Electrolysis plant from Schwerin taking market by storm
Hydrogen is considered an ideal energy carrier that can be used to store large amounts of wind and solar power. Green hydrogen is expected to become the basis of the energy transition and enable climate-friendlier production of steel, chemicals and climate-neutral synthetic fuels for ships and aircraft. Now, developers at Hydrogen and Informatics Institute of Applied Technologies (HIAT) based in Schwerin have successfully split water into hydrogen and oxygen - a process known as electrolysis.
Membrane electrolysis from Hamburg Metropolitan Region
"We have driven membrane electrolysis Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) to market maturity," said Tino Freiheit, Managing Director of HIAT. At the heart of years of development work at the Schwerin Technology Centre is a cylindrical module almost one metre high and 50 centimetres in diameter. This PEM stack generates up to 20 cubic metres of hydrogen per hour with an output of 120 kilowatts. "Our plants achieve efficiencies between 80 and 90 per cent," Freiheit explained. These values are significantly higher than those of so-called alkaline electrolysis, which achieve up to 70 per cent efficiency only. PEM electrolysis is easier to operate with distilled water instead of caustic potash.
PEM stacks in wind farms, for instance, use excess electricity generated during strong winds for water splitting. "We have customers in Germany and all over the world in Australia, China, France and India," Freiheit said. The company has sold nearly 100 PEM electrolysers so far and expects to at least double the number of units this year. More production space has been rented in Schwerin to handle growth. HIAT has also founded its own marketing company called Hydrogen Innovation GmbH.
HIAT to exploit market niche
HIAT is focusing on the market for small, decentral electrolysers and hopes to go global. Efficient electrolysis plants for producing environment-friendly hydrogen are being developed worldwide. Demand for hydrogen from wind and solar power will soar from 800,000 tons worldwide at present to over 600 million tons by 2050, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) forecast in March, if fossil fuels are to be replaced and global warming limited to 1.5 degrees.
Screen printing processes as a competitive advantage
Manufacturers of electrolysis systems hope to gain a footing on this highly dynamic market. A dozen companies in Germany alone offer electrolysis plants of various sizes, according to the Central Agricultural Raw Materials Marketing and Energy Network (CARMEN. e. V.) in Straubing. "But we have a competitive advantage with our patented and mature screen -printing process," said Freiheit. This method enables HIAT to produce the membranes used in the PEM stack - up to eight square meters per electrolysis - as cheaply as possible. Tiny catalyst particles made of platinum or iridium are spread evenly over the membranes and is exactly what the screen-printing process does well and economically, Freiheit said. Only relatively small quantities of the precious metals, which cost about EUR 150 per gram, are needed for electrolysis. Freiheit and his team now want to extend this lead and reduce the amount of material used in PEM electrolysis without compromising performance.