Fuel Cell; Source: FuelCell Energy Solutions GmbH

© FuelCell Energy Solutions GmbH

Present situation in energy terms

In Germany's energy supply system, it is necessary to make increasing use of the possibility to combine the generation of electricity with the use of the heat which is generally produced at the same time (cogeneration of heat and power) in order to reduce primary energy consumption as stipulated in the Energy Concept. The high levels of electrical efficiency and the high CHP coefficients argue in favour of using fuel cells rather than other technologies. The fuel cell has been under development for many years in Germany, both for the distributed generation of power and heat and as a source of power for vehicles in mobile applications. In comparison with thermal processes, the fuel cell is characterised by a generally higher efficiency rating. One particular advantage is the fact that efficiency remains high both at partial load and in small units.

Stationary fuel cells are mainly used for the cogeneration of heat (and cooling) and power, and are now undergoing field tests as home energy units with a capacity of approx. 1 kWel and for industrial applications in a class of several hundred kW. A broad range of primary energy sources (natural gas, biogas, sewage gas, etc.) are being used as fuel. In vehicle-based mobile applications, the electrical drive is supplied with electricity by a fuel cell with hydrogen as a secondary energy source. Here, the fuel cell drive offers the advantage of reducing the high dependency of mobility on oil, since hydrogen can be obtained from a large number of primary energy sources.

The measures funded in the past have enabled German research establishments and industrial companies to attain a leading international position in fuel cell and hydrogen technology. If we are to maintain and build on this position, further intensive research and development will be required in the future.

Technology development and the funding structure

The funding from the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy for research and development in the field of fuel cell and hydrogen technologies is tied into the “National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology Innovation Programme” (NIP), which was launched in 2006. The programme is being continued as the government’s NIP2 programme in the 2016-2025 period. The Federal Government’s NIP2 programme builds on the maturity of technology and market availability attained in the first generation of equipment. In view of the forthcoming market launch phase, the aim is to ensure that the national activities of science, industry and government continue to take place under a common programmatic umbrella. The intention is to continue developing the innovations in hydrogen and fuel cell technologies which are not yet ready for market, to build up the appropriate infrastructure and to use appropriate instruments and measures to support the placing on the market of technologies which are on the cusp of a market launch.

The Economic Affairs Ministry supports these goals not least via the Energy Research Programme, funding research and development as a basis for future applications in the fields of transport, hydrogen production, residential energy supply, industrial applications, special markets for fuel cells, and horizontal issues.