Rolls getting into hydrogen production market

By Jack Burke28 June 2022

Hoeller’s technology will be used in new range of mtu electrolyzer products

Rolls-Royce is acquiring a 54% majority stake in electrolysis stack specialist Hoeller Electrolyzer as its entry into the hydrogen production market.

Hoeller Electrolyzer, based in Wismar, Germany, is an early-stage technology company that is developing highly efficient polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) stacks, under the brand name Prometheus, for the cost-effective production of hydrogen. The technology will form the basis of a new range of mtu electrolyzer products from its Power Systems division.

Hydrogen is an increasingly attractive power source to fuel the green energy transition and demand for ‘green’ hydrogen – whose production creates no CO2 – is expected to rise significantly. It is needed for fuel cells and hydrogen engines, for the production of synthetic ‘drop-in’ fuels and for industrial processes that currently use hydrogen that is not created in a carbon-neutral process. Consequently, high-performance electrolyzers are a key component of any hydrogen system.

Rolls-Royce’s first mtu electrolyzer will go into demonstrator operation in 2023. The core element is the electrolysis stack from Hoeller Electrolyzer, in which Rolls-Royce has a 54% stake. (Image: Rolls-Royce)

“By developing our own mtu electrolyzers and by taking a majority stake in Hoeller Electrolyzers, we are methodically growing our hydrogen portfolio and securing access to this fascinating technology, which is not a pipe dream but has great market potential,” said Dr. Otto Preiss, COO and Chief Technology Officer, Rolls-Royce Power Systems. “This will enable us to supply complete hydrogen solutions and make a significant contribution to protecting the climate. Our complete hydrogen solutions will enable customers to store renewably produced energy in the form of hydrogen for use as and when required, or for further processing or onward sale.”

In hydrogen electrolysis, water is subjected to DC electrical current, producing hydrogen at the negative pole and oxygen at the positive pole. In this way, it is possible to produce carbon-neutral hydrogen by using electricity from renewable sources such as solar or wind. The electrochemical reaction takes place in a cell between plate-shaped electrodes separated by membranes. Hundreds of cells located one above the other and pressed together form a ‘stack’, the heart of an electrolyzer.

Founded in 2016, Hoeller Electrolyzer has positioned itself, with Prometheus, as one of the few highly specialized expert players in the field of high-efficiency PEM electrolysis stacks. Its founder, Stefan Höller, has more than a quarter of a century’s experience of developing electrolysis technology and has already registered 14 patents connected with Prometheus. Particularly high efficiency is promised by special surface technologies for the bipolar plates which significantly reduce the use of expensive precious metals platinum and iridium as catalysts, as well as increased output pressure.

“Our stack is going to produce hydrogen at a price not previously thought possible,” said Stefan Höller, Managing director, Hoeller Electrolyzer.

Rolls-Royce and Hoeller Electrolyzer said they have a shared belief in the opportunity of zero-carbon energy – both for power supply and the propulsion of heavy vehicles. With decades of experience and systems expertise, Rolls-Royce is going to develop a complete electrolyzer system and has a global sales and service network, which opens up the potential for significant worldwide sales.

“In Rolls-Royce, not only have we found an important customer for our stacks, we’ve also secured an ideal partner and supporter who shares our vision of putting stacks into full production,” said Matthias Kramer, CFO and joint managing director, Hoeller Electrolyzer.

Development work on the first mtu electrolyzer using a stack from Hoeller Electrolyzer is already underway. In 2023, it will go into operation at the Validation Center in Friedrichshafen to demonstrate how an electrolyzer fits into the overall architecture of a microgrid. An initial customer project is already planned for 2024.

“We’re going to launch electrolyzers with several MW of power right from the start,” said Armin Fürderer, who heads up the Net Zero Solutions business unit of Power Systems. “A total output of over 100 MW is conceivable by combining several electrolyzers.”

The equity in Hoeller Electrolyzer now held by Rolls-Royce comes from departing minority shareholders and from an increase in share capital. Financial details of the transaction are not being disclosed. Stefan Höller and Matthias Kramer will continue to lead Hoeller Electrolyzer as a standalone company, with the goal of building a leading international stack manufacturer.

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