What are our objectives?

The Helmholtz Cluster for a Sustainable and Infrastructure-Compatible Hydrogen Economy (HC-H2) has two major objectives: Firstly, we aim to make a contribution in the fight against climate change. We want to show just how important hydrogen can be in everyday use as a carbon-neutral energy carrier so that the world can stop burning fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas.

Secondly, we want to be an important part of the solution for structural change in the Rhenish mining area. Structural change is already underway, as companies in the region have started reducing their generation of electricity from lignite. This means that jobs in the lignite industry will start to disappear. New jobs must therefore be created. Such jobs are now being established in cooperation with our partners in business, industry, and science, including in our cluster in the Rhenish mining area.

There’s still a way to go to reach our goals. Today, hydrogen is typically supplied in one of two states: either as a gas compressed at high pressure (up to 700 bar) or as a cryogenic liquid (approx. -250 degrees Celsius). This is where the Helmholtz Cluster for a Sustainable and Infrastructure-Compatible Hydrogen Economy (HC-H2) comes in. The aim in Jülich and the Rhenish mining area is to conduct basic research in order to demonstrate storage methods to the world that will help make hydrogen an everyday energy carrier or fuel that can be made available without the need for high pressure or very low temperatures.

HC-H2 is therefore planning demonstration projects which show that the research results work in practice and on a large scale. The basic research is conducted by the Institute for a Sustainable Hydrogen Economy (INW) at Forschungszentrum Jülich. A hydrogen demonstration region is being created around INW in collaboration with partners in business, industry, and research. It is important that existing infrastructure such as pipelines, filling stations, and tanks continue to be used.

By focusing on the topic of infrastructure compatibility, we are aiming to speed up implementation. In most cases, the creation of new infrastructure is more time-consuming that the development of the technology itself. If, with our new technologies, we succeed in being able to handle green hydrogen in existing gas pipelines, but especially in existing infrastructure for liquid energy carriers (e.g. tankers, tank trucks, tank farms), where we no longer want to have any fossil mineral oil products in future, then we can significantly accelerate the energy transition not only here in North Rhine-Westphalia, but also in Europe and throughout the world.

Where are new jobs being created?

Alongside climate protection, the central issue at INW and at HC-H2 is to create jobs with a technology of the future. On the one hand, jobs are being created as INW grows. We hope that this and the success of the demonstration projects, which are being set up and run in collaboration with our partners in the HC-H2 cluster, will have a positive knock-on effect, leading to the establishment of new enterprises or growth at our partner companies. It is clear that alongside academics, qualified skilled workers must play an important role in HC-H2 in the long term.

If we want technologies to reach market maturity, we must successfully set up and operate the demonstration facilities so that they can then be exported. This is something that will not only be achieved by us, but also companies that we would ideally like to already have on board as project partners. In short, we are creating new jobs with hydrogen, a carbon-neutral and decentralized energy carrier, where jobs are being lost due to the phasing out of lignite.

When do we aim to achieve our objectives?

Almost 60 employees work at Forschungszentrum Jülich’s Institute for a Sustainable Hydrogen Economy (INW), and the institute is set to grow significantly in the next few years. Andreas Peschel and Regina Palkovits have been appointed heads of two of the four future INW subinstitutes for basic research. At the end of 2023, INW had three subinstitutes, each headed by a director. By spring 2024, a director for the fourth subsinstitute will have been appointed.

In autumn 2023, construction of a technical centre was completed. Interior work will continue until spring 2024. Scientific work will then commence in the technical centre. By the end of the decade, HC-H2 will have grown into a campus landscape with a new research building at its centre.

Alongside the four subinstitutes for basic research, there will be a division for the demonstration region, in which innovative hydrogen technologies will be developed and demonstrated as quickly as possible in the Rhenish mining area. A first major demonstration project has already been launched in the form of the Multi-SOFC Erkelenz project. In 2024, additional major projects will be started in the Rhenish mining area.

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