In order to make hydrogen technology sustainable for the future, there is a need for the roll-out of electrolysis on an industrial scale and for the rapid development of production capacity. This process can be particularly efficient if industry and research pool their expertise. The Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden-Württemberg (Zentrum für Sonnenenergie- und Wasserstoff-Forschung Baden-Württemberg - ZSW) has joined forces with industrial parts cleaning company Ecoclean for the “EcoLyzer BW” project, which will start in January, and together they plan to develop an internationally competitive electrolysis system and see it through to series production and market launch. There are currently about 10 companies in the world which are developing and supplying commercial electrolysis systems on a megawatt scale. So far, however, there has been no industrial provider of electrolysis system technology in Baden-Württemberg who is acting as a system integrator and bundling the expertise in the federal state and who would be able to proceed quickly to competitive product development and serial production.
In adopting the Green Deal, Europe has committed itself to becoming the first continent to be climate-neutral by 2050 and has introduced much stricter greenhouse gas reduction targets for 2030 from minus 40 per cent to minus 55 per cent compared to 1990 levels. Water electrolysis is a key technology on this road map, not only because it makes it possible to transfer renewable (surplus) energy from the electricity sector to the other energy sectors (heat supply and transport), but also because it opens up additional options for making sectors of industry which consume a lot of energy climate-neutral, such as the steel industry and chemical industry. Even if Germany is likely to remain an energy-importing country in the future, there are still considerable opportunities to influence industrial policy for the export of electrolysis technology to preferred power-to-X (P2X) regions with favourable sun and wind conditions. In order to be able to keep pace with the market, which is currently moving at great speed, the technology must now be transferred to industry and steered towards series production very quickly and systematically. This will allow Baden-Württemberg to benefit from first-mover advantages over international competitors and thereby exploit the potential for added value.
Alkaline water electrolysis
The technological basis for the planned expansion to series production in the “EcoLyzer” project is a technique for alkaline water electrolysis in the one-megawatt category developed by the ZSW over the past 10 years. It is an alkaline high-pressure electrolysis system. The electrolyser can be fitted with two electrolysis stacks, each with an output of 0.5 megawatts, and at maximum capacity it will deliver about 20 kilogrammes of hydrogen per hour (at a pressure level of 16 bar) with an efficiency of around 70 per cent. The ZSW had good reasons for taking the decision to use this technology at the start of the development work. “Firstly, alkaline electrolysis is already tried and tested, and it is a robust technology. It also lends itself to scaling, including in high-end performance classes. Most importantly, however, in contrast to other electrolysis technologies (PEM electrolysis or high-temperature electrolysis), alkaline electrolysis does not involve the use of precious metals and rare earth elements where resources are at critical levels. Not only does this make it cheaper but it is also less likely to be affected by shortages in the supply of raw materials when the market ramps up,” said Dr. Marc-Simon Löffler who heads up the department of Renewable Fuels and Processes.
Funding from the Ministry of the Environment
Aspects of industrial application and ease of maintenance were taken into account right back at the development stage. The system is also designed for operation in the volatile power-to-X environment where electricity is drawn from renewable and fluctuating sources. The technology developed by the ZSW has already been tested in practice since 2019 in the context of “Power-to-Gas Baden-Württemberg”, a flagship project in Grenzach-Wyhlen funded by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Economic Affairs. “Making our electrolysis system technology fit for series production offers great opportunities, especially for the federal state of Baden-Württemberg with its strength as an exporter of technology and all its potential in mechanical and plant engineering and the supply industry. We have found the ideal partner for this venture in Ecoclean,” continued Dr. Marc-Simon Löffler. The joint project with Ecoclean has now started and will run until March 2024. It is receiving funding to the tune of around 2.1 million euro from the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of the Environment under the umbrella of the “Wasserstoff BW” hydrogen programme for a sustainable future.
Internationally competitive mass production
The ZSW has been demonstrating its expertise in hydrogen systems and technology transfer to industry for many years in a string of successful projects, including the joint project “Electrolysis Made in Baden-Württemberg” funded by the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Economic Affairs. More than 60 companies – mainly from the supply industry – are currently involved in the project. Until now, however, there had not been an industrial supplier in the state who was pooling these strands of expertise in the role of a manufacturer of electrolysis system technology. This provider has now been found in the shape of Ecoclean. Based in Filderstadt, Ecoclean is an international company which develops and produces systems and services for applications in industrial parts cleaning and surface treatment. “We have proven expertise in process engineering, plant construction and industrial manufacturing processes and, on this basis, we intend to develop and produce a competitive electrolysis technology system in Baden-Württemberg for a global market,” said Michael Förster, Chairman of the Board of Management at Ecoclean GmbH. The aim of the “EcoLyzer BW” project is to develop an internationally competitive product based on this technology. The plan is for Ecoclean to produce around 80 systems per year at the Dettingen site which will then be made available for the international market. The production of the first systems is scheduled to start in 2023. “We have established proof of our technology in the one-megawatt output class, which translates to a production volume of around 20 kilograms of H2 per hour. To put this into perspective, this equates to filling the tank of about four fuel cell cars or one fuel cell bus per hour,” said Dr. Marc-Simon Löffler.
There are plans to involve companies from the supply industry in Baden-Württemberg in the project and thereby establish regional value-added chains. “There now needs to be a rapid response and concerted effort to lay the foundations to drive the hydrogen economy, because this technology is not only crucial to achieving the climate targets, but also to the future sustainability of our federal state,” added Dr. Marc-Simon Löffler, emphasising the importance of acting swiftly.