Jülich is situated in the heart the largest lignite mining area in Europe. The three still active opencast mines Hambach, Garzweiler and Inden and the power plants mean thousands of jobs and secure the electricity supply for many millions of people. Because lignite-fired power generation results in the emission of climate-changing gases such as CO2, Germany is phasing out this technology to make a contribution to the fight against global warming. The Rhenish mining area must therefore reinvent itself. The HC-H2 is making a contribution to this by focusing on technologies that accelerate the structural change transition in the Rhenish mining area and the energy transition in Germany. This is another reason why the use of existing infrastructure is important. In the future, new jobs will be created here, among other things, because technologies for climate-neutral energy will be developed, demonstrated on a large scale and ultimately exported. Hydrogen is one of the major key technologies here.
What role do we play in the energy transition?
Energy transition is the term for the plan to switch from fossil and climate-damaging energy sources such as coal, oil and gas to renewable sources such as solar, wind and water energy. One of the central questions that must be solved is how to store the energy. For while coal-fired power plants, for example, are operated around the clock and can thus supply electricity 24 hours a day, the sun does not shine all day, nor does the wind always blow. That is why the surpluses that can be generated from renewable sources have to be stored. As with the sources (sun, wind, water), there is no one golden formula for storage methods. Currently, work is being done at full speed on climate-friendly batteries and heat storage systems, for example. Hydrogen will certainly be an important pillar of storage.
Researchers in Jülich are working on all components of the so-called hydrogen value chain. They are constantly working on making photovoltaic systems more efficient in order to generate more electricity from sunlight. Others are researching to make electrolysis more efficient so that more green hydrogen can be produced from solar and wind energy. Still others aim to further optimise the fuel cell so that in the future we can recover electricity from hydrogen even more efficiently during periods of low sun and low wind. The INW and the HC-H2 are situated, figuratively speaking, between the electrolyser and the fuel cell. We are working on making hydrogen available as close to everyday life as possible.
With the help of our technologies, we ensure that hydrogen can be stored and transported with as little effort as possible. INW founding director Prof. Dr. Peter Wasserscheid compares the idea to a deposit bottle. That is meant symbolically. Hydrogen is stored in the deposit bottle and then transported to the end user; for example to a hydrogen filling station for cars, lorries, buses, trains or ships. There, the deposit bottle is emptied and goes back to be reloaded. We are working on different types of this deposit bottle and want to make a contribution so that everyone can use hydrogen without having to go to disproportionate technical expense. In addition, hydrogen should be safe and easy to handle with our deposit bottle system.
Forschungszentrum Jülich, which belongs to the Helmholtz Association, is located between the still active opencast mines Hambach, Garzweiler and Inden. It is one of the world's leading centers in the fields of climate and energy research, among others. The knowledge of how the energy of the future can be produced in a climate-neutral way is available here on site. In the Rhenish mining area, the past, present and future of energy supply can all be found in one region. This is why the large-scale project Helmholtz Cluster for a Sustainable and Infrastructure-Compatible Hydrogen Economy (HC-H2) is emerging from Forschungszentrum Jülich. The people behind HC-H2 want to show how hydrogen can become a key to the climate-neutral and everyday energy supply of the future - and a new job engine for the Rhenish mining area.