several tons and still have a short range and long recharging times. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, the larger and heavier the vehicle and the greater the distance it must travel, the more sensible it is to use H2. This primarily applies to shipping, but also includes the propulsion of aircraft or trains.  

According to recent studies, commercial vehicles comprise some 33% of GHG emissions in the domestic German transport sector. The larger portion of these emissions can be attributed to heavy commercial vehicles in the 26 t40 t range involved in long-distance freight transport. Therefore, their drive technology has a particularly high potential to effectively contribute to climate protection. 

Airplanes, ships, commercial vehicles, heavy road traffic, local public transport or other processes in the logistics sector are areas of application that, according to the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, can benefit from using H2 and for which successful projects are already in practice. Modern H2 buses have a range of 350 km (218 mi) andwith 8 kg12 kg (18 lb26 lb) of H2 per 100 km (62 mi)consume significantly less than their diesel counterparts. Heavy commercial vehicles with fuel cell drive systems can achieve ranges of up to 1,000 km and consume around 8 kg of H2 per 100 km (62 mi). Fuel cells are also already in use in local rail passenger transport. Pilot projects have achieved a range of 1,000 km (620 mi) with a H2 consumption of 18 kg28 kg (40 lb62 lb) per 100 km (62 mi) and are now being placed into regular operation. 

Myth 5: H2 applications are still a dream of the future. For several years, visitors at industry events around the world have seen for themselves that even the newer green H2 is no longer just a vision of the future. Practical projects are showing, among other things, how successful sector coupling can be when implemented through the interaction of community wind and solar parks and the production of green H2. H2 is already being used cost-effectively for green mobility and heating supply, as well as being fed into regional energy networkstoday, > 10% can be fed into the natural gas network and stored.

Green H2 plays a special role in the decarbonization of industrial processes. There are many practical examples of how it has been used successfully (e.g., heating kilns in glass, cement or steel production). According to the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the steel industry alone is responsible for 8% of CO emissions in Germany, and some 80% of emissions could be avoided by switching to H2 and natural gas. 

Other options for using H2 as a raw material for producing industrial products are already being tested. Mixing H2 and CO results in a high-quality synthesis gas. Through this forward-looking process, which is being used very successfully in Iceland, for example, CO emissions can be captured. Chemical building blocks for chemicals, polymers or synthetic fuels can be produced from the synthesis gas. Even ammonia, the main component of mineral fertilizers, can be produced with climate-friendly H2 production.

According to a study carried out by the European Patent Office (EPA) and the International Energy Agency (IEA), Germany is now the leader in H2 patents in Europe and ranks second worldwide after Japan. Furthermore, Europe leads in production capacities for electrolyzers, whereby Germany is represented through two worldwide leading regional clusters in the Munich and Ruhr areas.H2T


a H-TEC SYSTEMS’ ME450 electrolyzer 

About the author

Tino Krüger is a seasoned Senior Product Manager at H-TEC SYSTEMS with a notable industrial background. He brings a wealth of experience from the H2 market, coupled with a knack for analyzing and evaluating market dynamics and competition. Krüger’s career reflects a blend of technical proficiency and strategic finesse. He has a broad expertise in project management with classic and agile-incremental approaches, which he has already used in large industrial companies like MAN Energy Solutions SE and BMW Group AG.