"Our LOHC technology can be an important piece of the puzzle in the future renewable energy system"
Hydrogen plays a major role in the success of the energy transition. With the National Hydrogen Strategy, the Federal Government has now put the topic at the top of the agenda. As early as 2013, the industrial engineer Daniel Teichmann recognized the great potential and founded Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies GmbH together with three professors. Their goal: to develop technologies with which hydrogen can be safely stored and reliably transported. We talked to the founder about the company's beginnings, future plans and the diverse applications of hydrogen.
How did the foundation of Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies GmbH come about in 2013?
Daniel Teichmann: Basically it all started with my PhD position in the field of hydrogen storage at BMW. For this I needed a supervising doctoral supervisor at the university. I knew Peter Wasserscheid, who heads the Institute of Chemical Reaction Engineering at the Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, only briefly at the time, but I knew that he was a brilliant chemist and Leibniz Prize winner. That is why I approached him. The contact was a success from two points of view: A cooperation between BMW and the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg was established and I was able to win two great supervisors of my doctoral thesis, Peter Wasserscheid and Wolfgang Arlt. I had already worked intensively with both scientists during the course of my doctorate.
At the end of my doctorate, three points crystallized: First, the technical advances in hydrogen technology, which convinced me that I was researching a promising future technology. Secondly, following the nuclear disaster in Fukushima and the decision to phase out nuclear power in Germany, energy storage became increasingly important. And thirdly, the subject of entrepreneurship, which fascinated me even during my studies.
So I made a decision and left BMW to found Hydrogenious together with professors Wolfgang Arlt, Peter Wasserscheid and Eberhard Schlücker. Finally I became the majority shareholder and managing director of the company.
In the meantime you have been successful in the market for seven years. How has your water storage product developed over the last seven years?
Daniel Teichmann: It is true - we are no longer a young start-up. Compared to the IT sector, it is not a fast-moving world, which means it takes a lot of time and money to build the necessary infrastructure, expensive facilities and large projects.
The most difficult phase was just the beginning: how to finance the project or how to find investors? But even if you have overcome these initial hurdles, you still have to find follow-up investments, because the costs are rising and are higher than at the time of the foundation. We were able to master these challenges. This is not least due to the fact that, in my opinion, we are extremely well positioned as a team. Last July, for example, we succeeded in raising a total of 20 million euros from four investors in a major financing round, who also provide us with strategic support. These include Vopak, Covestro, Mitsubishi Corporation from Japan, the Winkelmann Group and AP Ventures. Only recently - in April 2020 - the Hyundai Motor Company, a leading global car manufacturer, invested in Hydrogenious.
In addition to corporate financing, the aim was to demonstrate the commercial feasibility of the LOHC technology. With several plants in the USA and Europe, we were able to dispel doubts about the technical implementation. Now we are about to take the exciting next step of implementing the first major industrial projects.
What are the industrial applications for hydrogen?
Daniel Teichmann: Hydrogen is an industrial gas and is used in many processes, such as glass production, metal processing, fat hardening, fertilizer production and refinery processes. We see the greatest potential for hydrogen in steel production, where massive amounts of CO2 are emitted through the use of coke. Coke can be replaced with hydrogen. Thus, the release of CO2 can be significantly reduced.
Hydrogen is also an exciting future and growth field for mobility applications, albeit with a small share so far. The use of hydrogen in the heating sector is also conceivable.
Hydrogen is therefore also an important fuel in the energy transition. Let's look 20, 30 or 40 years into the future: Is it realistic that Germany will be completely self-sufficient in renewable energy? Wind turbines and solar plants will not be enough. We will therefore continue to be dependent on imported energy in the future, just as more than 70 percent of Germany's energy needs are imported today. Furthermore, it is doubtful whether supply and demand always match locally. With hydrogen we can start exactly where other technologies reach their limits: With the use of LOHC (Liquid Organic Hydrogen Carriers) technology, we are able to transport and store renewable energies and thus tap into hydrogen sources further afield. This is relevant because the best potential for renewable energy sources is largely not available in Germany.
To what extent does your cooperation with Forschungszentrum Jülich play a role here?
Daniel Teichmann: The current core business of Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies is the development of our technology as an infrastructure solution for the supply of hydrogen via the carrier material LOHC. The carrier material is based on an oil-containing liquid and can be used relatively easily in the existing infrastructure for conventional liquid fuels. But can cars, trains, buses, etc. also be filled directly with the hydrogen-enriched oil? Forschungszentrum Jülich and in particular the Helmholtz Institute Erlangen-Nürnberg for Renewable Energy are working on the further development of LOHC technology for these on-board applications. For example, Peter Wasserscheid and his team are researching how a hydrogen train can be refuelled and operated directly with LOHC. To implement such a project, the project at the Helmholtz Institute Erlangen-Nürnberg is being funded by the Free State of Bavaria with 30 million euros. Within the next three years, a railcar for a train will be built there to demonstrate the use of LOHC.
What are your plans for 2021?
