The Ruhr region – A new Hydrogen Valley
Everyone is talking about hydrogen and the hydrogen economy. But what's behind it all? We talked to Dr. Christoph Noeres, Head of Green Hydrogen at thyssenkrupp Uhde Chlorine Engineers. In an interview, we spoke with him about hydrogen and the opportunities and challenges of the hydrogen economy.
Hydrogen is a key factor for the energy transition because the element can be found almost everywhere. "As a storage solution for renewable energies that are not necessarily available all year round, hydrogen makes all the difference," Dr. Noeres tells us. With hydrogen as an energy storage medium, sufficient electricity can be available even when wind turbines and solar plants cannot supply it due to the weather.
For the chemical industry and steel production, hydrogen also offers the possibility of saving great amounts of CO2 and making them more climate-friendly. Additionally, hydrogen helps to comply with new regulations to remain globally competitive.
The beginnings of Hydrogen Valley
The established hydrogen strategies of North Rhine-Westphalia, the federal government, and the European Union emphasize the importance of hydrogen for a climate-neutral society. They support the development of a hydrogen economy and infrastructure in Germany and Europe. The state of NRW and the Ruhr region, in particular, can play a key role in this:
"In the Ruhr region, hydrogen demand and technological expertise for the construction and operation of electrolysers are clustered. For example, we are currently planning a hydrogen project together with our steel colleagues in Duisburg and STEAG to use our electrolysis to produce green hydrogen for the steel production process. Our Carbon2Chem pilot plant has also been impressively demonstrating for several years now how valuable starting chemicals for fuels, plastics or fertilizers can be produced from metallurgical gases," says the hydrogen expert.
The combination of both things, that is, the integration of new green value chains and emissions cycle management in the existing large-scale industry holds enormous potential for transforming the Ruhr region into a green industrial location in the center of Europe. In this way, the Ruhr region could become a kind of cross-industry blueprint and pioneer for hydrogen-based sector coupling.
In the region, eight partners from business, science, and society - E.ON, Evonik, RWE, thyssenkrupp, Vonovia, the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion, the RWI Leibniz Institute for Economic Research, and the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation - have already joined forces in an initiative to develop a cross-sector plan for the production, distribution, and use of hydrogen. In addition, infrastructure investments and investment cycles are to be coordinated to create planning security for all parties involved. Thus, turning the region into an attractive investment location.
In this way, the Ruhr region is to drive forward the green transformation faster, more networked, and more sustainably, to become a pioneer for a successful energy transition in Germany.
Driving forward the development of a hydrogen economy
A collaborative approach between industry and politics is crucial for mastering the energy transition. From Dr. Noeres' point of view, sustainability issues should, therefore, be anchored in the core of corporate strategies, as well as in political programs. Thus, they become the basis for long-term action in the form of an internationally coordinated and concrete roadmap for the energy transition and measures that have a long-term impact.
For Dr. Christoph Noeres, it is clear that more cheap green electricity is needed, specifically in gigantic quantities. Wind and photovoltaic energy are already competitive commodities that need more investment to meet future demand. Further investment in infrastructure is also needed, especially the expansion of transmission lines for electricity and hydrogen to transport green hydrogen to consumers. "All of this needs to happen quickly in order to meet climate targets, but also in order for German industry and technology to remain competitive in the international arena. Politicians have recognized the potential and the necessity and have given very good impetus with national hydrogen strategies, bilateral energy partnerships and support programs," says the hydrogen expert.
A look into the future: How will people's lives have changed by 2031 due to the establishment of hydrogen as an energy carrier?
"We should look at this realistically. We will certainly not be driving hydrogen cars privately in the next 10 years, because passenger cars will be electrified and here, too, there is still a lack of the corresponding broad-based charging infrastructure. I don't think it makes much sense to want to build a second parallel infrastructure across the board," says Dr. Noeres.
What will change by 2031, however, from the experts' point of view, are the emission balances of companies, which will have to rely more and more on hydrogen for decarbonization to be able to comply with the tightening legal framework, for example of emission taxes. Again, only if renewables are rapidly expanded and the appropriate routes and pipelines exist will hydrogen become widely adopted and help achieve a climate protection effect.
"Isolated structures will certainly shape the picture over the next few years. The extent to which we can achieve the overall sector coupling that we ultimately need to build a sustainable economy stands and falls with an overall change in thinking that must be pushed in both industry and politics and supported by the general population. We will be in a stormy transition phase for the next decade, and depending on how much 'storm' we are willing to take on, it will become clear how successfully we can manage the energy transition with hydrogen. Europe will and must become an ecological pioneer in order to be able to take the lead economically in tomorrow's world. Anyone who hesitates here will be left behind, endangering jobs and the existence of entire industries," predicts Dr. Noeres for the coming years under the sign of hydrogen and the hydrogen economy in the Ruhr region.