In combination with renewable energies, hydrogen can largely replace fossil fuels and thus pave the way to a centralized and decentralized emission-free energy supply. Hydrogen can be used in a variety of ways: It can be used as a fuel in electric vehicles with fuel cell drives or as a "range extender" to extend the vehicle's range.
In addition, hydrogen can be used for long-term storage and help to balance out daytime-dependent and seasonal fluctuations in the energy grids caused by time of day or seasonal factors, which come into play particularly with increased use of renewable energy sources. Last but not least, hydrogen can also be used in the steel and chemical industries. To accelerate the decarbonization of further parts of industry, hydrogen generation by electrolyzers must be ensured in the future. Electrolyzers split water into hydrogen and oxygen with the addition of electric current. However, for scalable industrial production to exist of electrolyzer systems and components, the production technology must first be further developed to the level of large-scale production. The design and optimization of the required production technologies is the goal of currently 5 Fraunhofer institutes within the research project "H2-D".
To perform electrolysis, the PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) electrolyzer provides a powerful system with high dynamics. The PEM electrolyzer consists of numerous stacked single cells in a stack and enclosed by end plates. A single cell consists of the bipolar plate, the porous transport layer, the catalyst layer and the polymer membrane. The hurdle in the production of an electrolyzer stack today is still the high material and manufacturing costs, which do not allow economical production.
The research project "H2-D" deals with the design and manufacturing of PEM electrolyzers. First of all, the project will produce a technology overview showing the state of the art and current best-practice approaches in the form of a directory of suitable manufacturing technologies. After defining relevant KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), technology profiles for the processes used to produce individual components will be developed. A cost analysis and assessment of suitability for series production then allows for a comparison of suitable processes and illustrates the interactions between production processes and product properties. On the basis of this information, individual technologies are selected in the component production chain and various production concepts and chains are mapped virtually. This type of virtual demonstration provides orientation and offers a basis for discussion for manufacturing companies.
Together with the consortium, the Fraunhofer IPT identifies suitable methods and parameters for developing and optimizing the manufacturing processes of PEM electrolyzers. Based on our comprehensive technology assessment, virtual production concepts are created which offer various options for the structure and interlinking of the production steps for predefined production scenarios.
The collaboration in the "H2-D" project creates an enormous pool of knowledge in which the expertise of the institutes flows together. The result is an initial concept of a real production line that meets the requirements of serial production and enables cost-effective production and upscaling of the manufacture of electrolyzers. The existing production technologies of the Fraunhofer IPT and the associated modules are already available to companies for a prototype production of electrolyzers.
*A hydrogen economy for Germany, Focus 2 - Production of hydrogen by electrolysis WP3: Production technologies