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#climateneutral: National hydrogen strategy – not a journey to tackle alone

01.09.2020 I Güllü Beydilli

The national hydrogen strategy of the Federal Government is currently on everyone's lips. It is intended to contribute to further developing the energy transition and to enable a complete transition to a green and sustainable society. Germany can set a good example today and become a pioneer in green hydrogen technologies. We have summarized the most important points of the national hydrogen strategy and looked at the impact it has on the industry in Germany.

The national hydrogen strategy is intended in particular to establish hydrogen as an energy carrier and thus contribute to energy system transformation. However, in order to understand the hydrogen strategy in its entirety, it is necessary to look at the motives for the strategy and its objectives.

Now or never – taking on responsibility together

One thing is clear: There is no way around climate protection. We all have a responsibility to treat resources and the environment with respect and sustainability. Only if we change our mindset can we contain climate change.

This insight is the core idea of the national hydrogen strategy. The Federal Government’s strategy aims to create a sustainable and competitive hydrogen economy and to establish hydrogen as an alternative energy carrier. The goal: to massively reduce CO2 emissions and produce in a climate-neutral way.

Hydrogen can be transported as energy storage by ship, truck and via pipelines and can be stored for long periods.

Establishment of hydrogen as an energy carrier for a successful energy transition

What makes hydrogen an energy carrier? To obtain green hydrogen, water molecules are split in water electrolysis using electricity from renewable sources. This hydrogen stores the energy from the electric current. It is an energy carrier and chemical base material in one and can provide security of supply regardless of the current supply of wind and solar energy.

No new finding: When water is supplied with electric current, the water molecules split up and oxygen and hydrogen are produced at the anode and cathode respectively.

Now the new hydrogen strategy of the Federal Government is to push the expansion of energy plants for the production of green electricity and thus support the climate-friendly production of hydrogen. Especially in the steel industry green hydrogen can make a decisive difference and replace carbon as a reducing agent.

It should be noted that Europe’s “Green Deal” is not feasible without climate-neutral steel, because the use of hydrogen in the steel industry is a huge lever to reduce CO2 emissions.

Objectives of the national hydrogen strategy for industry

But industry is only just beginning – in Germany too. Worldwide there are only a few suppliers of water electrolyzers on an industrial scale and thyssenkrupp is one of them. Our decades of experience and highly efficient electrolysis technology are the basis for the cost-effective operation of modern sustainable value chains. To enable plant operators and major CO2 emitters to economically master the conversion to hydrogen technologies, we also need a secure legal framework that offers investment security and start-up financing. If we set a good example here, Germany and Europe can secure a leading role for themselves.

Within the framework of the national hydrogen strategy the Federal Government therefore plans to support the industry with about nine billion Euro in the transition to a hydrogen economy. To this end, industrial sectors such as the steel or chemical industry are to be converted to green hydrogen from sustainable sources. However, in order to meet future needs, the renewable energy capacity in Germany must be massively expanded and supplemented by imports from regions with favorable conditions for wind, water and solar energy. This is the only way to ensure the long-term and affordable availability of green hydrogen.

Support of a climate-neutral industry and mobility

These concepts are important levers for a successful energy turnaround in Germany – and worldwide. For us at thyssenkrupp these measures are necessary steps to achieve our own climate targets and become carbon neutral as a company by 2050.

With the help of innovative electrolysis plants from thyssenkrupp Uhde Chlorine Engineers we can exploit the potential of hydrogen.

We pursue two approaches in our climate strategy. Firstly, we want to avoid CO2 emissions in our own processes and secondly, we develop technologies that help our customers to avoid emissions by using the CO2 for the production of numerous goods.

Hydrogen, for example, can be fed directly into refinery processes to produce sustainable fuels. Ammonia and methanol as secondary products can be the starting materials for a variety of chemically manufactured goods, which are then produced independently of natural gas and crude oil. Chemicals containing green hydrogen significantly reduce the CO2 footprint of the chemical industry. We contribute to this as a supplier of electrolysers and technologies for the production of “green” chemicals.

Making steel production climate-neutral

A further goal is the decarbonization of steel production. We want to use hydrogen instead of coal as a reducing agent in steel production. To illustrate: One ton of hydrogen can save around 25 tons of CO2. In the first development step, hydrogen instead of carbon is injected into conventional blast furnaces.

The hydrogen replaces part of the injected coal. This already reduces the use of fossil fuels. Where CO2 was produced when using coal, H2O – i.e. water – is produced when using hydrogen. In a second step, we will build gas-powered direct reduction plants and thus gradually replace the coal-based blast furnace route. If hydrogen is used as the gas, the plants can be operated in a climate-neutral way. Last Friday we presented an initial, innovative concept for Blast Furnace 2.0 to the Federal Minister of Economics Altmaier and the NRW Prime Minister Laschet.

Innovative concept for the green transformation of the steel mill

The concept for the first construction of a first direct reduction plant with an integrated melting unit (blast furnace 2.0) is currently the one of this kind. Instead of creating new structures for the transformation of the steel mill, the concept presented is largely based on the existing structures in our steel mill in Duisburg. As a result, significantly lower investment and operating costs are required. A further key advantage is that the complete product portfolio can be retained because the existing steel mills and processes can continue to be used.

This efficient path to carbon neutrality is made possible by an innovation: The solid material produced in the direct reduction plant is liquefied by an integrated melting unit. This blast furnace 2.0 thus produces “electric pig iron” which can be processed further in the existing steel mill network in an energy-efficient way. The integrated direct reduction plant is to be operated with green hydrogen and green electricity in the future and is a major step towards achieving the climate targets.

Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier and NRW Minister President Armin Laschet were personally convinced of this innovation last Friday. Together the politicians visited the steel mill in Duisburg and recognized the signal effect of the innovation.

The main part of the plant is to be completed by 2025 and will then already produce 400,000 tons of green steel. For 2030, 3 million tons of carbon-neutral steel are already planned.

No way for lone fighters: industry and politics must work together

However, in order for all industrial sectors in Germany to benefit from the hydrogen strategy, further investments in renewable energy plants are needed. This is the only way to provide industry with sufficient hydrogen. One thing is already certain: hydrogen technology will be in demand all over the world. Technological leadership in this field will ensure the future viability of Germany as an industrial location. With the help of hydrogen we can maintain our competitiveness in industry, achieve climate protection targets and open up new markets.

But this can only be achieved with active support from politics and the associated establishment of a market and regulations for the hydrogen economy. A successful transition can only be achieved if the political framework conditions are in place. Therefore an active exchange and open dialog between industry and politics is crucial for a successful energy transition.