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Hydrogen: Where it makes sense to use it


Oliver Wyman's management consultants see a gigantic market for hydrogen technology emerging. The study, which manager magazin exclusively has, is less about an alternative to e-cars. But for some industries it is the only plausible path to a climate-neutral future.

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Hot thing:

steel workers at Salzgitter AG's blast furnace


What US President

Joe Biden

(78) is planning for America's infrastructure, "that can really be warm rain for industrial medium-sized companies in Germany".

This is how

Daniel Kronenwett

, partner at the management consultancy Oliver Wyman,

sees it


Because the trillion program is helping to build a hydrogen economy.

According to a new Oliver Wyman study, which manager magazin has exclusively, there would be added value of 350 billion euros by 2030 in Europe alone, more than half of it as orders for classic mechanical engineering.

The electrolysers themselves, which generate hydrogen with electricity, make up a relatively small part of this: 16 billion euros.

Above all, storage facilities, pipelines, fuel cells and boilers are needed - and last but not least, new green electricity systems such as wind turbines, so that hydrogen is no longer produced primarily "gray" with natural gas, but "green" with electricity from renewable sources.

That would be "still on top" of the energy turnaround, which is already ongoing.

"That is more of a conservative to base scenario," says Kronenwett - even though, according to his prognosis, more green than gray hydrogen will not be produced until after 2030.

The real boom should not begin until after 2040, when significantly higher sales would be possible.

The prerequisite, however, is that the political commitment to the climate targets is met because they simply cannot be achieved without hydrogen.

However, the forecast by Kronenwett, who is also responsible for the automotive industry at Oliver Wyman, does not need fuel cells to drive the car.

Electric car manufacturers such as Volkswagen boss

Herbert Diess

(62) are now allergic to

the buzzword hydrogen

because they see it as a political attempt to torpedo their technological transition to electromobility with competing alternatives.

"Where does hydrogen make sense at all? Where electrification is not economically or process-technically difficult," says Daniel Kronenwett.

The Oliver Wyman partner has created a matrix of the applications for which hydrogen appears particularly useful because the conversion is comparatively easy or there is a lack of climate-neutral alternatives - ideally both.

The top 7 most useful applications

Number one on the list is



The combination of water and nitrogen is mainly used as a fertilizer, but also in the chemical industry, for example for the production of plastics.

In addition, the hydrogen split off from the nitrogen can also be used to drive internal combustion engines, for example on ships.

The Norwegian fertilizer company Yara is working on a model project with a Mainz Fraunhofer Institute.

In second place is


heat - i.e. the heat required to operate machines or for chemical processes, which, according to the International Energy Agency, accounts for two thirds of industrial energy requirements and which so far has almost entirely come from fossil fuels.

Hydrogen could replace this because it burns at temperatures around 2000 degrees, comparable to ethane.

Cement ovens, for example, have to be heated to more than 1400 degrees.

Climate-neutral building is therefore hardly conceivable without hydrogen.

However, Kronenwett sees this perspective in the medium term, starting around the 2030s.

Nevertheless, this area is so important that industrial demand is forecast to account for the bulk of hydrogen demand in 2030 at 74 to 80 million tons.

Hydrogen could be used quickly as a fuel for

electricity production in gas-fired power plants

, but only as an admixture of no more than 20 to 30 percent to the natural gas that is burned.

The climate advantage is therefore limited, especially since there is green electricity as an alternative.

Nevertheless, this H2 spiking is one of the most realistic applications in the years to come.

A little further away are

hydrogen trains




, although some already are in operation.

Whether this is worthwhile on a large scale also depends on the electrical alternatives.

Hydrogen trains could replace trains with diesel locomotives as long as not all rail lines are electrified.

Batteries are considered by many to be too heavy for large loads, although technology is making rapid progress.

"There is currently a technology battle going on," admits Kronenwett.

"Who will win is still open."

The advantage of hydrogen in

steel production

would be enormous

- but the changeover is particularly difficult there.

The previous blast furnace process using coking coal and oxygen would have to be completely replaced.

New steel production using hydrogen could reduce CO2 emissions by 90 percent.

Kronenwett sees what is probably the most important breakthrough for hydrogen technology as "rather in the medium to long term, and things really get going after 2030".

Because of the huge capital requirement with long investment cycles, steel manufacturers would have to work on their transformation plans today.

If heavy industry turns to a green future, says Kronenwett, he could also imagine "hypergrowth" for hydrogen technology.

In the short term, hydrogen can also be used to

heat apartments

, again as an admixture of a small proportion to natural gas that warms the majority of German households.

The big advantage: the existing infrastructure could continue to be used instead of converting all the houses for heat pumps or solar batteries.

The climate benefit is more in the middle range.

Necessary in any case: start-up help from the state

After these top 7, other possible hydrogen applications such as energy storage, drive for city buses and delivery vans for short distances land in Kronenwett's matrix - in all of these cases in competition with the battery-electric alternative.

At the end of the scale are hydrogen-powered fuel cells to power ships or airplanes.

The climate-neutral future could also lie in synthetic fuels (e-fuels) or, with major technological breakthroughs, in battery drives.

However, Kronenwett does not want to write off the vision of hydrogen drives here.

"It can come and then it can also be big."

Asserting itself on the market, according to the consultant, the new technology will not establish itself in any of these fields.

Currently, "hydrogen is still too expensive everywhere".

At the start, subsidies and pilot projects are necessary in order to get lower costs on larger scales.

"It's the same chicken and egg problem as with the electric car," says the expert.


Source: spiegel

All news articles on 2021-04-06

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