This past summer you visited many regions and companies working on green hydrogen. What was your impression?
I’ve been at this post for over 130 days now. The sense of optimism surrounding green hydrogen – in Germany and worldwide – is enormous. Many see it is a game changer that can simultaneously promote sustainability, climate protection, and economic competitiveness.
Stefan Kaufmann, Germany’s Innovation Commissioner for Green Hydrogen
What are Germany’s most promising hydrogen technologies?
Germany is starting from a strong position to become a leading supplier of, and leading market for, green hydrogen technologies. The research landscape is robust and broadly based. I already mentioned the business community’s great sense of optimism. Right now the market and the technologies themselves are still at the very beginning of being scaled up. That’s why the spotlight is on research and innovation. Amid increasingly international competition, only the best ideas and the cleverest solutions will prevail. As part of the National Hydrogen Strategy, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research has launched an ideas competition called the “Hydrogen Republic of Germany.” The response from science and industry has been impressive. In just three months we’ve received ideas for projects with a total value of more than €1 billion.
When you were introduced by Federal Minister of Education and Research Anja Karlicze, she emphasized the importance of accelerating the transition from research to application, of ensuring that good ideas become successful innovations. How will you achieve this?
Germany is very innovative. So if there’s a country that can successfully establish a green hydrogen, it’s Germany. We’re determined to demonstrate that it can work. And to show how as well. But to get there, we need to rethink our approach to innovation, especially to how science and industry work together. The traditional approach – that researchers study basic principles and companies then put the findings into practice – is far too slow and inefficient. Our approach is for researchers and business people to work together under real-life conditions to develop solutions that specifically address the barriers that are keeping a technology from being put into practice on an industrial scale. We’ve gathered some very good experience from this approach.
How does Germany compare internationally?
We’re well positioned. We have strong research institutions and innovative companies. Together, they want to seize the enormous opportunity that green hydrogen represents. But ultimately international cooperation is needed as well. Without it, no one country will succeed. That’s why Germany, which currently holds the presidency of the EU Council, is placing a special emphasis on green hydrogen. And why Germany’s economic stimulus package earmarks €2 billion for forging international partnerships.
Are Germany policymakers doing enough to promote green hydrogen and to create the necessary conditions?
Germany’s National Hydrogen Strategy sets the ambitious goal of transforming the country into a hydrogen republic. The economic stimulus package alone devotes €9 billion to developing a hydrogen economy. So we’re not just setting targets. We’re taking systematic action to achieve them.
Right now, green hydrogen is still too expensive and not yet attractive to companies. How can that be changed?
There are three important factors. First, the electrolysis equipment with which hydrogen is made needs to enter mass production so that it becomes cheaper. Second, innovations need to make this equipment more efficient. Third, we need a regulatory regime that incentivizes innovation and investment. For example, Germany could exempt the renewable power used for electrolysis from the renewables surcharge.
Companies and investors need planning security. What applications do you see for green hydrogen in the medium and long term?
In the medium term, hydrogen is primarily needed to make carbon-neutral synthetic fuels and compounds that can replace fossil inputs in the industrial sector. Solutions for green steel or for the chemicals industry offer huge opportunities. They could play a big role in achieving climate targets and could also have great export potential. Synthetic fuels can play an important role in aviation and maritime transport as well. As for the long term, it will probably bring highly innovative applications that we can only guess at now. Airbus’s concepts for a hydrogen aircraft are just one example. And I’m confident that many of them will be made in Germany or through European collaboration.
Bio Dr. Stefan Kaufmann (51), an attorney, has sat in the Bundestag since 2009. A member of the CDU, Germany’s mainstream center-right political party, Kaufmann became the federal government’s Innovation Commissioner for Green Hydrogen in June 2020. His office is part of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.