December 21, 2020 | Technology for the energy transition

Hydrogen power plants with no carbon dioxide emissions – research and industry drive market viability

  • Reliable and environmentally friendly power plants shall ensure the supply of electricity.
  • At its test facilities in Cologne, DLR is working with industrial partners to further develop technology for hydrogen power plants.
  • Infrastructure for research into and testing of critical power plant components.
  • Focus: Energy, climate, hydrogen

The German Federal Government has declared that its aim for the energy transition is to halt the use of fossil fuels by 2050. Gas-fired power are important for facilitating the move from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy. This is due to their flexibility and the possibility of powering their gas turbines with hydrogen, rather than with natural gas. The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) is now working with industry partners at its test facilities in Cologne to develop the technology required to achieve this goal.

The Federal Government’s decision to phase out the generation of electricity from nuclear power and coal (decarbonisation) has led to an emerging need to find ways of compensating for this reduced capacity. With this in mind, reliable, environmentally friendly power plants are to be built that ensure a continuous supply of power even in times of low wind and little sunlight. Gas-fired or gas- and steam-fired power plants are particularly well suited to this purpose, as they can cover the increasing energy demand in an efficient and environmentally friendly way at any moment, and over long periods of time. Hydrogen is particularly important as a source of energy, as acknowledged, for instance, in the National Hydrogen Strategy. DLR has many years of interdisciplinary experience in hydrogen research, covering the entire process chain from carbon dioxide-free production to application.

The necessary infrastructure

With its High Pressure Combustion Chamber Test Stand 2 (HBK 2), DLR has modernised one of its most versatile large-scale test facilities in order to develop future power plant technology for hydrogen applications. The facility now has an efficient air supply and a modern hydrogen plant, completed in 2012 with partial support from funding measures in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia. HBK2 is a unique facility for the research and testing of critical power plant components for generating power without emitting carbon dioxide.

An innovative combustion system using hydrogen developed by the US company Power Systems Mfg (PSM) was tested in HBK2 in a pilot application. The DLR Institute of Propulsion Technology provided the testing infrastructure and a laser-optic diagnostic system, which was developed in-house. This made it possible to visualise the processes that take place during hydrogen combustion in a gas turbine combustion chamber, under real pressure and temperature conditions, for the very first time. As a result, the complex interrelationships can be analysed more effectively, and technology can be developed to prepare for series production.

"Our test facilities were originally developed for aeronautics. However, our infrastructure is flexible and we have longstanding experience in interdisciplinary collaboration with industry," says Christian Fleing, Head of the Combustion Chamber Testing Department at the Institute of Propulsion Technology. “There is a lot of excitement around the energy transition, as people realise that they can make a real contribution towards resolving one of the key issues of our era.”

The next step is to test hydrogen combustion in conjunction with a European consortium. The focus of this consortium will be on specific applications in existing power plants, with the intention of replacing natural gas as an energy source with hydrogen as quickly as possible. In addition to DLR, the consortium includes the companies Ansaldo Thomassen (PSM’s European sister company), OPRA, Vattenfall, DOW, Nouryon, EmmTec, ENS CHP from Polenergia Group, Hygear, TU Delft and TU Eindhoven.

Background information on the project

Replacing the combustion chamber within an existing gas turbine is key to establishing a carbon dioxide-free energy supply based on hydrogen. The development of such technology is intended to enable fuel flexibility that ranges from using 100 percent natural gas to using 100 percent hydrogen, including any intermediate mixture of the two. The combustion chamber technology that is being developed from scratch for this purpose must be capable of handling a power output range from one to 500 megawatts. High pressure tests and advanced measurement methods will be used to validate development objectives and to evaluate risks, such as flame flashback at the transition between power stages. The first demonstration of the new technology in a real power plant is planned for as early as 2022.

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Katja Lenz

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Corporate Communications
Linder Höhe, 51147 Cologne
Tel: +49 2203 601-5401

Christian Fleing

Combustion Test
German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Institute of Propulsion Technology
Linder Höhe, 51147 Cologne

Peter Stuttaford

Chief Executive Officer
Ansaldo Thomassen BV