The building of a Hydrogen Ecosystem in Europe

The global challenge of climate change is coming rapidly to the points where it is forcing governments, businesses and knowledge organisations all over the world to mobilise behind carbon-reducing innovations, e.g. large-scale renewable energy implementation and electrification.

When it comes to innovation and leading the energy transition, Europe is showing clear leadership and in one specific and important technology, a global leader in electrolysis technology required to produce green hydrogen. The challenge today is to convert that leading position into a sustaining best of class one, that leads the world in electrolyzer expertise, production and research.

Today, Europe has a promising start, but it has significant challenges to break down the silo’s of knowledge and expertise and seize this opportunity to learn how to collaborate and build a thriving, robust and collaborative ecosystem around the building of a world-leading position in the electrolyzer market space.

At this time though, despite a promising outlook for the use of the eölectrolyzer for hydrogen, water electrolysis technology is not sufficiently mature to fit that purpose. It still is at a limited scale and is not yet at the point of the expectations building up around it. An enormous challenge lies ahead in upscaling currently available technologies to GW-scale factories required to drive forward the energy transition.

Recently announced is a HySpeed Innovation Joint Action Plan paper, where it is proposed that top Europe’s RTOs build a collaborative ecosystem and rally behind a call of joint mobilisation to share research infrastructure, build the independent expertise, by focusing on the next-generation technologies and facilities for testing, validation and monitoring.

They, the collaborating labs, see this as “an absolute prerequisite to reach climate neutrality by 2050 or preferably earlier”.

European organizations hold significant patents and have built up the leading position of supplying electrolyzers across the globe. This is clear, in the simple fact that most of the industry leaders are currently located in Europe. Yet, when implementation and especially upscaling, are at stake, there lies a serious challenge in maintaining and exploiting this position.

It is suggested a real necessity is to build an Electrolyzer Ecosystem in Europe, I totally agree with that need Within this many of the challenges can be tackled in a collaborative environment by Europe’s companies and have stronger collaboration exchanges with these RTOs and other research institutes to provide a key role to play to accelerate understanding and exchange best practices on Electrolyzers and Green Hydrogen challenges and possible solutions.

These RTO’s see three sets of opportunities to accelerate the developments for upscaling of WE technologies and have been identified that form around this joint action plan Initially, these opportunities are to organize the RTO network: (i) Connecting Hydrogen labs; (ii) Establishing and setting clear performance standards and deliverables; and (iii) Monitoring performance of subsidized pilots to build a database of business case potential.

A vital node within a broader Ecosystem

This has a critical node within a greater Ecosystem if it can be organized and coordinated. Perhaps this Hydrogen Ecosystem can be coordinated by the Hydrogen Europe as the European association representing the interest of the hydrogen and fuel cell industry and its stakeholders. At present Hydrogen Europe has more than 160 companies, 78 research organisations and 25 national associations as members, our association encompasses the entire value chain of the European Hydrogen and fuel cell ecosystem collaborating in the Fuel Cell Hydrogen Joint Undertaking. They are well placed to turn their work into orchestrating in a more designed fashion, the European Ecosystem for Hydrogen.

The Electrolyzer is critical for Green Hydrogen to be delivered at scale.

The paper produced by The understanding of the Electrolyzer value chain would be required to understand the capacity to economically produce, store, transport and use clean (carbon-free) hydrogen as part of renewables centred energy system to greater accelerate where hydrogen is seen as an essential enabler in our energy transition.

These initial Ecosystem proposal from Europes RTO’s are presented in the position paper ‘HySpeedInnovation’ in which some leading European Research and Technology Organisations came together to describe the upscaling challenges that lie ahead, and how the knowledge institutions can come together to tackle these challenges to make Europe a leader in the field of electrolysis, makes great sense. Still, it needs this “attachment” into a broader European Hydrogen Ecosystem to turn this into a robust solution.

I have written on this posting site-many of the required Ecosystem needs, principles and requirements to make and approach have a potentially robust solution to build around, but it needs a strong orchestrator and a broad-based platform for sharing as two of its very basic requirements.

The Research Institutions urging action

These are present including some of Europe’s leading research institutions such as TNO, joined by the German RTOs Fraunhofer (IFAM and ISE) and Forschungszentrum Jülich (IEK14), the Norwegian SINTEF and France’s CEA.

The RTOs also recommend a supporting role for the European Commission and national authorities. I would view these roles as far from supporting but more the catalysts to enable the work from the RTO’s to be valued and widely dispersed.

Within any emerging ecosystem approach, there are other knowledge institutions from the EU Member States, such as the network Hydrogen Europe Research, which represents several hundred companies and organisations in the field of hydrogen.

The challenges are formidable, taken from the position paper.

