H₂ D – A hydrogen economy for Germany

This page is dedicated to the successive development technology roadmap for the development of the hydrogen economy in Germany. Initially, we focus electrolysis as the crucial technology for the generation of green hydrogen. It constitutes a key requisite to complete the energy transition, to establish a sustainable economy, and, thus, achieving climate goals.

Hydrogen strategies of the German federal states – an overview

With the publication of the National Hydrogen Strategy in June 2020, (green) hydrogen has been given a pivotal role in the context of the energy transition and the reduction of CO2 emissions. In addition to scientific and technological solutions for the production, transport, and use of green hydrogen, the switch from fossil to renewable energy sources requires approaches to develop new networks and value creation contexts, new regulatory frameworks and qualification profiles, new governance structures and initial funding. In addition to the national level, the German federal states develop strategies in order to use their specific strengths and potentials for the development and deployment of the hydrogen economy in their regions, and to create supportive framework conditions for implementing this.

A broad range of activities are currently taking place at federal state level, ranging from projects and initiatives, analyses of strengths and opportunities and feasibility studies to strategies and roadmaps for constructing a (regional) hydrogen economy. Figure 1 provides an overview of the current situation (as of January 2021), based on extensive online research and document analyses. In addition to federal state-specific strategy and roadmap processes and the corresponding preparatory studies, cross-regional activities can also be observed, such as the Key Issues Paper of the East German Coal States of Brandenburg, Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony on the development of a Regional Hydrogen Economy, which focuses on structural change and phasing out coal in eastern Germany. Another example is the North German Hydrogen Strategy (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Schleswig-Holstein, Hamburg, Bremen, Lower Saxony), which addresses the specific unique selling points and location factors of northern Germany. In addition to the North German Hydrogen Strategy, Schleswig-Holstein has prepared a state-specific strategy document and a corresponding action framework for green hydrogen. In Brandenburg and Saxony, state-specific hydrogen strategies based on participatory processes are planned for 2021, while Saxony-Anhalt has published both a "green" and a "white paper" and Thuringia has published the report "Hydrogen in Thuringia". The three most populous German states of Bavaria, Baden-Wuerttemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia completed their hydrogen roadmaps or strategies in 2020. Rhineland-Palatinate invited tenders for a hydrogen study with a roadmap at the beginning of January 2021, the results of which should be available in early 2022.

Figure 1:	Overview of hydrogen strategies in Germany.  Source: Authors’ own illustration based on document analysis. Map created with ArcMap 10.4, geodata: © GeoBasis-DE / BKG (2020).
Figure 1: Overview of hydrogen strategies in Germany. Source: Authors’ own illustration based on document analysis. Map created with ArcMap 10.4, geodata: © GeoBasis-DE / BKG (2020).

These documents address existing capacities, competencies and infrastructures in research and (technology) development, storage and transport as well as potential applications and existing challenges. Further focal points are renewable energy generation, hydrogen electrolysis and sector coupling. Existing networks, alliances, clusters and regulatory sandboxes also represent specific location advantages. Based on the current conditions in the respective states, future-oriented focal points can be developed and presented. These are already being implemented in central projects ‑ for example in regulatory sandboxes, research and cooperation projects (also across federal states and at the European level) and in application-oriented collaborative projects; further projects are being planned. The applications range from transport and mobility (e.g. rail and freight traffic) to industry (e.g. power plants, chemicals, steel) and heat generation.

Different priorities with regard to hydrogen electrolysis can be derived from analyzing the documents and strategies. In general, the focus is on further technological development, particularly with regard to mass production, scaling and market ramp-up (e.g. Baden-Wuerttemberg, North Rhine-Westphalia), as well as piloting and operation, for example, in the test field for electrical properties (Bremen), at the Marzahn combined heat and power plant (Berlin), at Salzgitter AG and Audi in Emsland (Lower Saxony), in Hamburg, or in an urban district in Schleswig-Holstein. In North Rhine-Westphalia, there is a plan to build electrolysis capacity in the Rhenish mining region and the Ruhr area, and in Saarland at the Völklinger Hütte ironworks. Extensive competencies in the production of electrolysers already exist in Saxony, for example, while other German states emphasize their favorable conditions for business locations based on existing infrastructures and/or the availability of renewable energies (Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, Saxony-Anhalt, Brandenburg). Thuringia refers to pilot projects, especially in a decentralized dimension, and Bavaria and Brandenburg emphasize the development of regulations, regulatory framework conditions including depreciation for electrolysers as well as including the federal state positions in national and Europe-wide communications.

