New Zealand hydrogen R&D blossoms with German backing


Germany is extending its antipodean hydrogen focus, deepening its relationship with institutions in New Zealand through joint programs for green hydrogen research and development.

Since the initial funding call last year, the New Zealand-Germany Green Hydrogen research programme has selected three projects to each receive NZ$2 million (AU$1.8m) over three years, with the NZ Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the German Ministry of Education and Research jointly investing.

One of the projects, which will see researchers from NZ’s universities of Canterbury, Auckland and Wellington work with Germany’s Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials as well as the University of Bayreuth, is focused on developing a cost-effective and resource-savvy process for water electrolysis that uses nickel and manganese as catalyst materials.

“Currently the best electrolysers are about 75% efficient, but they cost a lot to build and use expensive noble metals [metallic elements known for their ability to control the rates of chemical reactions],” the collaborative’s project’s lead Professor Aaron Marshall, from the University of Canterbury, said.

“Anion exchange membrane electrolysers (AEM) use much cheaper and abundant materials, but their performance is currently very low. We aim to dramatically increase the efficiency of these low-cost electrolysers by developing more active catalysts.”

The German and New Zealand research partners want to develop catalysts which guarantee a rapid and reliable course of the oxygen evolution reaction during electrolysis.These catalysts will not contain rare precious metals such as iridium, but work with the more readily available nickel and manganese.

The other two projects include the development of an integrated energy system model for New Zealand that could provide sustainable transport, heating, and electricity. The project’s lead, Jannik Haas also from the University of Canterbury, says the project will provide scientific evidence to inform a comprehensive green hydrogen strategy for the country.

The final project will focus on developing safe, large scale, long term hydrogen storage using TiFe (Titanium iron) metal alloys. The project will be led by NZ’s University of Otago and Germany’s Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon.

It will see new synthetic methods developed to produce novel cubic-TiFe materials with good hydrogen uptake characteristics and cycling durability, the partners say.

Fortescue founder Andrew Forrest at the signing of one of the world’s largest hydrogen deals, between Australia and Germany, in Berlin in March.

Image: Fortescue Future Industries/Twitter

Green hydrogen, Germany and the antipodeans

After finding itself in the now highly undesirable position of being dependent on Russian gas, Germany has been making serious moves in the antipodeans regarding green hydrogen.

With a massive amount of industry and manufacturing in the country, green hydrogen appears a major focus for Europe’s largest economy.

In the last 12 months, Germany also launched its green hydrogen partnership with Australia, known as HyGATE. Australia and Germany have committed up to $50 million and €50 million, respectively, with the joint fund launching in March and seeking seeking applications from projects across the value chain of renewable hydrogen.

Also in March, Fortescue Future Industries (FFI) signed a massive deal with E.ON, one of Europe’s largest energy network operators, which will see the Australian company deliver five million tonnes of green hydrogen to Germany, the Netherlands and other European cities by 2030. 

“For us, it’s a minimum $50 billion expenditure,” Fortescue founder Andrew Forrest said at press conference in Berlin at the time.

If all goes to plan, FFI is on a path to deliver approximately one third of the calorific energy intake Germany currently imports from Russia.

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