The hydrogen industry is on the upswing. However, to meet the market demand for environmentally friendly hydrogen, H2 must be produced from renewable raw materials and without emitting greenhouse gases. Find out what the technical options and specific subsidies are for this in this blog article.

Hydrogen is being traded as the clean energy storage of the future, but so far it has been produced primarily from fossil raw materials and with the release of CO2. In order to produce hydrogen in a climate-neutral way, production must be switched to sustainable raw materials and to greenhouse gas-free processes. To achieve this, green hydrogen production processes must be further developed and scaled up to the point where they can replace existing processes. This is where current R&D projects can come in and be advanced with funding. And this will be worthwhile: The industrial sector around hydrogen will undergo strong growth in the coming years. As part of this, scaling all hydrogen-related sectors - production, transport and storage, consumption, and control components (balance-of-plant components) - is critical. By investing at the right time, companies can gain a decisive market advantage.

Environmentally friendly hydrogen demanded: Problems with current production

How is hydrogen currently produced and what is the problem with it?

Until now, most of the hydrogen produced has been made from fossil raw materials and with the release of CO2. For the production of this, so called grey hydrogen, the following processes are used:
  • Steam reforming: Gaseous or low-boiling fossil raw materials are reacted with steam at high temperatures (700-1000°C) and high pressures over a catalyst (usually nickel). This produces a gas mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen (synthesis gas).
  • Partial oxidation: Heavy-boiling or solid fossil raw materials are reacted with oxygen at very high temperatures (1000°C). This reaction also produces a gas mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen (synthesis gas).
  • Water gas shift reaction: In a follow-up to the reactions the carbon monoxide produced in the processes can be transformed with water, forming carbon dioxide and producing additional gray hydrogen.

These processes rely on fossil feedstocks and release approximately 16.1 kg CO2 eq/kg H2. Due to these high greenhouse gas emissions, decarbonization cannot be achieved based on gray hydrogen.

formulas-3-processes-for-the-production-of-hydrogen

Figure 1: The different reactions for the production of hydrogen starting from pentane.

Green hydrogen: sustainable production with electrolysis

Which processes are used for the production of sustainable green hydrogen?

Electrolysis is considered to be the most important process for the production of hydrogen in the future. In an electrochemical process, water is split into hydrogen and oxygen. Provided the energy for electrolysis comes from renewable sources, no greenhouse gases are thus released and the hydrogen produced is accordingly climate-neutral. Even using electricity from fossil sources, the greenhouse gas release of approx. 1.5 kg CO2 eq/kg H2 is significantly lower than for gray hydrogen.

schematic-diagram-electrolyser-for-the-production-of-hydrogen
Figure 2: Schematic diagram of an electrolyzer.

There are three predominant electrolysis processes. In all processes, the electrodes are separated by a membrane, which allows ion transfer and spatially separates electrodes and anolyte and catholyte. Hydrogen is formed at the cathode by a reduction reaction and oxygen is formed at the anode by an oxidation reaction.
  1. AEL (Alkaline Electrolysis): Alkaline electrolysis is carried out in a highly concentrated potassium hydroxide solution as the electrolyte. The membrane between the electrodes allows the transfer of hydroxide ions, which are formed by the elimination of protons from the water at the cathode.

  2. PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane Electrolysis): Proton exchange membrane electrolysis is carried out under acidic conditions. A proton transfer membrane between the electrodes allows protons formed at the anode to travel to the cathode, where hydrogen is formed.

  3. HTE (High Temperature or Steam Electrolysis): In high temperature or steam electrolysis, water vapor is split electrolytically. In this process, the electrodes are connected by a membrane, which allows the transfer of oxygen ions from the cathode to the anode.

