Smart Electrolysis Ready to Go

Hydrogen has the potential of becoming the central energy carrier of the future. This makes it all the more important to have efficient, reliable, low-cost electrolyzers for flexible production of the high-energy gas from power generated by wind turbines and photovoltaic systems. IAV has developed a modular electrolyzer using proven methods and production processes taken from automotive engineering. The prototype was presented at Hannover Messe and Vienna Engine Symposium. Industrial production has already begun with a renowned partner.

It is hydrogen’s versatility that makes it the predestined energy carrier of the future. It can be used for energy transmission and also as a potentially CO2-neutral fuel or climate-friendly base product for the chemical industry. It is therefore the means of choice for integrated energy or sector coupling, i.e. connecting such diverse areas as power generation, road transport, heat and industrial production, something that is seen as a prerequisite for making the energy transition successful. In particular, hydrogen can be used to compensate for volatility in the production of “green” electricity.

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IAV's electrolyzer is the perfect component for effective, sustainable sector coupling.

Electrolyzers allow flexible absorption of surplus electricity which is then taken into storage; the produced hydrogen can be converted back into power in times of insufficient supply, using fuel cells, for example. It is thus possible to decouple the generation and consumption of energy. In the coming decades, electrolyzers will play a significant role by producing hydrogen from electricity and water. Two technologies currently dominate the market: PEM electrolysis with a polymer membrane (seen as highly dynamic) and alkaline electrolysis with a liquid electrolyte, which is extremely robust. IAV’s electrolyzer combines the advantages of both methods. “It’s as dynamic as you’d expect a PEM electrolyzer to be, while at the same time offering the convincing long service life associated with alkaline technology”, says Ralf Wascheck, head of the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Mobility department at IAV.

High dynamics, modular design and low costs

IAV’s highly dynamic electrolyzer can convert the surplus electricity from even short generation peaks into hydrogen. The modular design is a further advantage. In the project development phase, the IAV electrolyzer can be adjusted to the specific requirements or application. The costs for the electrolyzer are cut right back by using automotive methods and production processes.

IAV is developing electrolyzers as the ideal complement to the engineering of fuel cell vehicles, enabling the company to cover the entire range of hydrogen mobility. The container-based solution with a nominal electrical output of 150 resp. 300 kilowatt is meanwhile so mature in its development that it is about to go into industrial production. “Together with a renowned mechanical engineering company, we now want to continue developing the electrolyzer into a product”, says Wascheck. IAV optimizes hydrogen electrolysis, pre-compression and gas purification while the partner deals above all with the downstream processing stages, and will also develop a hydrogen fuel station.

Great demand for decentralized electrolyzers

The IAV electrolyzer triggered considerable interest already at Hannover Messe industrial fair 2018.

IAV’s electrolyzer is ideal in this context as it is intended for local production of hydrogen, for example on the depots of logistics companies and local public transport providers or directly at public fuel stations. The latest EU plans are likely to give a further boost to the demand for electrolyzers. CO2 emissions from commercial vehicles should decrease by roughly 30 percent by 2030 (referred to 2019 as reference year). “This can be achieved above all with fuel cell vehicles, thus further increasing the demand for hydrogen and electrolyzers”, says Wascheck.

Huge demand for hydrogen must be met in future. Light and heavy-duty commercial vehicles will run on hydrogen and need a wide-spread fuel station infrastructure

Ralf Wascheck — Head of the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Mobility department at IAV

IAV presented the latest version of the electrolyzer at Hannover Messe in April and Vienna Engine Symposium in May. A prototype will be completed by early 2020, followed by the market launch of a first small-batch production that can be used at hydrogen fuel stations, among others. “Fuel cell vehicles combine high range with fast refueling”, summarizes Wascheck. “They are a form of e-mobility that is suitable for daily use and will become increasingly significant – together with robust, low-cost solutions for water electrolysis.”

The article was published in automotion 02/2019, the automotive engineering magazine of IAV. Here you can order the automotion free of charge.