More speed - the third H2 Forum in Berlin was well attended
Accelerating Europe's hydrogen economy - this was the motto of this year's H2 Forum on 6 and 7 June in Berlin. 55 top-class experts from science and industry vividly illustrated the enormous range of the topic as well as its complexity and multi-layeredness in their presentations and panel discussions.
This was the best opportunity to gain a comprehensive overview, to identify neighbouring or possibly complementary projects and - the declared aim of the event - to form new partnerships. For one thing is clear: the much-vaunted ramp-up of the hydrogen economy cannot be achieved without expertise from a wide range of disciplines and sectors. At the same time, the exchange and reconciliation of very divergent viewpoints and perspectives is of decisive importance.
For example, the reflection on the development of the industry in recent years was not uniform: While Dr. Axel Wiedteld, CEO of Uniper Hydrogen, was rather contrite that he had been somewhat naïve about the speed of the development of the H2 economy years ago, Sunfire CEO Nils Aldag was satisfied that so much had already been achieved and found the level of understanding and awareness remarkable. There was widespread agreement among the speakers, particularly in the assessment of the Ukraine war and the energy crisis directly related to it as a catalyst for the current virtually unleashed ramp-up of a wide range of H2 activities and, as Alexandra Boyonova, Head of the Climate Office of the European Investment Bank, was able to report, an increased willingness to invest. Filip Smeets, CCO of Nel Hydrogen, was convinced that another decisive factor in this assessment was, of course, the gradually worsening climate crisis.
With the help of the Slido app, which was used to interact with the congress participants, they were asked about their assessment of the further development of the hydrogen economy in the next 3 years. An overwhelming majority of more than 80% were optimistic to very optimistic about the further development.
Nevertheless, many of the experts see a need to catch up in the field of implementation. While Charlotte Kirk, Head of Science and Technology at Fortescue Future Industries, pointed out that the new industry was just forming out of nothing, Dr. Karl-Peter Thelen, Press Officer of the Energy Hub Wilhelmshaven, warned that it was time to move on from PowerPoint to reality. Ana Quelhas, Managing Director for Hydrogen at DEP Renewables, was also concerned that expectations did not match reality, and that regulations and politics were simply not fast enough. There are hardly any final investment decisions at the moment. Boyonova countered that the European Investment Bank had already invested 1 billion euros in H2 projects last year and was providing not only funds but also advice.
Nevertheless, the first projects have long been in the works: Dirk Manske, responsible for regulatory affairs and energy policy at the gas supplier Ontras, reported on the ongoing conversion of a first conventional pipeline to H2 operation. A gas pipeline that is already 40 years old was deliberately chosen to gain experience for the much-discussed gradual conversion of the natural gas network to hydrogen. After all, compressors, fittings and coatings would have to be replaced. The pipeline is to become part of the Starting Grid, which is being promoted in dialogue with politicians and whose basic outlines are to be presented from October.
Jens Sprotte, Vice President Business Development at Alstom, was also able to score points with 42 hydrogen trains that have long since arrived in the here and now and are in operation at several customers in Germany and announced the presentation of a first H2 shunting locomotive for the end of the year.
Ulrik Olbjorn, project manager for hydrogen supply in Europe at Equinor, has a longer way to go with the plans for the hydrogen pipeline through the North Sea from Norway to Wilhelmshaven.
It is hardly surprising that in the Slido survey conducted in this context, which country would be most suitable for an H2 alliance with Germany, a majority of the conference participants saw Norway in the lead, followed by Spain/Chile in second place and Denmark/Netherlands in third place.
This draws attention to another aspect that, according to another Slido survey, a large proportion of conference attendees see as one of the biggest challenges for the nascent H2 era: inadequate infrastructure and limited production capacity.
