New electrolysis project makes power-to-gas commercially viable

01/28/2016 // Berlin. Researchers and engineers reduce costs of hydrogen production through technology transfer from automotive industry and advance the energy transition

In conjunction with the engineering partner IAV, the Zentrum für Sonnenenergie- und Wasserstoff-Forschung Baden-Württemberg (Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research Baden- Württemberg, ZSW), the Reiner Lemoine Institut (Reiner Lemoine Institute, RLI) and Wasserelektrolyse Hydrotechnik (HT) are researching cost-effective methods of producing hydrogen with the help of automotive technology. In the context of the 'ecoPtG' project, the researchers and engineers are developing an alkaline water electrolyzer with an output of 100 kilowatt. They aim to demonstrate that CO2-neutral hydrogen can be produced in a cost-effective manner and intend to facilitate the storage of electricity.

In the course of the energy transition, electricity is increasingly being generated from fluctuating sources. Solar and wind energy generation depends on the weather and is subject to significant fluctuations. At times, renewable energy production thus temporarily exceeds regional demand. Hydrogen produced according to the so-called power-to-gas method plays a key role in resolving this challenge and decarbonizing the transport sector, i.e. changing over from fossil to renewable energy sources. By converting electricity to gas, solar and wind power become storable. If required, hydrogen can be reconverted or used as environmentally compatible fuel for fuel cell vehicles.

Up until now, high investment costs were a barrier to market entry, especially in the case of smaller electrolyzers. The partners IAV, ZSW, RLI und HT set up the 'ecoPtG' project to change this situation. Using a straightforward concept, simplified production processes and affordable materials, such as plastics, they intend to make the envisaged alkaline 100-kilowatt electrolysis fit for the market. To achieve this aim, the project partners are predominantly using automotive technology, focussing on power electronics, steering and sensor technology as well as production process components for temperature control and media loops. In the automotive industry, many of these components, which also meet electrolysis requirements, are mass-produced cost-effectively using various drive technologies. The 'ecoPtG' project has been designed to investigate ways of transferring these technologies to hydrogen production.

"Peripheral parts such as the control unit or power electronics drive the costs up and are thus a major hurdle preventing industrial use of smaller electrolyzers. We know these parts from vehicle development where they are already produced in large volumes at low costs. IAV wants to use this know-how in the 'ecoPtG' project with successful integration of vehicle technology in electrolyzers", says Dr.-Ing. Christopher Severin, Head of Department for System Development and Combustion Concepts at IAV. "Our aim is to develop a modular low-cost electrolyzer in the 100 kW class for the production of 4-35 kg hydrogen per day.

Based on a resolution of the German Parliament, the Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology is providing a total of EUR 4.75 million in subsidies for the 'ecoPtG' project.