Georg Brunauer/FH Salzburg, Dominik Engel/FH Salzburg, Walter Haas/Innovation Salzburg, Stefan Kerth/Landrat Vorpommern-Rügen, Andrea Klambauer/Regional Minister, Jens Olaf Stein/Robert Bosch AG and Roland Wernik/Salzburg Wohnbau, Photo: Innovation Salzburg/Benedikt Schemmer

20. March 2023

Hydrogen: This is how we achieve the green transformation

Hydrogen as an energy carrier has great potential. Read an overview of applications and research projects in Salzburg and what hurdles experts still need to overcome for a green transformation.

Hydrogen is considered a promising building block in the energy transition. Possible applications are being intensively researched both internationally and in Salzburg. At the workshop “Innovation meets Smart Energy: Gamechanger Hydrogen” at the salz21 Innovation Festival, researchers, representatives from politics and municipalities, as well as users from the business sector presented and discussed where Austria’s and especially Salzburg’s hydrogen research stands, where there are international flagship projects, and what hurdles still need to be overcome for a market-ready and competitive hydrogen technology.

Mecklenburg-Vorpommern as a green showcase region

The good news first – the potential of hydrogen as an energy carrier is enormous. The technology is becoming more and more advanced, as many research projects and applications show. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern is an international showcase region. The starting conditions are ideal: the German federal state has a large area and low population density – this offers plenty of space for large wind and solar installations from which hydrogen can be produced. Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, as a flat coastal region, is also strongly affected by climate change. For 25 years, the federal state, especially the University of Stralsund, has been researching the use of hydrogen. The vision is to supply the region as a whole with hydrogen as an energy carrier, such as in public transport or in the heating supply of buildings. Strong networks have been formed in recent years, and now it’s time for implementation.

Where hydrogen is used

Hydrogen drives have potential, for example in transport, especially in bus, heavy-duty, and long-distance transport. The Salzburg AG, together with project partners as part of the ZEMoS project (Zero Emissions Mobility Salzburg), is putting both battery-powered and fuel cell-powered vehicles on the road. A field trial is being carried out over several years in two model regions, one near a city and the other in an alpine region in Pinzgau. Green hydrogen will be produced from an electrolysis plant from 2025. The Salzburg AG will also operate its own filling stations.

The whole variety of technology that hydrogen offers is needed for rapid CO2 reduction. An example from Robert Bosch AG, which manufactures injection systems for large engines, shows this. These are used, for example, in power plants and ships but have different requirements for the energy carrier or energy storage. The availability of energy plays a significant role here. A stationary power plant can be operated with a large hydrogen storage or a pipeline. For a ship, which has to store energy on board, e-methanol produced from hydrogen is much better suited.

FH Salzburg: Intelligently Connecting Energy Systems

However, hydrogen alone is not the solution for a climate-neutral future. The FH Salzburg is investigating how all energy systems, such as solar power, wind energy, and hydrogen, can be intelligently interconnected in the H2 DemoLAB. Until now, only individual autonomous energy systems have been used in many cases. Especially in the case of photovoltaics and wind, which are very dependent on the season and weather conditions, and therefore often do not match the energy supply and demand, hydrogen is suitable for long-term storage. To enable continuous power supply for various energy uses such as building heating, mobility, and industry, all energy systems must be intelligently interconnected.

Challenges That Need to be Addressed

So, there is still a lot of research to be done before hydrogen can be competitively used. Georg Kerbl of Salzburg AG says: “New technologies are very expensive at the beginning. Therefore, we are heavily dependent on funding agencies. We hope to receive support from the political side so that we can have a functioning hydrogen economy. Currently, we are already waiting for months for certain funding calls that support the expansion of hydrogen technology.”

In addition to funding, simpler approval procedures must also be established. Currently, it takes a long time for research and pilot projects to be approved or they are not allowed at all. One reason for this is a lack of expertise among experts who are not yet familiar with hydrogen technology. Clear guidelines for both authorities and companies would simplify and speed up procedures.

The Hydrogen Strategy Paves the Way

The federal government’s developed hydrogen strategy for Austria is intended to remove obstacles. The strategy is the guideline for the use of hydrogen in sectors such as energy-intensive industry, as an energy storage system, or in areas of mobility that are difficult to electrify. Measures include funding programs for research, industry, and mobility, and the expansion of infrastructure for the production and distribution of hydrogen. International cooperations secure future imports. The establishment of a national hydrogen platform also ensures continuous dialogue and exchange of information among all stakeholders.

This Is How We Achieve the Green Transformation

The workshop’s conclusion is that hydrogen technology is already well advanced – everything we need for a transformation is there. However, for this transformation to be green, market-ready, and economically viable, it requires all actors. Politics, business, and research must pull together. There is a need to catch up in the approval processes for hydrogen projects. The longer the approval processes take, the slower the green transformation is implemented.

Awareness building and the establishment and transfer of know-how are also of central importance. Clusters and networks help create an environment that encourages companies and regions to experiment with new technologies. “Hydrogen is currently the champagne among energy carriers. But it has to become sparkling wine or beer so that everyone can afford the technology. Then we can pop the corks too,” says Georg Brunauer of FH Salzburg.

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