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Hydro­gen

Unleashing the scale-up of green hydrogen

The interest in green hydro­gen is tak­ing off, but the cur­rent need for large amounts of expens­ive iridi­um as cata­lyst mater­i­al in PEM elec­tro­lyz­ers drives costs, mak­ing glob­al scale-up dif­fi­cult. With our tech­no­logy for com­pact elec­tro­lyz­ers using a min­im­um of scarce cata­lyst particles, the green hydro­gen industry can turn pro­spects into business.

A market in rapid growth

The drop in demand for fossil fuels has made renew­able energy sources more com­pet­it­ive, cre­at­ing a favor­able envir­on­ment for the growth of the elec­tro­lyz­er market.

The use of green hydro­gen is expec­ted to grow by a factor of 100 by 2030. The glob­al elec­tro­lyz­er mar­ket is fore­cas­ted to grow from USD 0.4 bil­lion today to USD 3.5 bil­lion in 2026 and reach USD 65 bil­lion in 2030. A boom in terms of growth! How­ever, a lim­it­ing factor is the avail­ab­il­ity and cost of expens­ive cata­lyst mater­i­als. This is where the new solu­tions from Smol­tek are to play a vital role by rad­ic­ally redu­cing the amount of cata­lyst mater­i­al needed in man­u­fac­tur­ing elec­tro­lyz­ers and fuel cells.

Three times smaller without compromising capacity

Smoltek’s advanced car­bon nan­ofiber tech­no­logy has a unique poten­tial to enable more cost-effi­cient pro­duc­tion of fossil-free hydro­gen. PEM elec­tro­lyz­ers, spe­cific­ally designed for inter­mit­tent energy sup­ply, use a large amount of very rare and expens­ive cata­lyst particles (iridi­um) that today are used inef­fi­ciently – where­as Smoltek’s anode-side cell mater­i­al tech­no­logy makes max­im­um use of the cata­lyst particles. The res­ult is 2–3 lower invest­ment costs for elec­tro­lyz­ers in hydro­gen plants thanks to decreased elec­tro­lyz­er size.

Smoltek ECM effect comparison 02
Smol­tek Hydro­gens tech­no­logy for the anode side elec­trode – redu­cing the iridi­um load towards 0.1 mg/​cm2

Carbon nanofibers in the hydrogen industry

Our main object­ive is to devel­op robust solu­tions for indus­tri­ally rel­ev­ant cata­lyst coat­ings in the energy con­ver­sion sec­tor for the future. We build on our exper­i­ence to scale up nano­struc­tures developed for the semi­con­duct­or industry to also incor­por­ate thin films that can cata­lyze effect­ively the reac­tions needed in gas dif­fu­sion elec­trodes for water elec­tro­lys­is. The goal is to offer our cus­tom­ers super­i­or prop­er­ties in terms of sta­bil­ity and activity.

A huge green H2 (hydro­gen) mar­ket is devel­op­ing in the com­ing years. Five sec­tors will con­sume massive amounts of green hydrogen:

  • Fuel cells in elec­tric vehicles when bat­ter­ies are not suitable
  • Syn­thet­ic fuels for mar­ine applications
  • Repla­cing today’s H2 in agri­cul­ture fertilizer
  • Fossil-free steel works
  • Heat­ing in cement production

With new tech­no­logy, we intend to grow a sub­stan­tial busi­ness in the hydro­gen ecosystem

Reduce the need for expens­ive iridi­um and platinum:

  • Reduce the size of hydro­gen plants
  • Cheap­er to man­age the inter­mit­tent power from wind, water, and sol­ar plants

Skyrocketing demand for electrolyzers—“The H2 producer”

Green hydro­gen is pro­duced by elec­tro­lys­is. Simply put, that is run­ning elec­tri­city through water and gath­er­ing the released hydro­gen. The appar­at­us in which this is done is called an electrolyzer.

Today, there are mainly two dif­fer­ent elec­tro­lys­is tech­niques for the pro­duc­tion of hydro­gen; Alkaline elec­tro­lys­is (ALK) and Pro­ton Exchange Mem­brane (PEM) elec­tro­lys­is. ALK has been around the longest but the tech­no­logy faces dif­fi­culties as it can­not be quickly adap­ted to vary­ing input from green elec­tri­city, such as wind and sol­ar. PEM on the oth­er hand is more flex­ible and can handle the vari­ations from the inter­mit­tent power sources. 

The PEM tech­no­logy’s bene­fits also include high effi­ciency, min­im­al upkeep require­ments, and rap­id star­tup times. It can also lower costs thanks to being able to pro­duce more hydro­gen when elec­tri­city is cheap­er. These are the main reas­on why PEM elec­tro­lyz­ers are anti­cip­ated to expand at the highest rate when the industry will scale up hydro­gen production.

The crit­ic­al com­pon­ent of a PEM elec­tro­lyz­er is the cell. It is the unit where the elec­tri­city in con­tact with water becomes hydro­gen and oxy­gen. Each hydro­gen pro­duc­tion unit has vast num­bers of these. Thus, the rap­id growth of the pro­duc­tion capa­city of green hydro­gen implies that the demand for elec­tro­lyz­er cells will skyrocket.

With clev­er use of car­bon nan­ofibers, we can reduce the use of rare and expens­ive noble metals by 50–70 per­cent while doub­ling or trip­ling the act­ive sur­face area of the pro­ton-exchange mem­brane (PEM) in elec­tro­lyz­ers and fuel cells.

And this will enable the green hydro­gen revolution!

Hydrogen market – market for electrolyzers

1. Fuel cells in electric vehicles when batteries are not suitable

Elec­tric heavy-duty vehicles are the key to fossil-free trans­port. When bat­ter­ies would not provide a long enough range, fuel cells are the altern­at­ive. The vehicle is loaded with hydro­gen, which the fuel cell trans­fers into elec­tri­city. This will be used for heavy-duty trucks, coaches, long-range pas­sen­ger vehicles, and trains.

