Third edition of VoltaChem Power-2-X tour reflects ambitions in hydrogen

15-10-2021 | Event report | P2Hydrogen

NEXT-GENERATION WATER ELECTROLYSIS: COST-EFFECTIVE HYDROGEN PRODUCTION ENABLED BY HIGH-TECH INNOVATIONS

Third edition of VoltaChem Power-2-X tour reflects ambitions in hydrogenThe third edition of VoltaChem's online Power-2-X tour on September 29th was about a crucial aspect of the sustainability transition: producing green hydrogen. It focused on the major challenges in developing the supply chain for electrolyzer production, so that multiple gigawatt systems can be manufactured in 2030. About 210 viewers attended the livestream of the online talk show that included topics like durability, performance, materials, and cost.

The talk show was broadcast live from the premises of TNO at the Energy & Health Campus in Petten (the Netherlands), a fitting venue since it is home to one of Europe's largest electrolyzer research facilities, the Faraday Lab. The talk show was hosted by Jerre Maas together with VoltaChem program director Martijn de Graaff. They were joined at the table by Peter Bouwman, Director of R&D Industrial Hydrogen at Schaeffler Technologies and Arend de Groot, Lead Scientist Power-2-Hydrogen at VoltaChem. Peter Ellis, Technical Director Green Hydrogen at Johnson Matthey, joined via video link from the United Kingdom. His organization, VoltaChem Community member Johnson Matthey, was also supporting partner of this edition of the Power-2-X Tour. 

Greg Stock, Director of Engineering at Worley Netherlands and Dieter Hellert, Business Development Manager at Bekaert Fiber Technologies contributed to the discussion via pre-recorded video pitches. Throughout the program, interaction with the audience was established through polls and Q&A interludes.

 

Big numbers

In his introduction, VoltaChem's Martijn de Graaff mentioned the EU's Fit for 55 package that carries a goal of producing 50% of all hydrogen in a green manner in 2030. "It's clear that when we're talking electrolysis these days, we are talking really big numbers." He illustrated this with some other figures: Worldwide currently some four gigawatt of electrolyzer capacity is installed, with the biggest facilities being 20 MW. The outlook for 2030 is as much as 250 GW and a €500 billion market, in Europe alone. "We really need to step up developing and implementing technology. Across the full supply chain." 

To view the introduction, watch the talk show from here

VoltaChem's Power-2-Hydrogen program was introduced by means of a video that can be seen here

Talk show host Jerre Maas gave the participants the opportunity to introduce their work. Schaeffler's Peter Bouwman explained that his company is putting its expertise in metalworking and coating, developed to become a world player in ball bearings, to the use of producing bipolar plates that separate the cells in an electrolyser stack. Arend de Groot elaborated on the focus at VoltaChem to help companies develop and improve the components that are crucial for the next generations of electrolyzers. "Developing the supply chain also means connecting companies, developing cooperation between the suppliers as well as the cooperation of suppliers with the electrolyzer OEMs." Peter Ellis mentioned Johnson Matthey's experience in the field of fuel cells and its long history of working with precious metals. It puts the company in a position to contribute to developing PEM electrolyzer technology where precious metals such as platinum and iridium are key materials.

The gap and the value chain

To view this part of the meeting, about the challenges in scaling up towards gigawatt scale, watch the talk show from here

Producing large-scale electrolysis plants requires a full range of companies to supply the components. Martijn de Graaff stressed the importance of parallel development and urged everyone to take the opportunity: "Of course, currently grey hydrogen is the cheaper option, but there will be a future for green hydrogen. With stimulation and support packages in place, a growing demand, and a scale-up effort at OEM companies, the incentives are there, giving rise to a clear investment potential."

According to Peter Bouwman "We need to further mature our business. Now there's willpower, money, and urgency. But when we’re talking to make things happen along short timelines, it is important that OEMs share their knowledge so that we can speed up qualification and jump to another level and new designs without taking too much risk. It's not just one component by itself, it is the whole package that needs to deliver." Arend de Groot added that it is important to have an outlook on what the future electrolyzer product will be exactly. "There are no industry standards yet, so much is unsure. For the supply chain as a whole it is important to know what demand for components will actually arise."

