An interview with Dr. Marie-Eve Reinert, senior project manager at Steinbeis 2i
The concept of using hydrogen as an energy source has been around for decades. The gas was already being used in space travel in the 1960s, and in the 1970s and 80s researchers began experimenting with hydrogen in an effort to reduce dependency on fossil fuels. Today, hydrogen is central to our hope that climate neutrality can be achieved. But why hydrogen? TRANSFER Magazine posed this question to Steinbeis expert Dr. Marie-Eve Reinert, group leader for the field of hydrogen-based transportation technology at Steinbeis 2i. She has first-hand experience of the important issues in the use of hydrogen.
Hello Dr. Reinert. What benefits are offered by using hydrogen in vehicles?
Because it’s a zero-emission fuel, hydrogen is really important for the transition to alternative energy sources and for climate protection – assuming you use so-called green hydrogen. To produce the gas, you only need zero-emission, renewable energy sources such as wind power or solar energy. Also, hydrogen can be used as storage and a buffer for forms of energy generation involving fluctuating consumption. Another advantage is its energy density: Hydrogen allows you to store more energy than electric batteries. This offers huge advantages for vehicles because they can travel farther. In addition, the key by-product of the reaction between hydrogen and oxygen is water. So you get lower carbon emissions and consume fewer fossil fuels.
What are the other possible uses of hydrogen? And how can business, but also society, benefit from these uses?
You can use hydrogen as an energy source in many ways. There are lots of projects underway involving hydrogen in transportation, converting cars, buses, trucks, trains, or even ships to hydrogen engines. Trucks are driven many miles a day and transport big loads, so using hydrogen as a fuel here would be the number one choice. Hydrogen is also being put to intensive use in industry. The challenge now is to produce enough green hydrogen to decarbonize all sectors of industry, such as chemicals, metalworking, steel, and glass production.
Hydrogen is also the basis for other green fuels, such as synthetic gas. So for example INERATEC, who we’re helping at the moment, is working on an innovative form of reactor technology to produce such “e-fuels.” Among other things, the start-up supplies modular systems used in energy applications and solutions used in the field of power-to-gas.
But it’s important to remember that many people still have concerns about the safety of hydrogen.The hydrogen industry has shifted into action and made good progress in this area in recent years by setting up working groups. Modern hydrogen technologies are safe, and communicating that and building trust will be crucial for the technology to gain acceptance in the market.
Hydrogen offers substantial potential, but there are still a number of hurdles to overcome before it enters widespread use. What do you think can be done about this?
Actually, there are already lots of fully-functioning technologies for producing, distributing, and using hydrogen. They just need to come out of research and demonstration projects and take the next step so they’re ready for industry and can be used on a large. One of the big issues at the moment is how to significantly scale up hydrogen production to gigawatt levels. Another key process for using hydrogen on a wide scale is hydrogen compression, because it has a very low density. Hydrogen compression needs to be made more efficient so the required quantities can be made available and the price per kilo of compressed hydrogen becomes more attractive to end users. This is where we’re working on an innovative solution through the COSMHYC project.
But we’re also making huge strides toward a “future of hydrogen.” In July 2020, the EU published its hydrogen strategy for climate neutrality in Europe. A number of member states also presented ambitious national hydrogen strategies last year, including France and Germany. So climate protection and hydrogen are now high on the political agenda. For the strategy to be implemented in concrete terms, we now need model hydrogen regions to demonstrate how this will happen in technological and economic terms in different sectors.
You’ve already mentioned one project. What other hydrogen projects is Steinbeis 2i currently involved in?
We’re currently involved in five European projects. For the COSMHYC project I just mentioned, we’re working with the European Institute For Energy Research (EIFER) and three other partners to improve hydrogen compression, and we’re also testing prototypes under live conditions. The compression technology that’s being developed will be extended into the second EU project, COSMHYC XL, which is about large hydrogen fueling stations. That’s because the focus of this project lies in large trucks.
The next project, an innovation project called INN-BALANCE, turns the spotlight on the peripheral components of fuel cells and the so-called balance of plant (BOP). The project partners are working on the development of new components such as technology for supplying fuel cells with hydrogen and oxygen, components for use in heat management, and components used to monitor the function of entire fuel cells.
With the H2SHIPS Interreg project, EIFER and its partners are working on two pilot projects to demonstrate the technical and economic viability of hydrogen refueling systems and propulsion systems in shipping. In the Netherlands, a hydrogen-powered boat is being built for harbor areas and inland waterways, and in Belgium a hydrogen refueling system is being developed and tested for operation on the high seas.
The fifth project, FCHgo!, which is aimed at education scientists, educators, students, and teachers, involves a completely different goal. We’re using a school competition, games, stories, and examples of everyday use to create a narrative that will make hydrogen energy more accessible to young people.
As a partner in five EU projects, Steinbeis 2i contributes to the transformation of transportation systems and supports the market introduction of hydrogen technologies in Europe:
COSMHYC. EU funding: €2.5 million (Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking). Participating Countries: Denmark, Germany, France.
→ Read more: www.cosmhyc.eu 
COSMHYC XL. EU funding: €2.7 million (Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking). Participating Countries: Denmark, Germany, France.
→ Read more: www.cosmhyc.eu 
INN-BALANCE. Project funding: €4.9 million (Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking). Participating Countries: Germany, Austria, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland.
→ Read more: www.innbalance-fch-project.eu 
FCHgo! EU funding: €500,000 (Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking). Participating Countries: Denmark, Germany, Italy, Poland, Switzerland.
→ Read more: www.fchgo.eu 
H2SHIPS. EU funding: €3.5 million (ERDF, Interreg North-West Europe). Participating Countries: Belgium, Germany, France, Netherlands, United Kingdom