Hydrogen Electrolysis – Network Analysis

The development of emerging technologies typically is driven by publicly funded research projects. Participation in such projects identifies relevant actors and their relations. Beyond established alkaline electrolysis, proton exchange membrane (PEM) and solid oxide electrolysis cells (SOEC) appear particularly promising technologies. For instance, we selectively derived and processed data associated with the key term 'PEM Electrolysis' from the ENARGUS data base. This contains data on public research projects on energy topics funded by German agencies. Figure 1 visualizes refined and complemented data from the total of 124 entries identified by the above search strategy.

Figure 1: Network graph for public funding of projects related to PEM electrolysis in Germany.
Figure 1: Network graph for public funding of projects related to PEM electrolysis in Germany.

Figure 1 distinguishes various types of actors: (a) funding sources (in green), (b) large industrial entities (red), (c) small and medium-sized enterprises (yellow), (d) research and development actors (universities, research institutions, etc.; blue), and (e) other (networks, associations, etc.; white). The network visualizes actor relations (edges) with publicly funded projects (shown as small gray dots). Here, the node degree (number of connections) of industrial actors (with projects) is represented by the size of their circles to selectively emphasize their relevance. In contrast, other factors (such as the amount of funding) are not stressed in the present visualization. In particular, the representation of R&D actors has been largely simplified here (universities represented only by small blue dots, research institutes grouped by association membership where applicable).

In addition, only actors participating in multiple projects are explicitly shown, while the number of additional entities (only active in that single project) is represented on the marker (numbered circles) for each project where applicable.

We recognize the federal ministry for energy and the economy (BMWi) as the most frequent source of funding for projects related to PEM electrolysis in Germany, while the federal ministry of education and research (BMBF) funded a smaller number of projects of (typically) larger scale as evidenced by the number of related consortial members. On the industrial side, Umicore, FuMa-Tech BWT, Siemens, Greenerity, H-TEC SYSTEMS, and AREVA H2GEN represent frequent participants in funded projects in this topic area and, thus, key players in the field of PEM electrolysis in Germany.

The quality of network analysis critically depends on suitable data processing and the inclusion of complementary data. Since many of the projects (particularly earlier ones) have little to no public presence (project website or similar), there may not be full information on certain projects. It is to be noted that name changes, often driven by mergers and acquisition, may affect the joint recognition of entities, in particular among industrial actors.

Hydrogen Electrolysis – Patent Analysis

Electrolysis as a potentially carbon-neutral source of hydrogen represents a core requisite of a future sustainable hydrogen economy. Fraunhofer emphasises the research on electrolyser technologies based on proton (PEM) and anion (AEM) exchange membranes. We employ patent analyses to compare international activity (Figure 1) and to identify important actors in research and development. Restrictive search strategies aim to limit results on most relevant patents. The online database World Patents Index (WPI) provides better text disclosure due to the transformation of the official abstracts into useful technical descriptions. Limitation on transnational patents avoids regional bias (compared to searches in databases of domestic patent offices) and focuses applications with high economic value (due to substantial cost involved).

The results of key word searches combining PEM and AEM technologies in the relevant class for electrolysers (C25B/IPC) are shown in Figure 1. The transnational patenting activity for the technology field of interest intensified over recent years. The regional distribution reveals a strong technological position of German actors. Their combined total of 21 relevant transnational patents in the period from 2010 to 2018 is almost astride to Japan (24) and the USA (23). Taking other European actors (with 20 more) we can recognize European players in a leading position in the world. Other major players include Korea and China (in Asia) as well as Canada and Australia (among RoW).

Figure 1: Transnational patent analysis for membrane-based hydrogen electrolysers.
Figure 1: Transnational patent analysis for membrane-based hydrogen electrolysers.

Hydrogen Electrolyser – Meta-Market Analysis

Various market studies exist on the topic of hydrogen, hydrogen generation, green hydrogen and specifically of interest here hydrogen electrolysers. Most market studies are expensive to purchase, however, often some limited information are available without buying the whole study. With these limited information that we collected from 23 market studies on hydrogen electrolysers, we performed a meta-analysis, revealing initial information on the market size and the involved companies.

Figure 1: Revenue forecast for the global hydrogen electrolyser market.
Figure 1: Revenue forecast for the global hydrogen electrolyser market.

The global hydrogen electrolyser market is expected to grow with a compound annual growth rate between 3 and 14 percent in the next 5 to 10 years reaching a global annual revenue of US$ 230 million to US$ 365 million in 2025 (Figure 1).

In most of the market studies, key companies that are considered in the study are named. Analysing the companies mentioned, we extracted the names of the companies and the number of studies, by which they were mentioned (Table 1).

Table 1: Companies that are mentioned in the analysed market studies.