Franz Loogen: “Potential for a leading position in the hydrogen economy”
Talking about the role of the hydrogen economy for the Baden-Württemberg: Franz Loogen, the managing director of e-mobil BW GmbH. The wholly owned subsidiary of the state of Baden-Württemberg deals with innovations and new technologies for mobility and automotive.
How great is the industrial potential of the hydrogen economy?
Hydrogen has a special significance as an energy carrier for a defossilized energy system. The demand for hydrogen technologies is growing worldwide at a rapid pace. After many years of research, a multi-billion market is just developing. In electrolysis alone, we are talking about 230 gigawatts of announced capacity worldwide for 2030 and currently have less than 1 gigawatt installed. We have built up a great deal of expertise in Baden-Württemberg. But what we have to do today is turn this knowledge and research lab results into innovations and competitive products now: We are able to meet the market demand. We can scale. This is in demand for fuel cells for heavy-duty transport, for stacks for electrolysis and in many other areas of application, such as in the chemical industry, where hydrogen is indispensable for making important processes and products climate-neutral. Hydrogen can also be combined in hydrogen derivatives, sometimes with nitrogen or sometimes with carbon and more complex chains such as synthetic fuels, which can be used in different ways. All in all, this means that when we talk about the hydrogen economy, we are talking about a relatively large and complex system area. A whole new and diverse market is developing. We are at a turning point. Which also means that the new market has not been distributed today. Here in Baden-Württemberg, with all the intelligence, with all the companies and all the research institutions that we have, we can fight today precisely to ensure that we will also take a leading position in the scaling phase.
Does this also apply to classic industrial SMEs, the production technology in the country?
When it comes to hydrogen, we always have to think in three perspectives at the same time: First, hydrogen production with distribution and infrastructure – in other words, the supply issue. Secondly, the application perspective: How can I use hydrogen in industry or mobility, for example to drive machines, if electrification is not a sensible option? And thirdly, the technology supplier perspective: For the supply as well as for the application, you need the right technology – i.e. machines – with which you can generate a benefit. This is precisely the opportunity for manufacturers, the opportunity for SMEs, which have a strong presence in Baden-Württemberg. If you have expertise in plastic injection molding and manufacture, for example, peripherals for lines or come from die casting and manufacture turbocharger housings, then you can transfer this know-how and also manufacture fan housings that are needed in fuel cell systems. And in this developing market, there are opportunities today, especially for SMEs, to become stable suppliers, here in Europe, but also on the world market.
How do you motivate and support companies to seize these opportunities?
For us, it is very important that we do this concretely. In our Transformation Knowledge BW activity, we talk very precisely and very specifically with SMEs about their production technologies and how they can use them for electrolysis, fuel cells or pipeline systems. The point is that everyone analyzes for themselves where the individual opportunities for a transfer lie. To this end, we provide support in the form of a knowledge database, training courses, and also by bringing companies together to discuss how they can build things together. In the Fuel Cell BW cluster, we have 240 companies and research institutions that are engaged in knowledge transfer on the one hand, but are also building value chains on the other. The value chains of the new technologies are not yet closed. Companies need to think about where they stand. For that, we need system integrators. For that, we need research. For that, we need large companies. For that, we need the many medium-sized companies with the individual production technologies. And of course we also see young companies – sometimes spin-offs from universities or research institutes. The state’s hydrogen roadmap relies on this networking. e-mobil BW coordinates the H2BW platform in addition to the BW fuel cell cluster, where all these players work together to achieve the core goal: Baden-Württemberg wants to be climate-neutral in 2040 and say goodbye to fossil fuels.
How attractive is this mix in Baden-Württemberg for international investors?
Today, locations around the world are facing very intense competition. One of our strengths is that we are able to build relatively long and very stable value chains in the new technologies. But we also have to look at the weaknesses we need to work on. In particular, there is the shortage of skilled workers: We have far too few young people entering STEM fields of study today. We also simply have too few people on the labor market who are specifically trained for the new technologies. In addition, many skilled workers will leave the labor market in the next five to eight years. Companies need creative minds with whom we can design the new things. Complaining never helps. Instead, we need to roll up our sleeves and unleash the many creative minds with their ideas here and get young people excited about these technologies and these fields of study.
What can an event like hy-fcell do for the industrial policy goals of e-mobil BW, also in an international context?
Only in cooperation with good and strong international partners can an internationally oriented location here become successful in the new technologies. For us, hy-fcell is one of the most important events in the annual cycle, where people meet who are very specifically involved with fuel cell technology and hydrogen technologies. In the early days, research and the acquisition of scientific knowledge took up most of the space at f-cell. And that has changed significantly. This will probably be seen even more strongly at hy-fcell 2023 in the years to come: People are looking for international partners with whom to cooperate, to close value chains. The aim is to build up a whole new branch of industry from knowledge. The new prefix, hy-fcell, expresses this very well. We have developed further in terms of content and orientation. Our hope is that many partners will come from all over the world, who will perceive and use hy-fcell as a leading event.