Daniel Teichmann: Many exciting projects await us in the coming year. For example, we will supply a hydrogen filling station via LOHC for the first time in early 2021. This is a unique project in Erlangen in which we want to show how we use LOHC to supply hydrogen and how we can store large quantities of hydrogen very easily in underground tanks in the LOHC. The electricity needed for the electrolysis comes from our in-house photovoltaic system. This makes this hydrogen filling station not only a demonstration object for the LOHC technology, but also for an environmentally friendly, alternative energy economy. We are very proud of this.
We know someone who owns a hydrogen car in Erlangen: Peter Wasserscheid. Are there currently more people who can benefit from the technology?
Daniel Teichmann: There are currently only about 500 hydrogen vehicles in Germany. I do not have any concrete figures for the Erlangen area. At Hydrogenious we currently have three hydrogen cars and I assume that other companies and private users own such cars. Still the Hyundai Nexo and the Toyota Mirai are exotics on German roads. So far only these two car manufacturers are using hydrogen as standard equipment, but I think this will change in the next few years. Hydrogen technology will be much more present on the roads, especially in the commercial vehicle sector, i.e. buses and trucks.
At the moment hydrogen is still more expensive than fossil fuels. How can this change?
Daniel Teichmann: To make hydrogen mobility affordable, two things have to happen: First, we need affordable vehicles with the right performance. This is a task for car manufacturers. Secondly, we need a functioning hydrogen infrastructure that provides cheap green hydrogen and delivers it to filling stations. Because hydrogen cannot be produced directly at filling stations. You need electricity for this. Hydrogen is cheap where renewable energies are available in abundance. This is usually the case directly at the producer, for example in large wind farms or solar plants. There the price for hydrogen is a few euros per kilogram.
But that still does not solve the problem of how the hydrogen gets to the filling station. With our LOHC technology we store hydrogen in a liquid carrier material and use the existing fuel infrastructure for safe transport. When I produce hydrogen in offshore wind farms in Scandinavia, I can use the existing transport routes - for example for crude oil - to transport the LOHC loaded with hydrogen. This is exactly what we are proposing: By combining cheap hydrogen production with efficient transport routes, it is possible to supply filling stations with hydrogen safely and cheaply.
What are the advantages of hydrogen cars compared to electric vehicles?
Daniel Teichmann: Hydrogen cars are emission-free, quiet and offer the same user behaviour as a petrol vehicle. You can fill the tank within 3 minutes and have a range of 500 to 700 kilometers. Battery vehicles are particularly useful for relatively short distances with many charging options. This is true for car drivers in many cases, but hardly applies to payload traffic such as trucks, buses, trains and ships. Batteries are therefore rather unsuitable for trucks, buses, trains and ships. By the way, a hydrogen car also runs on electricity; in this respect, both are electric vehicles, but the energy is provided once by the fuel cell and once by the battery.
To what extent is Asia and especially the Chinese market attractive for you?
Daniel Teichmann: China is a huge market and one of the global pacesetters in the hydrogen sector. This has not yet reached the public in Germany. China has been active in promoting hydrogen technologies for some years now and is also focusing strongly on commercial vehicles. There are many companies there that want to establish hydrogen-powered trucks and buses on the market and develop the corresponding infrastructure. So China is a "hydrogen pioneer" and offers many incentives for a young company like ours. At the same time, entering the local market is not easy. It is important to be on the spot and find the right partners. That ties up a lot of resources - you need time and a good strategy to get into conversation with possible partners and interested parties. That's why we will certainly be more active in China in the coming years.
How have you personally experienced the past seven years since the company was founded?
Daniel Teichmann: The focus and the task profile have changed a lot over time. After the foundation in 2013, the first years were a "one-man show". Basically there was only me who was operationally active. First, a business concept had to be developed, a website and the logo had to be created. After one and a half years I succeeded in raising the first financing. With this I hired the first five employees and rented premises. The foundation was there.
In the meantime, the almost 80 employees of Hydrogenious are facing completely different challenges. I have a great team at the management level that is doing a great job. As before, my founding partners are also important sources of ideas and therefore involved in strategic issues. How do we need to develop further? Which partnerships should we enter into? Where do we have to invest? A lot is also at stake in legal matters, financing and investor support and acquisition. That's the exciting thing about being a founder: I experience different phases and therefore different demands on myself.
Finally, would you like to tell us about your vision of the future?
Daniel Teichmann: My great vision is to use hydrogen to make the energy transition a success and to reduce CO2 emissions in mobility and industrial consumption to zero in the long term. I think our LOHC technology can be an important piece of the puzzle in the future renewable energy system.
Thank you very much for the interview.
The interview was conducted by Lin Wang and Christopher Kerth from the Helmholtz Association's Innovation and Transfer Division.
The Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies GmbH
In 2013, Professors Wolfgang Arlt, Peter Wasserscheid and Eberhard Schlücker (all from the Friedrich-Alexander-University Erlangen-Nürnberg) and the industrial engineer Daniel Teichmann founded Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies GmbH. The company has developed a new process for storing hydrogen in Liquid Organic Hydrogen Carriers (LOHC). With the LOHC technology, hydrogen can be stored at room temperature and under high storage densities using conventional tank technology.