Germany: Sustainable Energy Supply University of Bayreuth Develops Low-Cost Electrolyzers for Green Hydrogen

Editor: Ahlam Rais

The University of Bayreuth under its H₂ Giga project focuses on the research, development, and industrial production of high-performance, low-cost electrolyzers to meet Germany's demand for green hydrogen. One of the seven H₂ Giga projects called ‘HTs: HTEL Stacks – Ready for Gigawatt’ has received funding of more than 11,00,000 dollars. Chair of Ceramic Materials Engineering at the University of Bayreuth is responsible for this collaborative project.

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Joint research on high-temperature electrolysis at the Ceramic Materials Engineering research group: Prof. Dr. Stefan Schafföner; Ilaria Bombarda M.Sc.; Dr. Carolin Sitzmann; and Dr. rer. nat. Nico Langhof (from left to right).
Joint research on high-temperature electrolysis at the Ceramic Materials Engineering research group: Prof. Dr. Stefan Schafföner; Ilaria Bombarda M.Sc.; Dr. Carolin Sitzmann; and Dr. rer. nat. Nico Langhof (from left to right).
(Source: UBT / Christian Wißler)

Green hydrogen stores large amounts of sustainably produced energy and can be transported over long distances. Thus, it will be of central importance to our future energy supply. It is already foreseeable that the future demand in Germany alone will amount to several hundred million tons annually. To meet this demand, efficient, robust, and cost-effective electrolyzers are needed to split water molecules using electrical energy from sustainable sources to produce hydrogen. The electrolyzers have to be mass-produced on an industrial scale and be able to meet the European Union's hydrogen strategy target of 40 gigawatts of electrolysis capacity by 2030.

High-temperature electrolysis (HTEL) has proven to be a particularly promising technology for the production of green hydrogen. HTEL cells connected in series, known as HTEL stacks, serve as electrolyzers. However, in order for the energy industry to have access to large-scale HTEL cells and stacks in the near future, considerable measures in research and development efforts are still necessary. These efforts encompass service life, material costs, efficiency, new technologies for stack manufacturing, as well as their use for hydrogen production in the high quantities required.

This is precisely where the H₂ Giga project ‘HTs: HTEL Stacks – Ready for Gigawatt’ comes in. The Chair of Ceramic Materials Engineering at the University of Bayreuth is responsible for decisive research and development in this collaborative project. Both new electrolyzer cells and those already in operation are to be investigated for their microstructure and thermomechanical properties. It is particularly important that the strength of the cells is maintained at high temperatures of up to 850 degrees Celsius. Only when the relationships between the microstructure and thermomechanical properties are scientifically understood will it be possible to predict ageing processes in the cells and to develop strategies for greater longevity.

"With the special competencies and many years of research experience we have gained in earlier projects on fuel cells and the characterization of very thin ceramic films, we will be able to make important contributions to a sustainable energy supply based on hydrogen," says Prof. Dr.-Ing. Stefan Schafföner, Chair of Ceramic Materials Engineering. The research work of his team will be funded retroactively from May 1, 2021 until March 31, 2025.

The upcoming work in Bayreuth will use experimental research methods such as light and scanning electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction, and non-destructive pulse excitation technology. Mechanical parameters on the ceramic thin films will be determined at up to 850 degrees Celsius by ring-on-ring tests and tensile tests using a laser extensometer. The research group's new, unique high-temperature universal testing machine, which was funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the TechnologieAllianzOberfranken at the end of 2020, will be used for this purpose.

In addition to the experimental work, simulations will be conducted using the finite element method to analyze the service life of HTEL cells. Particularly regarding the industrial implementation of the HTEL stacks, the Chair of Ceramic Materials will collaborate with numerous partners from academia and industry in the joint project ‘HTs: HTEL Stacks - Ready for Gigawatt’. The overall organizational management of the collaborative project is in the hands of Sunfire in Dresden.

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