The hydrogen factory of the future


Hydrogen is indispensable to successfully transitioning to renewables and meeting climate targets. It is the essential building block of sector coupling. While it provides an eco-friendly option to meet industry demand for electricity, heat and transportation, this versatile energy source is only eco-friendly when it is sourced from renewables. The Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF has a demand-driven, distributed, modular solution that produces and distributes green hydrogen.

The only way to contain global warming is to slash greenhouse gas emissions on a global scale. Power-to-X technologies are considered a promising means to this end: Electricity sourced from renewables is converted into hydrogen to power fuel cell vehicles, for instance. Researchers at the Fraunhofer IFF in Magdeburg are taking this a step further. They are establishing a design for the distributed and modular production and distribution of green hydrogen for industry, business and transportation throughout the value chain with their hydrogen factory of the future. 

Coupling hydrogen production into a biogas plant

The research scientists are developing modularly expandable subcomponents that can be interconnected and integrated in business and industrial parks, which will enable them to implement their hydrogen factory design. Electrochemical or biochemical processes are used to produce hydrogen, depending on the conditions at the site. “It is not possible to build wind and PV plants everywhere. We are opting for site-specific solutions and using biogas plants for production where possible. Plans for a pilot plant near Gommern in Saxony-Anhalt are on the drawing board. The outcome is always green hydrogen,” the engineer Birth explains. The Fraunhofer IFF is working together with MicroPro GmbH and Streicher Anlagenbau GmbH & Co. KG in the HyPerFerMent I project to produce renewable hydrogen from biomass. They are employing a special microbial fermentation process similar to biogas production to produce hydrogen directly from organic waste. The metabolites of certain bacteria produce a gas mixture containing CO2 and fifty percent H2, which can be easily purified by subsequently separating the CO2. “Fermentative production of green hydrogen will play a major role in distributed production of this energy carrier in the future,” says Birth.