Are we on the brink of the hy­dro­gen econ­o­my?

Karsten Lemmer
Karsten Lem­mer
Credit: © DLR. All rights reserved

Karsten Lemmer

DLR Ex­ec­u­tive Board Mem­ber for En­er­gy and Trans­port.

How? Why now? And why us? Using hydrogen to tackle the climate crisis. An interview with Karsten Lemmer, DLR Executive Board Member for Energy and Transport.

Hydrogen is not a new discovery, so why would it make its breakthrough right now?

Sustainably produced hydrogen has the potential to be the central building block for an energy and transport system with massively reduced greenhouse gas emissions. In contrast to the past, we now have the technologies and global networks – and, due to climate change, the urgent need – to drive the use of green hydrogen forward. Hydrogen can be directly used and stored, and can form the basis for the production of sustainable liquid fuels. Although it has long been successfully researched, bold approaches to use hydrogen on a large scale are now required. The German Federal Government has provided a good impetus for this with its National Hydrogen Strategy. Germany can take on a pioneering role for a global hydrogen economy. This is an important step both for the climate and for Germany as an industrial and scientific location.

What do researchers and companies need to build a hydrogen economy?

Massive investment is currently required in technology and demonstrations, as is further investment in basic research and the establishment of the conditions for widespread market introduction. It is also important to understand that this is an international issue. We will not be able to produce the amount of green hydrogen needed for the energy sector, industry, and mobility in Germany alone. International solutions are needed. In addition, to exploit our own generation potential and further research the technologies, the expansion of existing renewable energies must continue. In the short term, large electrolysis systems should be established in Germany. This will help to build up technological leadership and expand the distribution infrastructure. Large-scale hydrogen production should also be established in sun-rich countries. Solar thermal processes have the highest potential to drastically reduce production costs. Global hydrogen logistics must then be created for distribution. Establishing hydrogen-based propulsion systems in mobility is not only a consideration of cost, improvements to infrastructure and product range are necessary. And last but not least, legislators must also take action. Only effective measures for market introduction and incentive systems can ensure that green hydrogen makes its contribution to the energy and mobility transition.

How can DLR support the establishment of a hydrogen economy?

In order to exploit the potential of hydrogen, the energy system must be considered in its entirety and with all its interactions. Here, DLR has built up unique expertise over many years through its synergistic activities across the fields of space, aeronautics, energy and transport. Nevertheless, there are still plenty of research questions surrounding hydrogen, These concern future synthetic fuels, new technologies for transport and storage, production technologies using wind and solar power, system integration at all levels of the energy system, hydrogen-based sector integration, hydrogen-based electricity regeneration processes, analytical technology assessment and transformation strategies, to name but a few. DLR therefore conducts research along the entire system chain, starting with the production of green hydrogen by electrolysis or solar generation, through to its use in the transport, industrial and energy sectors. Hydrogen offers solutions to the problems of our time – from a green electricity supply to carbon-dioxide-free transportation.

This interview was conducted by Denise Nüssle.

The national hydrogen council

The council consists of 26 high-ranking experts from science, business and society. The members were appointed by the German Federal Cabinet in June 2020 and have expertise in the fields of hydrogen production, research and innovation, decarbonisation of industry, transport and buildings/heat, infrastructure, international partnerships, and climate and sustainability. The council advises and supports the German State Secretary Committee for Hydrogen by making proposals and recommending actions for the implementation of the National Hydrogen Strategy. Karsten Lemmer, DLR Executive Board member for Energy and Transport, is a member of the Hydrogen Council.

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