Innovation on behalf of the climate - thyssenkrupp nucera revolutionizes water electrolysis
Every day, our engineers research and develop tomorrow's innovations across departments and industries. Patenting inventions is highly relevant to remaining competitive. This is particularly true for sustainable technologies that drive the green transformation.
One of the latest patents in this field: The "Conductive Spacer Fabric as an Electrode Carrier". This is what it's all about:
The Power of green hydrogen
Conventional hydrogen is produced from natural gas. When the gas is split into hydrogen and carbon dioxide, a lot of CO2 is produced. Green hydrogen, on the other hand, is produced by means of water electrolysis and using electricity from 100% renewable sources. In electrolysis, water is split by electricity into its components hydrogen and oxygen. No CO2 is produced.
"Due to these properties, the production of green hydrogen by electrolysis is considered a key technology to be able to realize a decarbonization of the economy," explains Dr. Katarzyna Niedziela, IP Coordinator at thyssenkrupp nucera. Because: The green hydrogen can not only be used in the furnaces and blast furnaces of the cement and steel industry and save emissions there, it is additionally a real power chemical that can be further processed as a basic raw material for ammonia and methanol to fertilizers and fuel.
So there is a lot of potential for making numerous industries greener and massively reducing global CO2 emissions. But for the technology to be a global success, it must be cost-effective, resource-efficient and feasible on an industrial scale.
The zero-gap electric cell
And this is precisely where thyssenkrupp nucera's innovation comes in. "The electrolysis cells needed to produce green hydrogen consist of two half-cells, each containing an electrode and separated by a membrane," explains Dr. Niedziela. "To achieve particularly high efficiency, the distance between the electrode and the membrane must be as small as possible." The so-called zero-gap electric cell is the most advantageous design for this, as the electrodes are directly adjacent to the membrane.
To ensure that the current can be dissipated smoothly from the electrode to the back wall of the housing under the chemical conditions of the electrolysis process, one element is currently essential: nickel. "For this purpose, an elastic element made of nickel is conventionally clamped between the electrode and the back wall of the housing, which ensures the required surface pressure of the electrode against the membrane," says Dr. Niedziela. Nickel is not an ideal solution, however, because the extraction of the raw material results in high environmental damage and material costs. But our team at thyssenkrupp nucera has a solution for this.
When small changes work wonders
Since 2019, the innovation called "Conductive spacer fabric as electrode support" by thyssenkrupp nucera has been pending as a patent application at the German Patent and Trademark Office under file number DE 10 2019 219 027.8 and is also being pursued as an international patent application. The patent application reduces the amount of nickel used in the cell and at the same time its assembly cost. "Instead of an elastic element consisting entirely of nickel, a spacer fabric made of a plastic filament yarn is used in the cell in our systems, which generates the required contact pressure of the electrode against the membrane. The required electrical conductivity is achieved by a metallic coating of the filament yarn or by woven-in metal wires," explains the IP Coordinator. The spacer fabric as an elastic element thus fulfills the two essential functions: Elasticity and electrical contact.
A small change with a big effect: Because the solution from thyssenkrupp nucera not only reduces the use of nickel and makes the plant itself more environmentally friendly, the innovation also makes production of the electrolytic cell easier. The element no longer has to be welded in, but simply inserted.
"Thus, our patented process and the use of the plastic filament yarn make the production and maintenance of the electrolysis plants cheaper, as the high costs for nickel are eliminated," explains Dr. Katarzyna Niedziela. This is an enormous price advantage, which makes the electrolysis plant and thus the production of green hydrogen not only resource-friendly, but also suitable for mass production. This is an important prerequisite for using green hydrogen on an industrial scale and making many industries - from steel production to the mobility sector - more environmentally friendly.
You can find out more about patent work at thyssenkrupp and other exciting patents from the Group in our stories.