De Groot also mentioned that there's going to be a learning process. "You need to develop components that can work together, you have to do durability testing. All that takes time. So we really need to think about how to facilitate innovation in the supply chain to arrive there in time. At the Faraday Lab we make a great effort to support that. We noticed a strong desire along the supply chain for feedback on the component performance. Electrolyzer OEMs are not very keen on sharing such data; they want to obtain a competitive advantage. That's where we step in and offer testing and other facilities to provide feedback on components performance. From small test samples to full scale."

Peter Bouwman agrees: "We need to pre-align, we need to know how the components in the stack fit together, even literally, so that we can get to market much quicker. And if we can monitor performance in the field as well, we can immediately use that data collectively to improve our products."

To Martijn de Graaff this is yet another confirmation of the open innovation model VoltaChem stands for. "Indeed we have learned that in the power-2-hydrogen line this is a key issue if you want to speed up development. The whole supply chain has to be involved in the efforts to achieve fast technology scale-up. In our shared research program we cooperate with multiple partners to tackle the most common issues in a more open innovation setting. At the same time we also facilitate bilateral projects with individual companies that are bound to confidentiality agreements."

What is the supply chain actually working on

To view the part of the meeting about issues that are currently of relevance to various parties in the supply chain, watch the talk show from here

This part of the meeting was kicked off by means of a video pitch from Greg Stock, director of engineering at Worley Netherlands. He recalled the many current demands of the market, such as technology scale-up at unprecedented speeds; solutions that are standardized, yet flexible; and remote-controlled operation and maintenance. In Worley's engineering approach, he explained, digitalization is key. From digital decision making to the use of simulation tools and ultimately even digital twinning of the full system or plant. But while this is common at Worley, he asked, will future clients be ready for working in such a digitally-oriented fashion?

Peter Ellis mentioned that Johnson Matthey is not new to digitalization. For instance, in the beginning of the supply chain artificial intelligence can be used to devise better catalysts, better materials, and explore a bigger engineering space in less time. And also in systems monitoring and operation, to identify the cells that perform well and the ones that don't. "We're exploring how to predict when to take out a component, and to optimize electricity input with respect to electrolyzer lifetime, in particular at the end."

Martijn de Graaf continued on another issue, regarding the use of precious metals. Ellis noted that iridium indeed could be a problem. As a by-product of platinum mining its production volumes will be limited and not keep up with the expanding scale of green hydrogen production. Ellis expected recycling to provide a solution here. "Since you know exactly where it is in the electrolyzer, it should not be so much of a problem to retrieve it. Hopefully new generations of electrolyzers will be more efficient - so in the future you'll be able to generate more and more hydrogen with the same amount of iridium." At the same time, he is awaiting progress from materials chemistry leading to alternative catalysts. "There's lot of great developments in academia. Hopefully these will end up in the catalyst coated membrane."

Coming back to the issue of digitalization, Peter Bouwman mentioned that he expects electrolyzer components to be equipped with sensors to monitor performance and predict malfunction. The latter of course requires a lifetime evaluation for which data is needed. Says Arend de Groot: "At the moment we lack information on the exact performance of components and systems. So what you see is that throughout the supply chain components are overdesigned. If we understand exactly how systems and components behave, we can really design up to specification and thus save cost. At VoltaChem we have a broad testing program where, among others, accelerated stress testing is an important issue. We develop test protocols together with the community and extrapolate the test results into an expected component lifetime."

Closing this part of the meeting Martijn de Graaff mentions the 'untapped potential' in the high-tech sector. "Many parties have expertise that is of relevance to electrolysis and hydrogen production. Now that it is clear that this field is really developing, potential suppliers can establish their value proposition and gear up to determine how they can contribute to reduce cost and increase lifetime of electrolyzer systems and their components. That we have Schaeffler at the table today is in fact an example of this. At VoltaChem we are making efforts to bring all potential players together, develop the value chain and accelerate implementation of available knowledge and expertise."

