Düsseldorf The coal industry has been dwindling for decades and, with the officially decided exit from fossil energy generation by 2038, has now also politically adopted. The former strongholds of the coal industry have recognized this and are now looking for salvation in hydrogen.
North Rhine-Westphalia recently even presented its own “hydrogen roadmap” for this purpose. Among other things, the “Hydrogen Laboratory Ruhr” is to be built in the Ruhr area, in which the competencies of various actors are networked.
Innovative technologies in the field of electrolysis could be implemented, tested and validated here, according to the roadmap. NRW Economics Minister Andreas Pinkwart expects an economic boost for the region from the future hydrogen industry: “Up to 130,000 additional jobs can be created in North Rhine-Westphalia.”
The East German coal states of Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Brandenburg also want to become a center of the German hydrogen industry in the future. They see a clear locational advantage in their experience in the energy industry.
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For the regions, however, much depends on the success of this plan. For years, Germany’s former energy engines have been suffering from structural change. The Ruhr area in the west and Lusatia in the east of the country have long been fighting against job losses and the emigration of young people who prefer to move to Berlin, Cologne or Dortmund.
In Lusatia alone, more than 80,000 people were employed in the coal industry at the heyday, today there are only around 8,000. People went with the jobs. In 1995 1.4 million people lived between the Spree and Neisse rivers, today there are just under a million.
Of the three remaining areas, the Lausitz is the hardest to get out of. The Rhineland is prospering anyway, the Central German district has Leipzig as a powerful city.
When Siemens announced that it would build a hydrogen research center at the Görlitz site, so the relief was great. Among other things, the facility wants to work on long-term tests for hydrogen technologies and develop robust products from prototypes.
The concept is in place: the center is to go into operation as early as 2022 and will be the first plant in Lausitz to produce hydrogen on a large scale. The Fraunhofer Institute from Zittau, which also specializes in research in the field of hydrogen and fuel cells, is also involved in the project. For this, the federal government has now given 200,000 euros in funding to Zittau. Another 400,000 euros will go to the other partners in the Lausitz hydrogen network.
Ruhr area as a hydrogen region
And, according to a recent study, the Ruhr area is also very well positioned to play a leading role in developing the hydrogen economy in Germany. There are already many companies in the region with experience in this area, said Hanno Kempermann from the employer-related Institute of German Business, which carried out the study on behalf of the Ruhr Regional Association.
In addition, internationally well-networked research institutions are located in the Ruhr area. There is good cooperation between the companies and the infrastructure is already well developed. The region could thus become a “specialist for industrial applications” for hydrogen.
In fact, the Ruhr area and Lausitz already have the two longest hydrogen pipelines in all of Germany. With a total length of 240 kilometers, the hydrogen network from Castrop-Rauxel via Marl to Leverkusen is the largest hydrogen network in Germany to date. Saxony-Anhalt makes it to second place with 150 kilometers.
The regions also hope that the former open-cast lignite mines will provide huge areas for wind and solar parks. “The potential for electricity generation with renewable energies in the lignite areas of the republic is enormous,” emphasized Michael Class, board member of the wind and solar park operator Juwi, at the inauguration of a large-scale PV system project on the edge of an opencast mine in Lausitz.
For companies in the lignite regions, this offers the opportunity to continue to play an important role in the energy supply as part of the energy transition.
Experts also see great potential for the expansion of renewable energies in the areas that will soon be fallow. Green electricity for green hydrogen.
More: Out of the coal – can Lusatia still be saved?