Difficult scalability, usage of rare materials and intense use of water - how to assess the electrolysis with green hydrogen? Philipp Bensmann explains the advantages of the AEM electrolysis.
REH: Which electrolysis technology do you use for your products and why did you choose it?
"At Enapter, we use AEM electrolysers to unlock on-site hydrogen production for any use, at any scale, thereby accelerating the decarbonisation of our planet. Our patented AEM technology (Anion Exchange Membrane) completely rethinks the electrolyser. Based on this solution, we manufacture standardised, scalable plug-and-play products for all, instead of undertaking complex industrial engineering projects.
AEM electrolysis operates in an alkaline environment that is less corrosive. This means that stainless steel can be used for bipolar plates instead of titanium. In addition, no precious metal catalysts are required; instead, we use cheaper catalysts made from non-platinum group metals (PGM). This results in significant cost savings compared to PEM technology (Proton Exchange Membrane), without having to forego benefits such as high purity levels for hydrogen combined with excellent efficiency and rapid response times to fluctuating power input from renewable energies. The latter is considered to be the main weakness of alkaline electrolysis.
Our products are easy to install. We simplify and accelerate the rapid commissioning of hydrogen production, thanks to our intuitive software, the Energy Management System Toolkit.
Thanks to the modular design, several AEM electrolysers can be stacked to manufacture any desired quantity of green hydrogen. This is ideal for small filling stations and seasonal energy storage, as well as commercial and industrial applications.
The inexpensive manufacturing materials and standardised production processes of our AEM electrolysers enable the cost of green hydrogen production to be significantly reduced, making it more affordable than fossil fuels. Our vision is a world where these are no longer used."
REH: Which pilot projects is Enapter currently involved with?
"Our AEM electrolysers are being used by over 260 customers in 50 countries around the world and in a wide range of applications. Enapter’s role in these projects is producing the AEM electrolysers. Our integration partners are responsible for the plug-and-play integration at our customers’ premises. Projects that use AEM electrolysers range widely. They include electricity storage, power-to-heat and power-to-gas, industrial solutions, mobility and research. A selection of exciting projects with diverse applications is available on our website: https://www.enapter.com/de/applications. In addition, we regularly present our use cases on our LinkedIn page: https://www.linkedin.com/company/enapter"
REH: What is your biggest project to date?
"The Dortmund-based multinational technology firm Wilo has developed the H2Powerplant system together with the French electric engineering company Schneider Electric – a truly pioneering endeavour and one of the largest Enapter projects. The green hydrogen that it produces will initially provide the emergency power supply for Wilo’s Wilopark HQ and plant in Dortmund. The long-term plan is for it to be the basis of a self-sufficient, decentralised and regenerative energy supply network. From the outset, therefore, it was designed with the option of gradual expansion, in order to ultimately enable a self-sufficient energy supply for up to two days.
Wilo’s H2Powerplant consists of four core components: firstly, the photovoltaic system on the roof of its smart factory; secondly, a cluster of 96 AEM electrolysers from Enapter, including dryers and our intelligent Energy Management System Toolkit, which use the PV power to produce green hydrogen. There is also a 29.8 metre hydrogen storage tank, where Wilo can store energy in the short to long term and use a fuel cell supplied by Proton Motor to convert the hydrogen into electricity as required. This and other hydrogen projects can be found on our website: https://www.enapter.com/de/application/h2powerplant-for-backup-energy-self-sufficiency
In parallel to this, a number of megawatt-class projects that use our AEM Multicore are currently taking shape. An AEM Multicore alone consists of 420 AEM stacks. One of these projects is being implemented by the Canadian company RE-FUEL, which aims to use a system including two AEM Multicores to make the Prince Edward Island Province energy self-sufficient in terms of heat, transport, shipping and aviation.
More information about AEM Multicore and an overview of all the technical specifications are available here: https://www.enapter.com/de/aem-multicore
REH: In its Coalition Agreement, the German government announced a nationwide electrolysis output of 10 GW by 2030. How can this be achieved and how can Enapter contribute to this?
"We aim to make a significant contribution to this target in several ways. Firstly, by using our AEM technology to make green hydrogen production affordable. We believe this is one of the main prerequisites for a rapid market ramp-up in Germany and Europe. Secondly, we are, of course, helping to achieve this target by expanding our production capacity in Germany. This means we are producing electrolysers, still a much too scarce resource, as well as creating skilled jobs that retain expertise in Germany. This in turn makes a significant contribution to establishing a vital future industry in the fight against climate change here in Germany, also upholding the country’s position as a technology pioneer."
REH: To what extent is the shortage of rare earth elements such as iridium threatening the expansion and ramp-up of the hydrogen economy?
"Thanks to AEM technology, we can manage almost entirely without rare earth elements and other valuable raw materials. This results in a sustainable win-win situation: on the one hand, we avoid the often ecologically and socially problematic mining of rare earth elements and, on the other, we can significantly reduce the cost of our AEM electrolysers.
Essentially, we are aiming for a circular economy approach, as well as maximum longevity, which we call Life Cycle Impact Zero (LCIZ). This concept involves completely recycling old devices wherever possible. More information about our LCIZ project with well-known research institutes is available here:
REH: What do you think about the allegation that the widespread use of electrolysers is aggravating water shortages in many parts of the world?
"The shortage of clean water is a major challenge. We all still remember last summer. This issue is already a real consequence of climate change in Germany. Our AEM technology adopts the approach of replacing fossil fuels with cheaper, green hydrogen, thereby helping to counteract man-made climate change.
The extraction of crude oil and the refining of diesel, for example, uses around 40% more water per unit of energy than the production of green hydrogen. This means that nine litres of water are required to refine enough diesel to travel 40 km or to generate enough hydrogen to travel 100 km. Green hydrogen also avoids the water pollution that occurs during various fossil fuel extraction processes. In addition, with the appropriate water treatment, electrolysis can also be operated using rain or sea water in order to generate green hydrogen.
To put this into perspective, a bathful of water is enough to supply an average home with energy for four weeks or charge a smartphone 40,000 times. These figures can be further improved by increasing efficiency. If we consider all this from a circular economy perspective, then hydrogen technology does not necessarily result in net consumption, as water is produced again in its purest form at the end of the cycle when using a fuel cell. Depending on the application, there is the potential to collect and reuse this water."
REH: What would you like to see from the public sector and government in terms of electrolyser approvals?
"As well as accelerating procedures, we’d primarily like to see a direct link between approval requirements and electrolyser performance class. It’s not acceptable that an individual AEM electrolyser module has to be approved using the same procedure and with the same effort as a large industrial chemical park. Electrolysis poses a much lower risk to the environment and much lower emissions. Therefore, electrolysers below 2MW should not require approval; those between 2 – 10 MW can be approved using the simplified permitting procedure and only be subject to the full permitting procedure from 10MW. This would also bring German approval legislation into line with the various project budget levels and timescales, which vary enormously depending on the size of the electrolyser."