This electrolysis plant installed as part of the H2FUTURE research project at voestalpine’s steelworks in Austria could be used to manufacture low-carbon steel. It’s also a model for decarbonizing other energy-intensive industries as well.
The water in the inspection glass churns furiously. Gas bubbles roar past. The electrolysis plant at voestalpine’s steel works in Linz is running at full speed. In large electrolytic cells, an electric current breaks water down into its components, oxygen and hydrogen.
Voestalpine is less concerned, however, about the oxygen passing through the inspection glass. What mainly interests the steel and technology company is the up to 1,200 cubic meters of hydrogen that the cells generate each hour. In the long term, hydrogen could be used to manufacture steel with a much lower level of CO2 emissions than now. The electrolysis technology installed by Siemens Energy is ideal for the task: It’s flexible enough to operate entirely using green power from renewable sources, so it can deliver 100-percent green hydrogen.
The EU-funded H2FUTURE project brings together energy suppliers, the steel industry, technology providers and research partners, all working hand in hand on the future of energy. The partners voestalpine, VERBUND, Siemens Energy, Austrian Power Grid, K1-MET and TNO are researching into the industrial production of green hydrogen as a means of replacing fossil fuels in steel production over the long term. Furthermore, the project, which receives EUR 18 million in EU funding, will investigate the potential to provide network services, and potentially compensate for fluctuations in the power grid.
Compared to the alkaline version, there are more differences to PEM electrolysis than just the fact that it works with unadulterated water. It also doesn’t require preheating, so it can respond more quickly to changes in current. Quick starts under full load are no problem with a PEM electrolysis system. It’s also capable of operating in a very low partial load range. That means a plant like the one in Linz can consistently generate green hydrogen even with a fluctuating supply of green power.
Green hydrogen is not just of interest to steel works. Other branches of industry that require large volumes of hydrogen as a process gas, or could use it as a fuel, could also drastically reduce CO2 emissions at their plants in this way. Refineries, chemical firms, and glass and fertilizer manufacturers are obvious examples of entities that could benefit from green hydrogen to improve their green future prospects.