Solutions to speed up innovation

To view the part of the meeting about speeding up innovation, watch the talk show from here

The third and final part of the meeting started with a video pitch by Dieter Hellert, Business Development Manager at Bekaert Fiber Technologies. As a supplier of titanium Porous Transport Layers (PTM)s with a 20 years track record in PEM water electrolysis, the company has fully automated continuous production lines that are now gearing up to achieve production volumes serving the growing market of electrolyzer systems. Hellert broke ground for a co-creation approach together with suppliers of components that are interacting with the PTM: "None of us is as smart as all of us."

According to Arend de Groot he has a good point here: "For instance, designing a thinner catalyst coated membrane effects the PTL design, and that in its turn is related to the bipolar plate design. We should not underestimate the challenges that lie ahead of us in this perspective." To which Peter Bouwman added: "In the end it's about designing and producing equipment- a system supporting the membrane as a beating heart of the system. That might be the softest, weakest part, but the performance and lifetime is also determined by everything around it. So as suppliers we should not just focus on the product at our own table, but maintain the broader perspective of the full system. We should work together!" 

Peter Ellis reminded that "we're not aiming for a single product. It's not about 'an' electrolyzer. It's about electrolyzers attached to an ammonia plant, about electrolyzers for hydrogen refueling systems, about all sorts of applications that all come with specific demands. So we have to keep in mind that we're optimizing our developments toward all these different electrolyzers." 

Roundup

To view the roundup discussion including viewers’ questions and the final wrap-up, watch the talk show from here

In the roundup of the session, Peter Ellis commented on the need for a skilled workforce. It is crucial to start training youngsters now so that they can contribute in the future electrolyzer factories. Peter Bouwman underpins the need for cooperation and alignment along the supply chain as well as standardization to speed up development and minimize the risks. He thinks VoltaChem can play an accelerating role here. To this Martijn de Graaff agrees, although he also acknowledges the competition between manufacturers, which is also a great driver for progress since companies want to outcompete each other. However, as Peter Bouwman remarks: "The market will be large enough so that the competition won't be that fierce. It's all about time, we need each other to reach the goals that society has set." To which Arend de Groot adds: "Indeed there's a real urgency here. The coming five years will be critical. So there's a goal, there's urgency, there's investors: let's start putting components together!"


Power-2-X Tour

The VoltaChem Power-2-X Tour is a series of four online events which will provide a deep dive into key developments in industrial electrification. With the aim to inform, inspire, and in the long run to help to make sensible decisions on future investments that will make the chemical industry more sustainable. 

Upcoming edition

The 2021 tour will feature a final talk show highlighting an important upcoming Power-2-X technology:

Power-2-X Tour #4: November 18 | Plasma technology as a game changer for the chemical industry
Can electricity-powered plasma technology become a game changer in high-value chemicals production? This is one of the questions that including Jeff Mason (Transform Materials), Sander van Bavel (Shell), Hans Linden (Brightsite/TNO), and Leon Jacobs (SABIC) will explore during the talk show. They will also discuss topics like the current state of plasma technology, expected developments, opportunities for application in the industry, the associated business case, and much more. 

Past editions

Power-2-X Tour #1: March 31 | Viable Value Chains - The Northwest European industry region as electrified supercluster
Integrating renewable energy and feedstock. Where will the industry of north-western Europe be heading. What is going to be produced where, with what and how? (Power-2-Integrate) Read the report here

Power-2-X Tour #2: June 30 | Opportunities in electrochemical CO2 utilization: From high-value products to high-volume impact
Renewables-based production of chemical building blocks and fuels from CO2 is seen as an important avenue for achieving a circular carbon society. Although still at lower TRL’s, technology development in low- and high-temperature electrolysis is rapidly progressing and business cases are improving. In this session, we will discuss the various technologies, technological challenges, associated business cases and development pathways, with a focus on the integration in industry. (Power-2-Chemicals). Read the event report here.

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Contact:

Arend de Groot

Lead Scientist Power-2-Hydrogen

+31 6 513 720 10

arend.degroot@tno.nl

LinkedIn

Martijn de Graaff

Business and Program development VoltaChem general

+31 6 222 608 71

martijn.degraaff@voltachem.com

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