One of the central issues here was vividly described by Ulf Gehrckens, Deputy Managing Director at aluminium producer Aurubis, who pointed out that the price of copper has global validity. Electricity prices like those in Morocco, which are only a third of the level in Germany, represent an enormous disadvantage for a location. Aurubis had tried several times in the past to produce green copper, the price of which was only moderately higher than that of conventionally produced copper. But no one wanted to pay the price premium. The CEO of Tree Energy Solutions-H2, Marco Alvera, made an even starker comparison of electricity production costs: While these costs in energy-rich countries were around 10 euros per MWh, in Germany they easily reached 150 euros per MWh.
However, Gilles Le Van, deputy managing director of the Large Industries & Energy Transition department at Air Liquide, concludes that this comparison in itself is not very meaningful. One also has to consider the costs of transport, such as H2 liquefaction or ammonia production. In the end, imported hydrogen is just as expensive when it is ready to use in Germany. Moreover, EWE CTO Dr. Urban Keussen calculates that electricity produced abroad is not generally cheaper if one takes into account the hours when electricity is very cheap in this country due to a temporary energy surplus. In this context, it is highly advisable to produce hydrogen exactly where there is a demand, as PNE CEO Markus Lesser and Nadine Kanu from the German Renewable Energy Association stated.
Import and transport
Nevertheless, the general assessment is that the lion's share of future hydrogen demand will have to be covered by imports. This forecast was also confirmed by Dr. Jürgen Friedrich from the Ministry of Economics and Climate Policy. In view of the high level of industrialisation in Germany, the ministry expects an import volume of 60-70% of the total demand. The corresponding import strategy is currently being developed. Friedrich named Morocco and Canada as the most important partner countries in the foreseeable future.
While in the case of the former a pipeline to Spain would be quite conceivable, in the case of the latter there would only be transport by ship, which, according to a general assessment validated in another survey, would in all likelihood be based on either ammonia or methanol. After all, according to Campfire speaker Dr Angela Kruth, more than 18 million tonnes of the substance are already shipped annually. Japan, moreover, is the global pioneer in ammonia combustion in turbines. The development of engines for ammonia combustion is also making progress. On the other hand, the development of technologies for transporting pure hydrogen is still in its infancy, according to Karl-Peter Thelen of the Energy Hub Wilhelmshaven. A first ship suitable for this purpose is currently being developed by Kawasaki.
Against this backdrop, some of the approaches presented at the H2 Forum, some of which are geared towards the further use of existing infrastructure or technology, also deserve attention.
Andreas Möller, Deputy Managing Director of the Hydrogen & Carbon Management Department at Wintershall Dea, was well aware of the possibility of being perceived as a bad guy with his contribution and presented a way to stimulate the development of the hydrogen industry with the help of classic processes from different sectors. Following on from the German government's hydrogen strategy, which predicts an increase in the annual demand for hydrogen to 90 TWh by 2030, and even to more than 300 TWh by 2045, there is an enormous capacity gap in production that can hardly be compensated by imports. However, if the traditional natural gas-based hydrogen production were combined with the modern technology of carbon capture and storage, this could be remedied in a climate-neutral way.
The use of so-called e-NG, whose name is derived from the abbreviation LNG, follows exactly the opposite path. Generated from electrolytically produced hydrogen and CO2, this artificially produced methane could be transported in conventional LNG tankers and transported via the natural gas infrastructure to consumers, who in turn could use it to power their cars and trucks. At least this is how Marco Alvera of Tree Energy Solutions-H2 envisions the climate-neutral transformation of numerous industries, not without pointing out that Japan, as the country with the most extensive LNG network in the world, is currently making this transition.
The company Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies is pursuing a similar basic idea:
The LOHC process is based on hydrogen storage in oil, as Ralf Ott, Head of Policy and Regulation, spoke about and, like e-NG, stands for the use of the existing oil infrastructure. For example, conventional diesel tanks could be used for storage. Tankers could also convert hydrogen back from LOHC during transport and use it for fuel cell propulsion.
