German automotive supplier Schaeffler is currently working with partners from the Netherlands to extract hydrogen from seawater in a pilot project. With demand for car components expected to decrease as a result of the transition to electromobility, the supplier is planning to expand its activities in the field of hydrogen which, according to Schaeffler, should also be supplied to the automotive industry.
The idea of producing green hydrogen at sea, from large amounts of offshore wind energy is widespread. However, this type of hydrogen production faces the major challenge electrolyzers require ultrapure water. That means seawater must first be desalinated and then painstakingly cleaned and filtered before it can flow to the sensitive membranes, and is a process that is driving up the cost of green hydrogen.
Schaeffler has set up start-up Hydron B.V. in the Netherlands to develop polymer electrolysis membrane (PEM) systems. To clean seawater before it reaches the membranes, the engineers have implemented a solution in which waste heat from the electrolysis process can be used to distill the salt water. The consortium says it has proven the functionality of its membrane distillation technology and the system was able to generate a kilogram of hydrogen per hour, with the membrane distillation making 10kg of ultra-pure water (UPW) available for electrolysis.
“The generation of green hydrogen from wind energy is an important growth area for Schaeffler,” said Bernd Hetterscheidt, head of the hydrogen strategic business area for the company. “In cooperation with our partners in the wind power industry, we want to become one of the leading providers of system components in this area. To do this, we combine the innovative technology of Hydron with the strengths of Schaeffler, such as our system understanding and our knowhow in the rapid scaling of products and projects in order to bring them onto the market as quickly as possible.”
Looking forward, Schaeffler wants to push ahead with scaling of the filters and desalination components for use on an industrial scale. In addition, the cost and resistance of the system will have to be improved. The aim is to reduce green hydrogen production costs from the current €4-10/kg to €2. Water treatment is of key importance to reduce the price of electrolysis and significant efficiency advantages could easily be converted into cost savings. Companies from the chemical industry, such as Canada’s HPQ Silicon Resources, and rail sector businesses including Alstom have also formed consortia in a bid to be part of the race for cheap green hydrogen from seawater and wind energy.
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