In June 2020 the German Federal Government has adopted a national hydrogen strategy. It is hoped this will significantly bolster German hydrogen research. So what are the Kopernikus projects contributing to this field, and what other projects are there?
Green hydrogen is key to achieving the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement. With its help, it will be possible to make Germany’s main sources of greenhouse gases climate-friendly, while at the same time bolstering Germany as a centre of technology. The reasons for this are as follows:
Green hydrogen can be used as fuel for cars. Together with carbon monoxide, it can be converted into climate-friendly fuels to power trucks, ships, and airplanes.
Green hydrogen can fuel industrial furnaces. It can also heat buildings using fuel cells. Alternatively, it can be used together with carbon dioxide to produce methane, which can act as a heating gas in private households and industry.
Along with carbon dioxide, green hydrogen is a component in polymers, which are in high demand in the chemical industry. For example, they can be used to manufacture products for the plastics sector.
Green hydrogen can be converted into electricity to offset fluctuations in the power grid.
Hydrogen colour theory
Hydrogen is described differently depending on its origin – that is why the gas, which is actually colourless, is given colours in the terminology of this field. Here is an overview:
Grey hydrogen is obtained from fossil fuels. To produce it, generally natural gas is heated to separate it into hydrogen and CO2. The CO2 is then released unused into the atmosphere, thus contributing to the greenhouse effect. Producing one tonne of hydrogen generates around 10 tonnes of CO2.
Blue hydrogen is grey hydrogen, but the CO2 produced from it is captured and stored (in a process called carbon capture and storage, or CCS). This means that the CO2 generated during blue hydrogen production does not enter the atmosphere and the production process can be viewed as CO2-neutral on balance.
Green hydrogen is produced by electrolysis of water, using electricity from renewable energy sources only for the electrolysis process. Regardless of the electrolysis technology that is chosen, the production of green hydrogen is CO2-free, because 100 % of the electricity that is used comes from renewable sources and is therefore CO2-free.
Turquoise hydrogen is hydrogen that is produced by thermal decomposition of methane (methane pyrolysis). Instead of CO2, this produces solid carbon. For the process to be CO2-neutral, the heat supply of the high-temperature reactor used must come from renewable energy sources and the carbon bond formed must be permanent.
Hydrogen research in the Kopernikus projects
In order to make green hydrogen marketable and enable it to be produced, transported, and used on an industrial scale, the German Federal Government has adopted a national hydrogen strategy. This will substantially bolster hydrogen research.
The Kopernikus projects have also been researching hydrogen since 2016. In particular, the Kopernikus project P2X addresses the topics of hydrogen generation, transport, and usage. In its second funding phase (2019–2021), the project team is researching the following questions:
How can green hydrogen be obtained using renewable energy in the most efficient way possible?
How can green hydrogen be stored and transported as efficiently as possible?
How can green hydrogen be used as a raw material for the chemical and cosmetics industries?
How can green hydrogen be used to operate industrial furnaces?
What might cost-efficient hydrogen filling stations look like?
How can green hydrogen be used for the production of climate-friendly fuels for cars and airplanes?
Hydrogen is also a focus for the Rheticus project, a spin-off from P2X that studies how CO2 can be used as a raw material instead of releasing it into the atmosphere as a pollutant. To this end, the project turns CO2, water, and renewable energy into a mixture of green hydrogen and carbon monoxide (syngas), which bacteria then convert into alcohols. These alcohols can be used to produce plastics, food, and fuels.
Along with the Kopernikus projects, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) already funds many other research projects relating to the topic of green hydrogen. The five most important projects at a glance are as follows:
The Carbon2Chem project aims to use the exhaust gases accrued in ThyssenKrupp’s steelworks (smelter gases) as a raw material instead of releasing them into the atmosphere as a pollutant. To do this, it utilizes the hydrogen in the exhaust gases on the one hand – and on the other it also generates green hydrogen through the 2MW electrolysis process developed in the project. The hydrogen is needed to produce end products such as fertilizer, plastics, and synthetic fuels from the exhaust gases.
The MACOR feasibility study uses the example of the steelworks in Salzgitter to examine the potential for environmentally-friendly steel production if green hydrogen is used for heating instead of coal.
The NAMOSYN project is dedicated to analysing and evaluating synthetic fuels – including those produced using green hydrogen.
The Franco-German projects BRIDGE and LivingH2 study how hydrogen fuel cells could be improved and develop concepts for a system to supply a house’s entire energy needs using only hydrogen.