Given Infineon’s strong position in the electrification trend and our comprehensive system understanding, people often ask me about my view on hydrogen. A hydrogen economy is a much-discussed topic these days. Some are critical of it with an eye to the challenges in the way. Others state that climate neutrality can only be achieved with green hydrogen contributing to a lower-carbon energy mix. At Infineon, we are convinced that hydrogen will come to play an increasingly important role in the energy system in the 2020s, firstly by establishing an industry which enables a hydrogen economy and secondly by ramping the hydrogen production and use. Even if many problems are still to be solved, we see great potential in the production of hydrogen from renewable energy, as well as in its use in fuel cells and the conversion of hydrogen into synthetic fuels. We think about what is needed for a hydrogen economy and what Infineon can contribute to make it happen.
Hydrogen can accelerate decarbonization and add flexibility to the energy system
Hydrogen can be used in multiple applications across sectors, in industrial processes, as heat in residential and commercial buildings or as transport fuel for long-range and heavy-duty commercial vehicles. It can be an especially valuable solution as an energy source in areas which are otherwise difficult to decarbonize – take the energy-intensive steel, chemical and cement industries as examples. In addition, hydrogen or ammonia could become a viable storage medium for renewable energy surpluses. Electricity won from wind and sun, which cannot be put to a productive use right away, would not be lost but could be saved for later, transported and retrieved whenever needed. This could help making the energy system more flexible and reducing the dependence on conventional, base load capable power plants further.
However, in order to exploit the full potential of hydrogen, we must find solutions to the challenges of production, storage, transport and use. For green hydrogen to become cost competitive with fossil fuels, we must continue to expand renewable energy generation significantly. In addition, enormous electrolysis capacities will be needed to turn green electricity into hydrogen. However, with the great efforts currently taken to build a hydrogen economy, I am confident that we will find viable solutions soon and build an industry, which brings the world a good step closer to #netzero.
Power semiconductors enable the production of green hydrogen
Infineon can support the development of a sustainable hydrogen economy along the value chain. We are already the leading supplier of power semiconductors for renewable energy generation. In addition, our power semiconductors enable the production of green hydrogen with electrolysis. To decompose water in a sizable amount into its basic components, oxygen and hydrogen, very high direct current is needed. Our power semiconductors enable an energy efficient delivery, be it by converting alternating current supplied by the power grid into direct current, or by adjusting direct current from solar plants that are coupled with electrolysis plants. The combination of renewable energy and efficient power semiconductors is a key lever for the large-scale production of green hydrogen.
For hydrogen storage and transport, ammonia could become the vehicle of choice
Hydrogen storage can take place in a variety of ways: as pure hydrogen in compressed or liquid form or mixed with other elements in liquid fuels. Ammonia, the combination of hydrogen and nitrogen from the air, could become the hydrogen storage and transport vehicle of choice. Its volumetric energy density is higher than hydrogen’s, making onboard storage economically more feasible. Furthermore, it is easier to handle, as it requires less cooling. Today, ammonia is already widely used as feedstock in the fertilizer industry. Hence, a large-scale production infrastructure and commodity market are already in place to build on. In addition to decarbonizing the fertilizer industry, green ammonia could become an on-board hydrogen carrier for fuel cell vehicles. Maritime shipping, which accounts for a significant share of global CO2 emissions, is a use case in sight.
In transportation, hydrogen will be an important element to meet CO2 reduction targets
The development of hydrogen technology is currently most promising in the transportation sector, where it is part of the solution to reduce CO2 emissions. As the market leader in automotive semiconductors and a key enabler of electric vehicles, Infineon already supports the automotive industry on its path to zero-carbon mobility. To achieve decarbonization across different transport types, both battery electric vehicles as well as fuel cell electric vehicles will be needed. First hydrogen powered passenger trains have been sent to the tracks in Europe. We will also see hydrogen in commercial vehicles in the near future, complementing electric drives. The fuel cell drive and hydrogen will likely be the preferred option for heavier loads and longer distances, while battery-electric drives are becoming the dominant solution for light commercial and passenger vehicles. At Infineon, we are convinced that both drive types are needed to meet the fleet-wide CO2 reduction targets by 2030.
Infineon implements industry’s first electrolysis plant for on-site production of green hydrogen
Green hydrogen will also come to play in the semiconductor industry itself. In chip production, hydrogen is needed as a carrier and process gas. As demand for chips increases, so does the need for high-purity hydrogen. At our production site in Villach, Austria, we are currently building the first electrolysis plant for on-site production of green hydrogen in the semiconductor industry together with #Linde. Resource-efficient production is a key lever on the path to CO2 neutrality. Infineon has committed to reach this goal by 2030, and we are well on our way.
To conclude, I am convinced that hydrogen can play a key role in the energy mix and can become a key lever for the decarbonization of our economy. However, the rapid acceleration of renewable energy generation and massive build-up of electrolysis capacities are prerequisites – which will make or break a sustainable hydrogen economy. At Infineon, we stand ready to support this transformation.
About the Author
Reinhard Ploss has been a member of the Management Board of Infineon Technologies AG since 2007. He has been CEO since 1 October 2012 (mandated until 31 December 2022).