Hydrogen – how to stay mobile

What can hydrogen bring to future transport?

Hydrogen still plays a minor role in the transport sector. There are still only a couple of hundred H2-powered cars on German roads, but this will have to change fast if federal government is to meet its climate targets. Despite the low number of hydrogen cars, Germany’s position regarding hydrogen technology is not too bad. “We already have one of the best networks of hydrogen stations,” explains Prof. Christopher Hebling, division director of Hydrogen Technologies at the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE and spokes­person of the Fraunhofer Hydrogen Network. “And there are plans to expand from 100 to 400 stations over the next three years.” It makes good sense primarily to use hydrogen where longer distances are involved – heavy goods transport, for example, inland shipping, and rail transport on branch lines that have not yet been electrified. As with electric vehicles, green electricity – in other words, electricity generated from renewable energy sources such as wind and sun – can be used to produce hydrogen that is then utilized to power vehicles on a local and carbon-free basis.

If future transport is to be run largely on hydrogen, then certain preparations must be made now. This means enhancing the technology, especially fuel cells and electro­lyzers, establishing technical and industrial standards, and expanding the infrastructure for distribution and refueling. Fraunhofer researchers are currently involved in a host of projects to promote hydrogen technology and support the industry. At the same time, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft is providing government with expert consultation. For example, Fraunhofer has recently published A Hydrogen Roadmap for Germany, which sets out its own scientific position regarding hydrogen electrolysis and hydrogen use. This report has also been made available to the federal chancellery and to federal ministries that worked on the development of the National Hydrogen Strategy.

The Fraunhofer H2D initiative creates an overarching strategy that pulls together various institutes and specific expertise. H2D is also intended to provide inspiration for people in government, business and society. The Fraunhofer Hydrogen Network, meanwhile, was established to simplify the sharing of expertise in the field of hydrogen technology. All in all, a total of 28 Fraunhofer institutes are now using the network to swap information and coordinate collaboration. At the same time, a number of hydrogen alliances have formed on the regional level. These include the H2-Innovationslabor Heilbronn-Franken, a project which aims to turn the Heil­bronn-Franken region into a pilot area for the development of hydrogen-related concepts – and which involves the partici­pation of various scientific institutions as well as the Research and Innovation Center for Cognitive Service Systems KODIS, a branch of the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO. A further initiative is the HZwo innovation cluster, which aims to bolster, at three different locations, Saxony’s research expertise in fuel cell technology, high-temperature electrolysis and other areas of hydrogen technology.