We can expect hydrogen cars to make a breakthrough in ten years’ time. Why is this comment doing the rounds as a joke? Because researchers have been telling us this for decades. Another ten years and the end will almost be in sight… with the emphasis on “almost.”
Fortunately, hydrogen has applications other than cars. Its ability to store electricity is also highly promising. In power-to-gas technology, electricity is converted into hydrogen using electrolysis and the hydrogen is stored in tanks at high pressure until it is converted back into electricity, for example. This electricity can be used to balance out weather-related fluctuations in the generation of solar and wind power and to help safeguard the security of the energy supply. A distinction is made between “green” hydrogen, which turns renewable energies into electricity, and the more common “gray” hydrogen, which is a byproduct of the chemical industry and is also produced using fossil fuels in a process that generates carbon dioxide (CO2).
Hydrogen for the chemical triangle
The largest project for generating and storing green hydrogen in Germany is getting underway not far from the small town of Bad Lauchstädt in Saxony-Anhalt. In September, State Secretary Andreas Feicht from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy formally presented a grant of around 34 million euros to the energy park there. Over the next five years, the project in Bad Lauchstädt aims to demonstrate how a smart system can be developed for generating, storing, transporting, selling, and using green hydrogen. The main applications for this climate-neutral gas will be in the chemical industry, one of the most important sectors of the economy in Saxony-Anhalt.
The six partners in the project are Terrawatt Planungsgesellschaft mbH, Uniper (the company behind Debate.Energy), VNG Gasspeicher GmbH, ONTRAS Gastransport GmbH, DBI – Gastechnologisches Institut gGmbH Freiberg and VNG AG, the head of the consortium. They are intending to set up and test a supply system with a capacity of around 27 million cubic meters of hydrogen per year in Bad Lauchstädt. A 30-megawatt electrolyzer will be used to produce the hydrogen and construction work on the plant will begin in October 2022. The electricity needed will be supplied by a nearby wind farm that is being built in parallel with this living lab. In early 2024, the green electricity will be used for the first time to produce hydrogen.
Replacement for fossil natural gas
The green hydrogen will be transported to the Leuna Chemical Park where it will partially replace natural gas, a fossil fuel. Connecting the system to the central German natural gas pipeline will allow other chemical and industrial parks in the region to be linked up in the future. In a potential expansion phase of the project starting in 2026, the hydrogen that is produced will be stored in an existing salt cavern near the site. With a capacity of around 50 million cubic meters, this underground cave can store almost twice the amount of hydrogen that the Bad Lauchstädt Energy Park can produce in a year.
The project is being funded as a living lab for the energy transition as part of the German government’s 7th Energy Research Program. In addition to the state funding, the partners in the project are investing 42 million euros of their own money and Terrawatt Planungsgesellschaft is contributing a further 63 million euros for the construction of the wind farm in the Bad Lauchstädt Energy Park. “During the 1990s, we very successfully developed the chemical park model in Saxony-Anhalt,” said Dr. Reiner Haseloff, Minister President of Saxony-Anhalt, during the handover of the funding check. “I am certain that the Bad Lauchstädt Energy Park will play a pioneering role and that this model will also become a success story.”