Is hydrogen the future? Interview with Klaus Keysberg
Green hydrogen is considered the energy carrier of the future and Germany wants to play a leading role in this.
Within the framework of the National Hydrogen Strategy, the German government plans to support the industry with around nine billion euros in the transformation to a hydrogen economy. The beneficiaries will be plant constructors, hydrogen producers and hydrogen users. thyssenkrupp will also profit, says board member Dr. Klaus Keysberg.
Dr. Keysberg, why is the national hydrogen strategy so important for thyssenkrupp?
Klaus Keysberg: On the one hand, because we will need large quantities of affordable hydrogen in the future, for example for climate-neutral steel production. On the other hand, in plant construction we are currently a supplier of production plants for green hydrogen, the so-called water electrolysis plants. We also have other technologies for the production of green chemicals in our portfolio. Examples are ammonia and methanol. We are making a significant contribution to the development of the corresponding infrastructure. Additional impetus and funding for a hydrogen economy is therefore good for us.
The Group plans to switch its steel production completely to hydrogen. This should be completed by 2050. How are we making progress there?
Keysberg: We are putting steel production on a completely new foundation. It is about replacing the blast furnace route with the hydrogen route. The first steps in this major task are encouraging: Last year we already successfully used hydrogen in the current blast furnace operation. In addition, we recently reached an agreement with the energy producer RWE to work together on a longer-term partnership for the supply of hydrogen, which we will need in large quantities in the future.
And RWE is planning to build electrolysis capacities to supply green hydrogen for hot metal production at thyssenkrupp. This could initially cover about 70 percent of a blast furnace’s requirements. The first blast furnace planned for this purpose is to be converted by 2022.
That sounds like a historical change in steel production. But it also sounds quite expensive: thyssenkrupp estimates that around ten billion euros will be invested in a completely climate-neutral steel production. How will that pay off?
Keysberg: In general, thyssenkrupp wants to produce in a carbon-neutral way by 2050, in line with the goals of the Paris climate agreement of 2015. That won’t happen without switching steel production from blast furnace production to so-called direct reduction with hydrogen. Incidentally, this applies not only to our company alone: Europe’s “green deal” is also not feasible without climate-neutral steel. The decisive point is that hydrogen cannot be used anywhere with a comparable climate protection effect as in steel: By using one ton of hydrogen, 25 tons of CO2 can be avoided.
In other words: Investments in the steel industry are a huge lever. Every euro that goes into the conversion of steel production is money effectively spent on the environment and climate protection.
And: No company will be able to master this technological change alone. As helpful as the National Hydrogen Strategy is – our industry will need further, direct subsidies for hydrogen conversion. We are in dialogue with politicians on this. The talks are very constructive and promising.
thyssenkrupp recently significantly expanded its production capacities for water electrolysis. Do you see a profitable market for this technology?
Keysberg: We can now build electrolysis plants with an annual capacity of one gigawatt. That is about the same amount as the capacity of all wind farms operating in the Baltic Sea. And we will expand our capacities even further. Green hydrogen is considered the key to a successful energy turnaround because it can be used to store and transport energy from renewable sources. Green hydrogen will play a central role in achieving greenhouse gas neutrality in all energy-consuming sectors, especially transport and industry. Research institutes such as Fraunhofer assume a demand of 50 to 80 gigawatts for the year 2050 – for Germany alone. Green hydrogen is clearly a future market.
thyssenkrupp’s Carbon2Chem project is also aimed at future markets. Where do we stand with Carbon2Chem?
Keysberg: Carbon2Chem is being supported by the German government with 60 million euros. This alone underlines the importance of the project in national industrial and climate policy. Here the Group is developing a technology to convert industrial emissions into valuable chemicals – including the carbon dioxide they contain. Hydrogen also plays an important role here, because it is needed to neutralize CO2.
We are currently in the process of developing the technology to industrial maturity in a pilot plant directly at the Duisburg steel mill. We have already succeeded in producing ammonia and methanol from steel mill gases. The green hydrogen for this is produced by a thyssenkrupp plant. Carbon2Chem is not only suitable for steel production, but also for chemical and waste incineration plants. We see great interest in Carbon2Chem worldwide. In a few years the technology will be ready for industrial use.