Challenges and development areas for electrolyzers

However, there is still a need for further development of electrolysers in several areas:
  • Efficiency: The efficiency, i.e. the efficiency with which the energy from electrolysers is converted into hydrogen, must be further increased in order to make the best possible use of the energy.
  • Materials: Rare metals such as platinum are needed for the electrodes. The minimization of the demand or the complete independence, from strategic resources represents a central factor in the electrolyser development.
  • Pressure: The output pressure of an electrolyzer is crucial for subsequent steps. High-pressure electrolyzers reduce the amount of energy that has to be put into pressure adjustment and thus indirectly increase efficiency.
  • Current density: The maximum current density of the membrane limits the power that can be applied in the electrolysis. By using higher powers, the membrane area required can be reduced and so can the amount of material used, allowing for a more compact design for electrolysers.

Alternative processes for green hydrogen

What alternative processes can be used to produce green hydrogen?

Apart from hydrogen produced by electrolysis, there are also other methods to produce sustainable hydrogen. One possibility would be to process waste products into hydrogen. Biomass, such as sewage sludge from water processing or liquid manure from animal husbandry, is particularly suitable for this. Due to their high content of bound hydrogen atoms, plastic waste is also attractive for recycling.

herstellung-von-wasserstoff-aus-abfall 
Figure 3: Possible waste for the production of green hydrogen.


Biomass is processed in two steps: It becomes fertilizer and residues are fed to energy production, mostly via biogas production. By converting the biomass to hydrogen via gas reforming or partial oxidation, hydrogen can be produced with the generation of CO2 as a co-product. In the same way, non-recyclable plastic or wood waste, for example, can be processed. In the energy recovery of all these materials, CO2 would inevitably be produced. Carbon capturing methods or the material recycling of the carbon-containing intermediate products can completely eliminate the release of CO2. The HyWaste network, managed by EurA AG's hydrogen experts and funded by the Central Innovation Program for SMEs (ZIM), deals with various topics related to the generation of hydrogen from problematic materials. If you are active or interested in this field, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Hydrogen as a co-product or by-product of other processes

In addition to processes for the specific production of hydrogen, hydrogen can also be produced as a co-product or by-product in processes. One of the biggest examples is chlor-alkali electrolysis, which is actually used for the production of chlorine (approx. 80 million tons per year), but releases high amounts of hydrogen (approx. 2 million tons per year). Hydrogen is also produced as a co-product in petrochemical processes, such as the production of ethylene or gasoline production. In these large-scale processes, hydrogen is already specifically extracted and further utilized. However, there are many smaller processes, especially in the field of electrolysis processes, in which hydrogen produced as a by-product is released or burned via a flare instead of being isolated.

 

     
 

Funding and support for hydrogen projects

Research and development projects for the improvement of electrolyzers are associated with effort and costs and are always under a certain risk. Subsidies are a lucrative way to reduce the costs of the projects and thus also the risk. EurA AG's hydrogen experts can support you in applying for funding, for example in the 7th energy research program of the German government.

The 7th Energy Research Program "Innovations for the Energy Turnaround" supports the achievement of the core goals of energy policy with the halving of primary energy consumption by 2050 compared to 2008 and a share of renewable energies of 60% of gross final energy consumption. This requires an accelerated transfer of technology and innovation as the basis for implementing the energy transition in the electricity, heating and transport sectors. For hydrogen topics, the 7th Energy Research Program lends itself to R&D projects through the entire value chain.

The objectives of the 8th Energy Research Programme were published in October 2023. Hydrogen will also play a key role here. The programme objectives in the field of hydrogen are:
  • Producing green hydrogen and its derivatives efficiently
  • Developing and testing resilient hydrogen infrastructure
  • Increasing efficiency in the flexible reconversion of green hydrogen into electricity
  • Switching industrial processes to efficient hydrogen technologies

You will receive further information on this blog as soon as the full funding guideline is available.

 

 

You want to advance your projects in the field of hydrogen and are looking for suitable funding or want to learn more about the opportunities and advantages of hydrogen? EurA AG's Aachen and Herten sites have years of experience in successfully applying for funding and providing technical  advice on hydrogen. Contact us, we will advise you on the selection of the right funding program and will be happy to support you in the application process.

 

 Text: Georg Beckmann

Dr Günter Hohmann

Your contact person
Dr Günter Hohmann

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