In 2019, as part of the European Green Deal, the European Commission (EC) adopted plans for Europe to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. To meet the net-zero emissions target, the EC identified green hydrogen as a central element to decarbonise the European Union’s energy mix and aims to invest heavily in unlocking the potential of the technology to reduce GHG emissions in the power, industrial, transport and buildings sectors. However, today, 99% of hydrogen is “grey”, meaning it is produced from fossil fuels, usually through a pollution-heavy process, and currently costs two to three times less than green hydrogen. As a result, for green hydrogen to have the intended impact on the EU’s net-zero plan, it needs to become more economically viable, in which the costs of the electrolysis process are lowered, and hydrogen transport infrastructure is scaled up to meet any commercial breakthroughs.
Despite the task ahead, there is a case for optimism. A recent International Energy Agency (IEA) analysis found that the cost of producing hydrogen from renewable electricity could fall 30% by 2030, with the World Economic Forum projecting that green hydrogen could reach cost-parity, across a range of applications, with fossil fuels by the end of the decade. Aside from reducing production costs, for green hydrogen to tackle critical energy challenges and take a central role in the future global energy mix, it also needs to be transported and stored safely for widespread adoption – a crucial piece that requires more development in the coming years.
One company working to facilitate the safe transportation of green hydrogen is Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies (Hydrogenious). For the past decade, the German-based company has been developing its Liquid Organic Hydrogen Carrier (LOHC) technology that chemically binds green hydrogen at high storage densities under ambient conditions to enable transport and storage using the infrastructure for conventional fuels. In an interview, Daniel Teichmann, Founder and CEO of Hydrogenious, provided insights into the development of LOHC technology, its commercial application and key measures that can help accelerate the global green hydrogen economy in the coming years.
Developing a cost-effective way to store and transport large amounts of hydrogen
Prior to becoming a leading figure in the development of LOHC-based energy storage, Teichmann’s journey began at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg. As part of his doctorate studies, he published a research paper on ways LOHCs could use the existing energy infrastructure to enable a transition from hydrocarbon fuels to hydrogen. Realising the potential of the hydrogen-based economy, Teichmann co-founded Hydrogenious in 2013 with the help of his PhD supervisors to build an industrial application of LOHC-based energy storage that allows the production of hydrogen from the cheapest renewable energy source and its transport into continental Europe using existing fuels infrastructure. As Europe’s net-zero strategy heavily relies on green hydrogen, there is a need to unlock the cost competitiveness of all hydrogen applications, along with reductions in delivery costs. For these reasons, Teichmann said that this is where the “value of Hydrogenious’ LOHC technology comes into play, because, compared with other solutions, green hydrogen can be delivered safely in high volume to end-customers, and by transporting through conventional fuel infrastructure, delivery costs can be minimised, and existing energy assets can be used in the future”.
As Europe’s high-emissions sectors, namely, the industrial and transportation sectors, are already integrated with existing fuels infrastructure, Teichmann noted that “for these sectors to substantially reduce their GHG emissions by 2030, a feedstock and an energy carrier in the form of green hydrogen would be the most optimal way to transition away from coal, crude oil and natural gas”. Despite this, moving away from existing energy sources remains a challenge because suppliers want low and consistent pricing. According to Teichmann, as the cost of producing green hydrogen falls and is projected to reach $2.0–$2.5/kg by 2030 – the price point that could make hydrogen a viable alternative to conventional fuels – transporting it safely and affordably will be crucial in keeping the overall costs down for industrial and transportation sectors to begin using green hydrogen. To facilitate this process, Teichmann highlighted that Hydrogenious designed its storage and release system so that the industrial and transportation sectors could receive and store green hydrogen in large quantities without additional cost burden since the delivery would be conducted through conventional fuel infrastructure using Hydrogenious’ LOHC technology. Upon arrival, Teichmann added that “on-demand hydrogen can be released from LOHC via a continuous catalytic process and be made available for industrial production and consumption at the refuelling station”.
