Hydrogen industry

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.

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.

Carbon nanofibers in the hydrogen industry

  • 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.

Con­ven­tion­al technology—alkaline electrolysis—is rel­a­tive­ly inef­fi­cient. The hydro­gen pro­duced con­tains only 45–65 per­cent of the ener­gy input. Much bet­ter effi­cien­cy is pro­vid­ed by PEM elec­trol­y­sis. Up to 84 per­cent of the ener­gy can be recov­ered, which is expect­ed to reach 86 per­cent by 2030. Thus, even though PEM elec­trol­y­sis is a rel­a­tive­ly new tech­nol­o­gy, rough­ly half of the new elec­trolyz­ers being built will main­ly use PEM electrolysis.

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

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 trans­port 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 H2 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, 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)

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)

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.

Learn more

Read more on how we enable a more effi­cient hydro­gen production:

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