Clean Energy Wire – Innovation Takes Center Stage in Berlin
By Benjamin Wehrmann, in Clean Energy Wire
April 9, 2019
Innovation to make the use of energy cleaner, more flexible and efficient is the central quest of the global energy transition. At the Berlin Start-up Energy Transition Tech Festival, the German Energy Agency (dena) promotes start-ups from around the world whose creativity could contribute to make this enterprise a success story. dena selected 15 promising energy start-ups that offer outstanding solutions to energy transition challenges out of a total of 450 applicants. Clean Energy Wire spoke to some of these finalists to ask them how they want to transform their respective industries.
German power-to-gas start-up Enapter bets on big changes with small-scale electrolysers
Hydrogen generated with renewable energy sources is seen as a key component for making clean power storable and ready to use in the heating and mobility sector. Many companies are working on concepts to get this power-to-gas technology to work at an industrial scale. German start-up Enapter says that it has already rolled out the technology in many successful use cases, arguing that its trademark AEM electrolyser is “the most cost-effective and high-performance solution” available in the sector. Company strategist Thomas Chrometzka told Clean Energy Wire what sets Enapter apart from its competitors.
What are you bringing to the market that will help to push the energy transition forward?
Thomas Chrometzka: We build electrolysers and want to make hydrogen affordable, which so far used to be an expensive product for making renewable power storable. The usual way to bring down costs is to scale up the size of projects. We, on the other hand, use a trademark technology, the Anion Exchange Membrane (AEM) Electrolyser, that turns electrolysers into a small and flexible product. Our approach is to bring down costs by providing small units in large numbers that customers can combine according to their needs.
A major hurdle to the widespread use of hydrogen generators so far have been conversion losses. Did you nd a way to solve this?
Conversion losses are only a problem if there is a limited amount of energy at your disposal. Ultimately it comes down to the product’s price and how much energy I have to invest to get a given amount of it and this very much depends on the concrete use case. If you connect an electrolyser to a solar array or a wind turbine that would otherwise have to be throttled down to avoid grid overload the efficiency factor pretty much becomes irrelevant. Our electrolyser is about as efficient as those from other providers, we produce 1 cubic metre of hydrogen with 4.8 kilowatt hours (kWh). For our customers this is efficient enough.
So is the hydrogen use case already financially viable?
That’s a tricky question that could get a very long answer. To keep it short: in some use cases it already is, for others we still need a bit.
Who are you primarily addressing with your product? Private households or commercial customers?
The beauty of our electrolyser is its flexibility. We don’t have the “ideal” customer or use case and we don’t have to specialise to fill a certain niche. We can provide our electrolysers to project developers, be it for home storage, commercial use, for cars, drones or infrastructure projects. There are many diverse cases where our product can be applied.
So what is holding your growth back? Why doesn’t everyone have an Enapter product at home?
(laughs) We’re not producing enough of them yet! No, in all seriousness, we’re investing a lot in research and development to retain our competitive edge since our competitors are certainly not sleeping. And scaling up our production is another step we are going to take soon to make sure we can meet growing demand. We currently aim to increase our production capacity fivefold by the end of the year. The next step after that would be to establish a fully automated electrolyser production, preferably in Germany, to really bring down costs.
Apart from technical challenges, are there also any regulatory hurdles that inhibit your growth prospects?
We try to focus on our own production processes and try to do our homework in terms of making production less expensive. If regulatory hurdles in Germany are a problem we can also look at other international markets. Most of our customers already come from abroad anyway. We don’t deal in complaining about the regulatory framework.