Commercially aiming to accelerate the decarbonisation of high-emission sectors
According to a recent World Energy Council working paper, green hydrogen’s role in the energy transition holds the largest potential in the transportation and industrial sectors, as large-scale electrolysis – a process that produces hydrogen – can allow these high-emission sectors to power and fuel their usage from a zero-emission energy source. To take advantage of the opportunities and start building capacity, European automakers Daimler AG and Volvo AB recently indicated that they will begin producing fuel-cell vehicles with the aim of making the zero-emission technology commercially viable for long-haul trucking by 2027. Alongside this, the EC and various European countries have started to promote hydrogen in the industrial sector with new initiatives aimed at developing larger electrolyser capacities from renewable energy generation. As the transportation and industrial sectors play a pivotal role in the European economy, Teichmann noted that “decarbonising these sectors cost-effectively will be important. For this, green hydrogen will play an important role due to its high energy storage density and the ability to import in large scale. In the transportation sector hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles will become pre-dominant for heavy-duty transport because of their range and refuelling advantage. Meanwhile, in the industrial sector, large-scale hydrogen would not only be cleaner but can also be more efficient, e.g. if electric energy is being produced from hydrogen in fuel cells.
To accelerate and showcase the commercial value of hydrogen in these sectors, Hydrogenious has been working to implement its LOHC technology across the transportation and industrial sectors in Europe. For example, as part of the Port of Rotterdam’s hydrogen plan, Hydrogenious has been collaborating with Royal Vopak to import and generate hydrogen produced from solar energy in Spain into the Netherlands. Since the cost of solar energy is cheaper in Spain, Teichmann pointed out that “production and transportation costs are being minimised when compared with existing solutions to allow the Port of Rotterdam a cost-effective way of reducing their emissions and understand the potential opportunities from adopting hydrogen”. On the transportation front, Hydrogenious has partnered with Verbund AG to develop a pan-European supply chain for green hydrogen along the oldest trade route in Europe, the Danube. As part of the initial rollout in Germany’s Bavaria region in 2023, the “Green Hydrogen @ Blue Danube” project will produce 80,000 tons of green hydrogen per year from around 2 GW of renewable energy. For inland waterway vessels that would load liquid fossil fuels on existing transport routes, Teichmann mentioned that through this project, “vessels would now be able to transport their goods using green hydrogen with the LOHC system offering the best ratio of cost efficiency and simple implementation to decarbonise high capacity transport routes such as the Danube in Europe.”
Well-designed policies and regulations will help scale hydrogen’s adoption
A recent study by the Cleantech Group and Breakthrough Energy mentioned that hydrogen not only provides a credible route to decarbonising Europe’s industrial and transportation sectors but also could play a significant role in the power sector in combination with battery storage, potentially creating 1 million EU jobs by 2030 and 5.1 million by 2050. However, for hydrogen to become an integral part of Europe’s low-carbon economy, further efforts are needed in the form of regulatory reforms, R&D and financing to unlock the cost competitiveness of all hydrogen applications. The report also noted that various solutions across the hydrogen supply chain are well-equipped to scale up, but better coordination between supply and demand is needed to support the ecosystem. To improve hydrogen supply and demand coordination, Teichmann highlighted that “policy and regulatory frameworks such as carbon pricing, decarbonisation targets and permitting procedures for renewable energy need to be strong enough to drive and de-risk investments in green hydrogen.” Teichmann added that with these frameworks in place, “ongoing hydrogen projects can more easily be scaled up and provide high-emission sectors with a commercially viable option to lower their emissions”.
Moreover, Teichmann noted, “as feed-in tariffs under Germany’s Renewable Energy Act (EEG) showcased for wind, solar and biogas – which guaranteed an above-market fixed price for 20 years and grid priority for renewables – investing and integrating renewables became more feasible within the economy, resulting in the share of renewable power in electricity generation rising from about 6.3% in 2000 to 45.4% in 2020 and – most importantly – in a very significant decrease in production costs of up to 95%.” For these reasons, Teichmann underscored the importance of implementing “similar policies and regulatory schemes for hydrogen across the EU in order to address the supply and demand imbalance and provide greater price assurance for end-users”. In Germany, the H2Global initiative provides an auction-based mechanism to promote a timely and effective PtX market ramp-up on an industrial scale. H2Global foresees two tenders, one on the hydrogen source side for the lowest production costs and on the offtaker side for the highest price willingness. According to Teichmann, “Initiatives such as H2Global are the right starting point because they will decrease risks for investors in developing large scale hydrogen projects, but bringing more regional and strategic partners into such schemes who would purchase and supply hydrogen would help improve adoption into the economy.”
Many thanks to Louis Brasington and Cassidy Shell from the Cleantech Group for their time providing a background overview of hydrogen and the initiatives taken in Europe.