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A Hydrogen Ecosystem for the Heilbronn-Franconia Region – Made Possible by the H2 Innovation Lab

Steinbeis experts conduct joint research into the potential of the hydrogen industry

There are number of reasons to use hydrogen as an energy source. Not only does it make it possible to store excess electrical energy, hydrogen can also be used in a broad spectrum of areas. Also, during “combustion” it mainly leaves behind water and this helps reduce carbon emissions and the need to burn fossil fuels. The Technical University of Munich has joined forces with Heilbronn University, the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute in Heilbronn, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (Fraunhofer IAO) to examine the potential offered by the hydrogen industry to the Heilbronn-Franconia region. The main focus of the Steinbeis experts lies in the added value offered by hydrogen industry ecosystems.

Whether it’s to fuel vehicles, provide heating, or act as a reducing agent in steel production, hydrogen has the potential to play a key role in achieving international climate protection goals. But to preserve the significant potential of hydrogen technology and add value to the German economy – or even build on potential – it will need to be researched in more detail and put to good use. Establishing and operating the infrastructure to use hydrogen technology will require the introduction of a comprehensive ecosystem, pulling together all key industry players. But this would open the door to new realms of high-value business services.

To understand the potential offered by the hydrogen industry to the Heilbronn-Franconia region and lay the necessary foundations for exploiting this potential, an experienced research consortium has been formed on the education campus in Heilbronn: H2 Innovation Lab Heilbronn-Franconia. The members of the consortium are the Technical University of Munich, Heilbronn University, the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute in Heilbronn, and KODIS, a research and innovation center for cognitive service systems belonging to Fraunhofer IAO. The project is being initiated and sponsored by the Dieter Schwarz Foundation and Pakt Zukunft Heilbronn-Franken.

The benefits of local logistical networks

The aim of the project is to set up a pilot region, partly backed by the Federal Government as part of its national hydrogen strategy for developing hydrogen concepts. The Heilbronn-Franconia region appears to be in an ideal position to develop into a key business location for the hydrogen industry. One major advantage this area offers is its advanced logistics network, a large number of medium-sized businesses, plus a good number of big businesses. There are also a number of industry players specialized in hydrogen technology in the region, offering an outstanding environment for conducting research. As part of the H2ORIZON project, both the DLR Institute for Space Propulsion and ZEAG Energie already operate facilities in Lampoldshausen for generating sustainable hydrogen supplies. In addition, Audi is actively involved in hydrogen cell research at its development facilities in Neckarsulm.

The key to success: ecosystem modeling

The Fraunhofer IAO researchers working on the Heilbronn campus have been talking to stakeholders in business, science, and politics in order to map the key players of the hydrogen industry as part of a stakeholder analysis. “Meeting experts and conducting evaluations helps the project team to really get to know the different types of stakeholders in the region and build a regional hydrogen network. This will make it easier for regional project consortia to quickly pull together in the future and react to invitations to tender for research programs, development projects, and funding programs,” explains Dr. Bernd Bienzeisler, project manager at the Fraunhofer IAO. In parallel to this, the Fraunhofer team is assessing the current status of research and the overall research landscape in the hydrogen industry.

The Technical University of Munich team on the Heilbronn campus, the Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute in Heilbronn, and Heilbronn University are starting by modeling a general H2 business ecosystem, with the aim of applying their model to the Heilbronn-Franconia region. “To produce meaningful results, it will be important to find a systematic way to categorize industry players and stakeholders within the context of the business ecosystem – also in order to assess the two topics independently of one another,” explains Steinbeis expert Dr. Daniel Werth. Prof. Tobias Bernecker, who is managing the project for Heilbronn University, agrees: “We’re adopting a holistic approach to allow us to spot gaps and systematically close them.”

Based on this, the Technical University of Munich will use a model to merge different constellations of key players in the hydrogen industry in Heilbronn-Franconia. “Our main focus lies in the value streams between key players so we can highlight transformation scenarios and potential risks to the ecosystem,” explains Dr. Markus Böhm of the Technical University of Munich. The project will result in a model for the hydrogen ecosystem in Heilbronn-Franconia. The results of the project are scheduled to be published in a study at a regional hydrogen event in 2021 on the education campus in Heilbronn.


Dr. Daniel Werth (author)
Senior Research Fellow
Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute Heilbronn (FSTI)

Prof. Dr. habil. Günter Haag (author)
Associate Partner: Senior Research Fellow
Ferdinand Steinbeis Institute Heilbronn (FSTI)