Iveco CEO Gerrit Marx also touched on a not insignificant detail with regard to a possible H2 infrastructure for the transport sector: For the operation of a fuel cell, high-purity hydrogen is needed, which therefore cannot be distributed via earlier natural gas pipelines. In addition, fuel cells with a service life of 20,000 hours instead of the 6,000 hours achieved so far would be required for installation in heavy trucks. The only promising way to decarbonise the transport sector is the use of e-fuels.
As Nicole Dreyer-Langley, Deputy Managing Director of Research and Technology at Airbus Operations, reported, the aviation industry is following the same path. Engines of modern jets already tolerate considerable admixtures of hydrogen and could thus noticeably reduce CO2 emissions. A jet with pure hydrogen propulsion, however, remains utopia for the time being.
One of the speakers, Alstom's Sprotte, also provided an illustrative example for another dominant topic: He described that a filling station for the hydrogen trains used there has existed in Bremervörde for four years - but its use by buses and trucks has been blocked until now due to a lack of regulations. And that is the point: the lack of binding regulations - there is undisputed agreement on this in the entire hydrogen industry - is considered to be the most urgent of a whole series of factors hindering the successful implementation of a hydrogen infrastructure. In addition, standardisation and interoperability across countries and regions as well as constructive cooperation rank second and third in a Slido survey conducted for this purpose.
The focus here is above all on the definition of when hydrogen is really to be regarded as "green", as laid down in an EU regulation that recently came into force. In this regard, not only Alexander Voigt, board member and co-founder of HH2E, expressed his scepticism about "not so small-scale regulations on how green hydrogen should be defined", but also Keussen from EWE "Keep it simple!" or Air Liquide Vice President Le Van.
With regard to the concrete tasks that can be derived from this, most of the speakers saw politics as being primarily responsible: PNO CEO Lesser urgently called for faster approval procedures, Uniper CEO Axel Wiedfeld saw the need for pragmatism, while Elena Hof, PR manager at JET H2 Energy, focused not only on a regulatory setting but also on the comparability of these rules. Finally, Andreas Janssen, head of the Hydrogen Mobility department at Shell, came to the conclusion that the importance of regulation on the part of politics cannot be overestimated.
A question that also concerns a large number of players in the industry is that of a predictable price level. Not only Jochen Steinbauer, Platform Director H2 Technologies for Regional Trains at Siemens, wanted to know what the hydrogen price would look like in three years, but also Volker Hasenberg, Manager of the International H2 Strategy at Daimler Trucks, called for an economic H2 price for the industry to take off, and Dennis Wehmeyer of Gascade set his sights on a justifiable price level of no more than 3 euros per kilo. Where the prices will ultimately develop, no one knows the answer to that reliably at the moment. Not least because it is buried somewhere in the field of tension between electricity prices, market establishment and market volume. For on the one hand, as PNE CEO Lesser predicted, no investment would be made without prices, and on the other hand, as HH2E co-founder Voigt affirmed, it was certain that costs would not fall by magic but only by enlarging the market. In addition, there is another factor in the mix:
The banks are still only tackling the issue with pointed fingers. As Nadine Kanu from the BEE put it, they still have the problem of seeing H2 plants as a value, a fact that Alvera also underlined with its statement that hydrogen is currently not "bankable". According to Dr. Christine Falken-Großer, head of the Hydrogen Department at the Ministry of Economics, the key issue is guarantees and risk assumption, a problem that can otherwise only be mastered by scaling and spreading the risks over several shoulders, as Christian Pho Duc, CTO of the Smartenergy Group, was convinced.
Most players in the industry see increased cooperation as the best strategy for the challenges ahead. That this is recognised nationwide is proven more clearly by the number of international (albeit so far mostly bilateral) partnerships. Here, Germany is in the lead worldwide, Maria Kusch from the World Energy Council assured, closely followed by Korea and Japan.