Hans Marius Schuster comes from the German automobile capital, Stuttgart (one of the most polluted cities in the country). Michaela Kendall grew up in an industrial town in the North West of England. Today, they have a mission: to increase the cost competitiveness of clean hydrogen.
“Almost everyone in town worked at the factory. My father worked there too. But even though it was clearly a source of profit, I realized there was a tension between the chemical industry and environmental degradation, ”Kendall recalled. ‘I couldn’t understand why. I thought there should be an opportunity for green growth in clean tech. I firmly believe that environmental science is not just about protection. It’s also a matter of conserving resources, and that means cost savings. ‘
For Schuster, his career in the automotive industry was the spark that led him down the path of hydrogen fuel cells. “I started as a computer engineer in Stuttgart, then I was based in Japan. This is how I discovered hydrogen fuel cells, ”he said. “This is how I developed my own idea of combining the two worlds: the digital world and the world of fuel cells and hydrogen.
Today, Schuster is creating a digital platform he describes as the “H2 Metaverse” to facilitate the standardization of hydrogen fuel cell technologies via digital twins. And, Kendall, who started out as an environmental scientist, demonstrates the real benefits of successfully scaling up green hydrogen technologies like fuel cells.
Produced by separating water using renewable energies, clean hydrogen (also known as green hydrogen) is at the forefront of science and sustainability. It is a sought-after energy because it does not create air pollution when used as fuel (or carbon) at the point of use.
“It feels like you’re in the eye of the storm, it really is,” Kendall said. “Now is absolutely a good time to be in fuel cells and hydrogen. It’s actually a validation of what we thought so many years ago when we first started.
With 30 years in the hydrogen economy, Kendall is the CEO of Adelan (Birmingham, UK), which is one of the world’s premier fuel cell companies. His company is working to commercialize clean energy technology that Kendall co-invented in the early 1990s.
“It’s definitely a fantastic space,” Kendall added. “It was obvious and inevitable back then, and every day it becomes more obvious and inevitable.”
For hydrogen champions like Kendall, there is as much enthusiasm today as there was 20 years ago when the European Commission unveiled its ambitious ‘Hydrogen Vision’. Romano Prodi, then President of the European Commission, announced his intention to reduce Europe’s dependence on imported oil by moving from a fossil-fuel-based economy to one based on oil. ‘hydrogen.
From chimera to reality
Hydrogen represents a modest fraction of the global and European energy mix. But with investments booming, hydrogen could be the next gear for climate protection and the economy. This was made clear at the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), which concluded in Glasgow, Scotland, last month.
“Our job now is to evolve the hydrogen economy from scratch, and our main objectives are to improve the quality of our cities, to improve the health of people, to reduce emissions of carbon and work towards net zero, ”Kendall said.
The possibilities seem endless for green hydrogen energy. However, developing a clean hydrogen economy requires growing supply and demand in tandem. Success depends on being able to produce large amounts of electrolytic green hydrogen. Equally important are cost reductions and scaling up. And it’s at your fingertips.
“It feels like we may be at some sort of tipping point where hydrogen could really build up,” she added. “But I also think it’s important to recognize that the current narrative isn’t quite publicly fair. We need to start talking about less hydrogen and fuel and more technology and equipment. For me, it’s the technology that harnesses the fuel that is more important.
To gain a competitive advantage and limit global warming to 1.5 ° C, the hydrogen energy revolution must integrate systems, develop skills, scale up projects and remove political obstacles.
The EU has taken the lead. It invests in new generation electrolysers (machines that separate water into hydrogen and oxygen), which makes it the world leader in patents and publications on this technology. Establishing a framework for a global hydrogen economy is a top priority for the EU. It also paves the way for innovative partnerships, coordination and standardization.
The successful ladder race
As interest soars in Europe and beyond, there is still a long way to go. Green hydrogen currently represents less than 1% of all hydrogen production. Scalability is one of the biggest hurdles to overcome.
“We have the technology, we have the electrolysers and the fuel cells,” Schuster explained, noting that all you need to produce green hydrogen is water, a large electrolyser and sources of gas. renewable electricity. Storage is another big problem to be solved. Currently, it is too expensive and inefficient for widespread use in vehicles, for example.
According to Schuster, most of the infrastructure and rules needed to support the transition need to be put in place and extended, as proposed by the European Commission in December 2021.
As founder and CEO of Arena Innovation, Schuster uses his new platform as Mission Innovation Champion to advance the energy and digital transition for the field of fuel cells and hydrogen. “Before the pandemic, I traveled a lot in China and realized that people wanted to cooperate. For cooperation, you need communication, but as long as the digital tools used are not interconnected, communication and cooperation are inhibited, ”he said.
The digital coupling of sectors is essential. “We need to create a new digital platform and then work on it together. We do this all the time in the auto industry, ”Schuster explained. “The cars are built in Germany with a lot of parts coming from China. So that the parts fit together, there is standardization. This is crucial. So why not apply the same mechanism for the digital world? ‘
The next generation of data infrastructure has a name: Gaia-X. It is a project initiative from Europe for Europe and beyond. Initiated by Germany and France in 2019, Gaia-X is the result of a multitude of individual platforms that all follow a common standard. So what emerges is not a cloud (like Amazon Web Services, Azure, or Google Cloud Platform), but a networked system that connects many cloud service providers with each other. The ecosystem consists of three interconnected architectural layers: the data ecosystem, the infrastructure ecosystem, and the federation services.
“This is how we build the so-called digital data infrastructure,” Schuster said. And the H2 Metaverse is a standardized data space for the field of green and low carbon fuel cells and hydrogen based on the next generation of Gaia-X data infrastructure for an open, transparent and digital ecosystem. secure where data and services can be made available, collected and shared reliably. ‘
The big question now is whether green hydrogen will ever be able to compete with other energy sources, or with gray hydrogen produced from fossil fuels. While there are no quick fixes, for Schuster and Kendall, green hydrogen is definitely the end goal.
For now, the race is on. The following years will see significant changes for the climate and for the future of a competitive hydrogen economy that meets all our expectations.
“There’s no real excuse for generating air pollution – we’ve generated enough of it,” Kendall said. “We have known for decades how to avoid it. Now the question is how do we do it on a large scale. For me it is important to make things visible. It is important now to provide the products to people and allow them to experience them. It’s time to raise awareness and demonstrate beyond proof of concept. ‘
“To this end, SMEs are developing highly efficient and durable machines for the hydrogen fuel cell industry, which relies on the use of artificial intelligence technologies that play a key role in the success of the today’s hydrogen economy, ”concluded Schuster.
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