CLEANHYPRO: taking European clean hydrogen production to a higher level


CLEANHYPRO: taking European clean hydrogen production to a higher levelA major European research programme was launched in November to take the technology of electrolysis, needed to produce green hydrogen on a large scale, to a higher level. In the CLEANHYPRO project, 28 EU research institutes are working closely together to accelerate innovations in this field.

TNO is providing expertise from the VoltaChem programme and will focus in particular on setting up a virtual lab, optimising the performance of PEM electrolysers, and reducing the use of Critical Raw Materials.

Ambitious project

‘This is a very ambitious project to make Europe a world leader in the field of electrolysis,’ says TNO VoltaChem project leader Robert Makkus. ‘We’re going to create a platform where companies, from large electrolyser manufacturers to component suppliers, can have their ideas and products developed, tested, and improved. They’ll have access to a wide range of unique services that will help them improve their technology and production processes. Everything is designed to significantly increase hydrogen production from solar and wind.’

Making Europe a leader

The collaboration stems from an earlier initiative by a number of leading European Research and Technology Organisations (RTOs) that joined forces in 2020 to scale up hydrogen production and make Europe a leader in electrolysis. These were the German RTOs Fraunhofer (IFAM and ISE) and Forschungszentrum Jülich, SINTEF from Norway, CEA from France, and TNO. In this position paper, they outlined how their ambition is to be achieved.

From megawatts to gigawatts

Their initiative was in response to the EU’s observation that electrolysis production capacity is totally inadequate, while large amounts of green hydrogen are needed to make industry in particular more sustainable. Current generation electrolyser systems have a capacity of a few megawatts, while experts say this needs to be increased by a factor of a thousand to gigawatts. The European Commission also aims to multiply current green hydrogen production capacity to 6 GW by 2024 and 40 GW by 2030.

Achieving innovation goals

‘The technology, materials used, components, and manufacturing processes all need to be much better and cheaper. We’re going to accelerate that development. We have a consortium with a large number of leading experts from various European countries who can make a difference. An Open Innovation Test Bed (OITB) has been formed, which works in the way we’re used to in the VoltaChem programme: building and sharing knowledge, strengthening one another, and doing so in collaboration with industry. This is how we’ll achieve our innovation goals.’

Wide range of services

The services that the platform will offer cover the whole range of technologies, characterisation, modelling, regulation, and business models. TNO is providing special expertise from VoltaChem, for example with the Faraday lab in Petten and Holst Centre in Eindhoven. There are also close links with the Elektrolyser Makersplatform NL (website in Dutch), an initiative of TNO and employers’ organisation FME to improve and accelerate the production of electrolysers and their components.


The Faraday lab has expertise in various electrolysis technologies: Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM), Solid Oxide Electrolysis (SOE), Anion Exchange Membrane (AEM), and Alkaline Water Electrolysis (AWE). Here, TNO is working with partners at home and abroad on second and third-generation electrolysers, among other things. The virtual characterisation lab, which has yet to be set up, will bring together all the knowledge within the consortium.

Robert Makkus says: ‘VoltaChem has substantial knowledge about the electrochemical, chemical, and physical characterisation of electrolyser cells and stacks. Together with consortium partners, we can offer a wide range of characterisation methods, which are necessary to determine very precisely what’s happening in the components of the electrolyser and improve the product based on the results. For example, you want to know in detail what causes a cell to deteriorate or what the limiting factor is when producing hydrogen.  What losses occur and how to prevent them. There are still a lot of gains to be made here.’

Opportunities for the manufacturing industry

Through Holst Centre, TNO also provides expertise in spatial Atomic Layer Deposition (sALD). This is a unique method of applying ultrathin layers of functional materials to large surfaces. The development of this technology has produced the TNO spin-off SparkNano. sALD is a promising technology for improving electrolyser design.

‘This offers great opportunities for our manufacturing industry,’ says Robert. ‘It involves being able to apply very thin layers of coating to membranes or porous structures in PEM electrolysers to reduce loading. It’s also noteworthy that TNO has shown that with this type of technology, you need much less of the scarce and expensive raw material iridium. Now we want to bring this amount down much further without any performance loss. New materials, new techniques, new production methods: this is where the VoltaChem programme brings together a huge amount of varied expertise within TNO.’

Virtual service desk

All partners involved in the CLEANHYPRO project provide their own individual expertise, but there is continuous intensive collaboration in all kinds of areas. TNO is working with fellow institutes to set up what they call a Single Entry Point – a virtual ‘service desk’ where companies will soon be able to come with their ideas and questions. A committee will assess the requests and pitch the research question to the institute or experts from the various partners that can best help the company move forward.

Robert explains: ‘Companies can approach the Single Entry Point of the Open Innovation Test Bed with any conceivable question about electrolysis materials and components for a variety of applications. This could be a large electrolyser manufacturer or a small high-tech company making components. And it doesn’t matter what the technology is: PEM, SOE, AEM or AWE. In the foreseeable future, we aim to have put together a portfolio of all the expertise and services we have to offer in terms of technologies and applications. TNO VoltaChem will thus play a central role with European partners to significantly increase the production of clean hydrogen.’

See also: Electrolysers: opportunities for the high-tech manufacturing industry: The case of PEM

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