The world’s largest dynamic hydrogen electrolysis plant — intended to utilize “excess” surges of grid electricity for the production of hydrogen — has been inaugurated in Hamburg-Neuhof (Germany) by H&R Ölwerke Schindler, a subsidiary of H&R KGaA.
The new facility, which cost ~€10 million to develop and is based around the use of the PEM technology (Protone Exchange Membrane), will be capable of producing some several hundred pounds of hydrogen per year (from electricity and water). The hydrogen will be used to “add value” to products at the nearby refinery — thanks to the use of a Siemens-built electrolyzer with 5 MW of electric capacity.
“We are very proud that we were able to realize the largest plant of its kind worldwide — with H&R,” commented Michael Weiss, a project manager at Siemens AG in Hamburg.
So, to reiterate, the idea behind the new facility is to produce hydrogen when there is a “surplus” of grid electricity — meaning that when renewable energy production is so “excessively” high that electricity that would otherwise be wasted can be utilized (battery energy storage facilities can potentially accomplish something similar, by the way). Reportedly, around 2% of potential electric power in Germany is currently lost due to overproduction.
So, in other words, facilities such as the new one in Hamburg-Neuhof could be used as an alternative to shutting down renewable energy capacity when electricity generation is too high.
The press release provides more: “The Hamburg Environmental Agency procured €2.5 million of the total investment amount from the European Union’s European Regional Development Fund (ERDF). Hamburg applies the funds from the ERDF in a targeted fashion to promote innovation and sustainable growth. H&R currently uses hydrogen in its production processes to extract specialty products, such as paraffins, white oils, and process oils, that are then further refined into cheese rinds, lipsticks, printing inks, or car tires.”
Commenting on the future, the Managing Director of H&R KGaA, Niels H Hansen, commented: “But actually, producing hydrogen from water and electricity is only the first step in our long-term plan. Long term, we want to further develop our existing plants and sites. Today, we mainly use fossil fuels as our raw materials; in the future, these will be supplemented — first from renewable sources, then long term with synthesized products manufactured in CO2-neutral processes using sustainable energy.”
I’ll be very interested to see how economical the new facility works out to being in practice, in the real world. The approach represents an interesting possibility as regards the “energy storage” problem accompanying very high levels of renewable energy production we’re headed toward.