Hydro­gen will power long-haul trans­ports to reduce car­bon emissions

2. Synthetic fuels for marine applications

For long dis­tances, heavy mar­ine trans­ports syn­thet­ic fuel is a con­veni­ent way to make the trans­ports green. Exist­ing com­bus­tion engines are run on syn­thet­ic fuels pro­duced from green H2. Also, bio­fuels, lith­i­um-ion bat­ter­ies, and fuel cells will be used to make the sec­tor fossil-free. Still, syn­thet­ic fuels are con­sidered most attract­ive, giv­en that the cost of pro­du­cing hydro­gen can be reduced.

3. Replacing today’s fossil hydrogen in agriculture fertilizer

Ammo­nia is the second most com­monly pro­duced chem­ic­al in the world, and it is derived from hydro­gen. More than 80 per­cent is used as feed­stock for fer­til­izer. The rest are used in mak­ing paint, plastic, tex­tiles, explos­ives, and oth­er chem­ic­als. Ammo­nia pro­duc­tion in 2018 gen­er­ated around 500 mil­lion tons of car­bon diox­ide, where a large part comes from hydro­gen pro­duced by steam meth­ane reform­ing. Mak­ing this from green hydro­gen instead implies an immense growth of the elec­tro­lyz­er market.

4. Fossil-free steel works

New steel works are being built all around Europe, some­thing that has not happened for hun­dreds of years. The new steel­works will be using green hydro­gen instead of fossil gas. Each ton of steel pro­duced today is estim­ated to emit 2.2 tons of car­bon dioxide—equating to about 11 per­cent of glob­al car­bon diox­ide emis­sions. In Sweden, two well-known examples are the HYBRIT pro­ject run by SSAB, LKAB, and Vat­ten­fall, and H2 Green Steel, a new ambi­tious com­pany build­ing new steel­works in Sweden and Iber­ia. Sim­il­ar pro­jects are seen, for instance, in Ger­many. For each new steel­works, a new large-scale hydro­gen plant is being built.

5. Heating in cement production

Green hydro­gen can be used for high-grade indus­tri­al heat­ing in, for example, the cement industry, which accounts for 8 per­cent of glob­al car­bon diox­ide emis­sions. Emis­sions can be reduced by a third by using green hydro­gen to heat the cement kilns. (The remain­ing two-thirds come from the chem­ic­al reac­tion that pro­duces cement and must be cap­tured and stored or reduced by oth­er means.)

Rapid increase in demand for green hydrogen

Green hydro­gen means that elec­tri­city from renew­able sources is used, like wind, water, and sol­ar energy. The wind and sol­ar power capa­city are planned to be built up at a large scale glob­ally to match the demand. The large volume pro­duc­tion com­bined with the tech­no­logy run­ning down the exper­i­ence curve indic­ates an attract­ive cost per kilo­watt from green elec­tri­city. For example, wind power is increas­ingly being pro­duced in large off­shore wind farms in the com­ing dec­ade. Wind power already reaches a lower cost per kilo­watt than new nuc­le­ar power.

Accord­ing to the report Hydro­gen for Net-Zero by Hydro­gen Coun­cil and McKin­sey & Com­pany (2021), green and low-car­bon hydro­gen can be used to avoid 80 bil­lion tons (80 GT) of cumu­lat­ive car­bon emis­sions from now through 2050. With an annu­al abate­ment poten­tial of sev­en bil­lion tons (7 GT) in 2050, hydro­gen can con­trib­ute 20 per­cent of the total reduc­tion needed in 2050.

Glob­al hydro­gen demand by seg­ment until 2050 (Source: Hydro­gen for Net-Zero by Hydro­gen Coun­cil and McKin­sey & Com­pany 2021)

Rapid growth of production capacity of green hydrogen

Pro­duc­tion capa­city needs to be expan­ded rap­idly to meet the strong demand for hydro­gen. And indeed, we see a rap­id growth in announced or star­ted pro­jects to build hydro­gen pro­duc­tion facil­it­ies. In fact, the growth is so fast that the Hydro­gen Council’s growth fore­casts have had to be bumped up every year in recent years.

In the report, Hydro­gen for Net-Zero, Hydro­gen Coun­cil, and McKin­sey & Com­pany writes that play­ers have announced more than 18 mil­lion tons of green and low-car­bon hydro­gen pro­duc­tion through 2030. (See fig­ure below.) Addi­tion­al announce­ments include nearly 13 mil­lion tons of green and low-car­bon hydro­gen pro­duc­tion capa­city with deploy­ment bey­ond 2030. The green and low-car­bon hydro­gen pro­duc­tion volume announced in 2021 exceeds 30 mil­lion tons, more than 30 per­cent of the glob­al hydro­gen demand.

Announced green or low-car­bon hydro­gen pro­duc­tion volume in a mil­lion tons (Source: Hydro­gen for Net-Zero by Hydro­gen Coun­cil and McKin­sey & Com­pany 2021)

Carbon nanofibers in hydrogen

With our car­bon nan­ofibers (CNFs) fab­ric­a­tion tech­no­logy, we devel­op mater­i­al solu­tions that enable more effi­cient solu­tions in the hydro­gen industry.

Cur­rently, we focus on improv­ing the elec­tro­chem­ic­al cell in PEM elec­tro­lyz­ers and fuel cells. The cell enables the con­ver­sion of elec­tri­city into hydro­gen and vice versa. Thus, it’s a key com­pon­ent in stor­ing and trans­mit­ting renew­able energy and decar­bon­iz­ing industry, trans­port­a­tion, and heating.

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