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Interview with hydrogen expert Dr Christoph Noeres

To build a green hydrogen economy, water electrolysis plants are needed on a gigawatt scale. And this is exactly what thyssenkrupp can provide. With Dr. Christoph Noeres, Head of Green Hydrogen at thyssenkrupp Uhde Chlorine Engineers, we have talked about the status quo of hydrogen technology at thyssenkrupp, as well as about the opportunities and challenges, that lie ahead of us.

Dr. Noeres, why is hydrogen such a bearer of hope for our economy and our future life regarding climate change?

Dr. Noeres: “In the context of the energy transition, hydrogen is a significant storage solution for renewable power. Particularly for renewable power that is dependent on the weather. We need comprehensive storage options to have sufficient electricity even when photovoltaic power plants and wind turbines are unable to provide it. Apart from batteries and thermal storage systems, hydrogen can make a decisive contribution.

“Besides, there are also some industrial processes that are difficult or even impossible to electrify, for example, steel or ammonia production. Currently, coal or natural gas are mostly used for this purpose. In the future, these processes could increasingly be converted to hydrogen. This offers great potential for saving CO2 and thus protecting the climate. The more processes are converted to green hydrogen the less CO2 will be emitted. Only by converting to hydrogen, through so-called sector coupling, can the synergy effects be created that are necessary to use clean energy in the right place at the right time and reduce emissions."

Our experts at thyssenkrupp Uhde Chlorine Engineers have advanced their over 50-year-old electrolysis know-how and successfully made water electrolysis ready for the market based on the established chloralkali process. This picture shows the assembling of an electrolysis module.

„So hydrogen is the all-rounder in the climate puzzle: hydrogen can be used for the reduction of greenhouse gases in all sectors because with hydrogen basically anything can be done that is currently done with fossil fuels like oil, carbon and natural gas – without the release of carbon dioxide with the reconversion.”

Which role do you think can thyssenkrupp play in the successful establishment of a hydrogen economy in Germany and Europe?

Dr. Noeres: “Germany certainly has a technological benefit here. We have further developed our 50-year-old electrolysis technology, which is used to manufacture products for basic industries, and therefore have a mature technology for the production of hydrogen. We are not a start-up company but have a market-ready technology that we are already selling. Now we need to expand this technological lead through further development and the rapid expansion of renewable energies in Europe, so that we can also sustainably transform the domestic market with green hydrogen.”

“Our large-scale 20 MW water electrolysis module can be understood as the key to a green industry. Our technology is particularly suitable for central applications, meaning right next to large industrial plants where hydrogen and oxygen are needed. At a steel mill, this would for instance be the blast furnace. At thyssenkrupp, we have the scaled electrolysis technology for large-scale uses. Thus, hydrogen can already be used efficiently today to decarbonize gray, existing sectors such as steel, fertilizer, chemicals, refining, and energy supply on a large scale.”

“However, what is crucial for the realization of a hydrogen-based industry is the overall infrastructure, the 24/7 availability of renewable energies in the quantities needed for the industry, and the transnational transport infrastructure. As a means of transporting hydrogen within Europe, pipelines are generally the best solution and here, along with the necessary distribution infrastructure, must be dramatically expanded. This is not only a matter for industry, but also for politics, which must create the right framework conditions.”

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How does electrolysis work again? Here’s a refresher course.

How is thyssenkrupp positioned now? Which (infra-) structures already exist at thyssenkrupp, to produce hydrogen on an industrial scale?

Dr. Noeres: “We currently have an annual supply capacity of 1 GW of electrolysis cells and plan on expanding in a near-term timeframe to serve the more dynamic market and ever-growing projects." 

"This number may be a bit abstract, so what does this mean exactly? Here's a calculation example: our 20 MW electrolysis module produces 4,000 cubic meters of hydrogen per hour, which is equivalent to about 360 kilograms. With 1 GW of supply capacity per year, we can build 50 modules, which for the industrial sector today is giant leverage for green transformation, considering that in steel production, for example, using one ton of hydrogen can save 25 tons of CO2." 

Dr. Noeres, thank you for the talk and the insights into the exciting field of the technology of hydrogen!