What we call hydrogen today was called "combustible air" by the British natural scientist Henry Cavendish when he discovered the then unknown gas in the middle of the 18th century. On the way to a sustainable energy supply, this "combustible air" can become the key to energy transition.
In the form of combustible or motor fuel, hydrogen can be used in many areas of application as a climate-friendly alternative to coal, oil and natural gas. Hydrogen can make a significant contribution to the decarbonisation of the industrial, heating and transport sectors. This gaseous energy carrier serves, for example, as a heat source in industrial production or as a raw material in the chemical industry. In addition, hydrogen in fuel cell propulsion is suitable for driving heavy goods vehicles and ships, which otherwise could only be electrified at great expense. Fuel cell vehicles have ranges of several hundred kilometres and can be refuelled in less than five minutes. The advantages sound promising.
National Hydrogen Strategy
So there are many good reasons why the Federal Government wants to establish Germany as the future "world market leader in hydrogen technology". Against this background the government adopted its "National Hydrogen Strategy" on 10 June. This aims to promote hydrogen as a CO2-free alternative to fossil fuels in all relevant sectors such as industry, heating and transport.
The federal programme aims to promote the market ramp-up of hydrogen technologies and in particular the construction and operation of domestic production plants. To this end, a generation potential of up to 5 GW of electrolysis capacity is to be built up by 2030. Another 5 GW are to be added by 2035 if possible, but by 2040 at the latest. In the run-up to the decision, the Federal Research Ministry had even demanded up to 15 GW.
Hydrogen will initially be used primarily in industrial processes and in the transport sector. Especially in aviation, because air traffic is not easily electrified – batteries are too big and too heavy. Last but not least, economic reasons speak for the use of hydrogen in the industrial and transport sectors.
The National Hydrogen Strategy is designed to promote "green hydrogen" – produced from renewable electricity. However, so-called "blue hydrogen" is also to be used on a transitional basis. This is produced from natural gas, while the resulting CO2 is separated and stored in underground rock layers.
In addition to a committee of state secretaries as a decision-making body, a Hydrogen Council made up of proven experts will also be established. Its task is to advise and support the State Secretary Committee with proposals and recommendations for action in the implementation and further development of the hydrogen strategy. The council consists of 25 high-ranking experts from business, science and society, with Katherina Reiche, Chairwoman of the Management Board of Westenergie GmbH (E.ON subsidiary) as a chairperson.
In order to promote the market ramp-up of hydrogen technologies, the Federal Government's hydrogen strategy provides for 7 billion euros in funding for the domestic market and a further 2 billion euros for international partnerships in addition to existing funding programmes. Added to this are the 600 million euros already allocated for the "Real Labore of Energy transition" and additional funding for projects focusing on digitization and sector coupling. A further three to four-digit million euros will be provided by existing innovation programmes for applications in the building, transport and industrial sectors.
The strategy takes into account the fact that the availability of renewable energies in Germany is limited in the short to medium term. It plans to develop international cooperations for the import of hydrogen and the export of hydrogen technologies.
And how is hydrogen transported?
A suitable infrastructure is a prerequisite for entry into a hydrogen economy. According to current knowledge, up to 20 percent hydrogen can be added to the existing gas networks. Although some components must be "H2-ready", i.e. prepared for increased hydrogen use, this opens up great potential for decarbonisation of the heating market. Heating energy requires around 40 percent of the total energy demand in Germany. And despite improved thermal insulation, demand will remain high in the future.
Economic efficiency of hydrogen technologies
Currently, the use and production of hydrogen is not yet economically viable in many areas. Further research and alternative sources of supply, such as the import of hydrogen from sunny and windy regions, can support the efficient use of this CO2-free energy source. In addition, cost reductions should result from the large-scale production of electrolysers. An efficient integration of hydrogen into the overall system would also have to be flanked by appropriate energy policy framework conditions.