  1. Working towards the significant upscaling of production capacity

2. Resolving the present fragmented of knowledge across facilities and countries

3. Working together in a collective pool requires greater European harmonization of approach and recognition

To quote from the HySpeedInnovation Plan

the Upscaling Challenge

“An enormous challenge lies ahead in upscaling currently available technologies to GW-scale factories required to drive forward the energy transition. For Europe, this challenge is reflected in the European Green Deal, which puts renewable hydrogen produced by electrolysis high on the political agenda. The European Hydrogen Strategy sets a target for 6 GW installed electrolyser capacity by 2024, and 2×40 GW by 2030 (40 GW in Europe and 40 GW in neighbouring countries) producing respectively 1 and 10 million tonnes of hydrogen annually. Tens of billions of euros are promised as a stimulus for this development. Several hydrogen strategies from European member states also have quantified targets for electrolysers according to their National Hydrogen Strategies looking at 2030 horizon, e.g. 6.5 GW in France, 5 GW in Germany, 3-4 GW in the Netherlands 1 GW in Portugal and 4 GW in Spain.”

The fragmented approach currently within Europe

The most important obstacle to overcome is not so much technical: the chain of manufacturers, their suppliers and the knowledge institutions themselves are fragmented across Europe, thus slowing down the innovations needed to develop a new generation of electrolysers. There is also a lack of sufficient demand for green hydrogen, partly because the costs are still too high. This makes the business case for large-scale application dependent on government incentives.

The barriers to work together are significant.

The electrolysis industry is currently dominated by very few large companies such as Siemens, ThyssenKrupp, Hitachi, Hydrogenics-Cummins, ITM Power, Areva H2Gen, McPhy or Sunfire. These system-integrators work closely together with a relatively small community of suppliers. Most are SME like McPhy, Areva, Hygs, h-tec, NEL, Teledyne, Plug Power, etc.

Roughly, half of all the electrolyser manufacturers are located in Europe, and their component suppliers are mostly European as well. Still, in the face of the upcoming challenge of upscaling, the industry remains too small, and activities are fragmented and poorly optimized.

The reality is due to significant internal R&D investments current suppliers of electrolyzers protect their IP and keep their suppliers closed. The drawback here is that innovative newcomers, even potentially innovative suppliers, have a hard time working their way into this market (market barriers at the entrance). This puts a brake on the dynamics of innovations that are needed to accelerate developments towards second and third-generation technologies.

Not having a highly collaborative environment is holding Europe back.

According to the RTO view, generally speaking, technological knowledge and expertise about electrolysers are fragmented across a broad range of actors, with lots of small entrepreneurs holding enormous potential for innovation, but lacking a shared direction and common frame of reference.

To help achieve a breaking down of barriers, there needs to be broader support from national governments and EU policymakers on the following topics:
• Facilitating the establishment of a coordinated EU infrastructure enabling to use/share water electrolysis testing facilities with improved data sharing across RTOs, developed and supported by leading national governments.
• The need for developing harmonized performance, safety, sustainability and quality standards setting international minimum requirements for
(components of) electrolysers, e.g. as materialised in tender specifications.
• The implementation of an Open Access policy for sharing aggregated data and learnings. Governments should make sharing of data and learnings of all subsidised research, demonstration and deployment projects mandatory

With this HySpeedInnovation Joint Action Plan, scientists at Europe’s RTOs are proposing to rally behind that call with state of the art innovation support through the mobilisation of our (shared) research infrastructure, independent expertise, next-generation technologies and facilities for testing, validation and monitoring.

The Ecosystem Approach is an absolute prerequisite here for Europe to be the leaders in the Electrolyzers.

Yet to really achieve a high cooperation environment, there needs an essential Orchestrator of this Ecosystem. As it is one cutting across national and regional boundaries the level of collaboration and coordination will be demanding and challenging. In many respects it os not ideal as a self-organization ecosystem, it needs a platform orchestrator and that in my opinion lies at the European Commission level or is designated to a body like the Hydrogen Europe to manage and coordinate.

We so often see Asian countries have this capability to manage within Ecosystems at a more successful rate. Examples of Taiwan, China and South Korea for building emerging technology ecosystems show others the way and here, in Europe, we seem less than capable to adopt a platform and ecosystem management approach. If we fail here then the Electrolyzer lead will transfer either to Asia or the US and yet another promising leadership passes through our European fingers.

To dramatically change the existing silo’s of knowledge to overcome the fragmentation of efforts and leverage on the currently existing assets and built-up frontrunner position needs a real enabler to manage the Ecosystem on an independent platform, as I just feel self-organizing ones for this are doomed without all the actors within the development and production of Electrolysers feeding into and collaborating through this platform.

 

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