Hydrogen Economy: PEM Highlights Potential of Electrolyzer Systems


The chair "Production Engineering of E-Mobility Components" (PEM) of RWTH Aachen University has published its first guide to the production of electrolyzer systems for climate-friendly hydrogen production. The free document, which was prepared with the German Engineering Federation (VDMA) in German and English, explains in more than 20 pages the functional principle, system design, and production process of electrolyzers that convert water into hydrogen and oxygen by means of electric current.

  Graphic of PEM's new electrolyzer system production guide Copyright: © PEM RWTH Aachen University

Hydrogen market and electrolyzer capacities lacking so far

"In the transport sector, in the chemical industry and in steel production, the use of green hydrogen is being discussed, but an established hydrogen market and the necessary electrolyzer capacities do not yet exist," says PEM Director Professor Achim Kampker. According to the authors of the document, for the next few years, the construction of numerous factories for the production of electrolyzer stacks and systems is necessary. In order to achieve the climate protection targets set by the EU, electrolyzer capacities need to be expanded to at least 40,000 megawatts by 2030. By comparison, electrolyzer capacity is expected to be around a few thousand megawatts by the end of 2023. "So we need at least an eightfold increase in current global electrolyzer capacity within seven years for Europe alone," Kampker explains.

We need at least an eightfold increase in current global electrolyzer capacity within seven years for Europe alone.

In their guide, the RWTH institution and the VDMA "Fuel Cell" and "Power-to-X for Application" working groups show what the production process of so-called PEM electrolyzer systems looks like and how electrolyzer production can benefit from the more established fuel cell production. The focus is on the production processes specific to electrolyzer systems. The document also provides an overview of the different electrolyzer systems that will be available on the market in the future.

Plants for renewable energy also needed

In the mobility sector, fuel cells that convert hydrogen electrochemically into electrical energy could be used in the future, especially in commercial vehicles, which are still CO2-intensive today. "Since only water is produced in this reaction, the fuel cell as a conversion unit is a clean solution within the electric drive system," says Kampker. However, to be able to reduce transport-related CO2 emissions by "green" hydrogen, the use of electrolyzers is necessary to provide the hydrogen. In addition to mobility, the chemical industry, steel production and energy supply for buildings are considered to be important sales markets for hydrogen. What they all have in common, however, is that in addition to the necessary electrolyzer capacities, they also have to build plants for renewable energy that provide the necessary electricity for the electrolyzers. In addition, with regard to the infrastructure, the construction of networked transport lines is necessary.

Free download and further publications

The guide "Production of Electrolyzer Systems" is available for free download. Further publications on the topics of batteries, fuel cells, and electric motors can be found in the Electric Mobility Guides section.