MAN Energy Solutions, a German manufacturer of engines, turbines and associated machinery engines and gas turbines owned by Volkswagen, has unveiled plans to invest up to €500m ($555m) to transform its H-TEC Systems subsidiary into “a mass-producer of PEM [polymer electrolyte membrane] electrolysers as quickly as possible”.

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“We are transforming H-TEC Systems into one of the world’s leading players in the field of PEM electrolysis,” said MAN Energy Solutions CEO Uwe Lauber, adding that the unit had already “mastered” the technology.

“The next step is therefore to scale and set up highly automated serial production — and we would like to make rapid progress with this.”

The company has not revealed any targets for manufacturing capacity or any other details of its plans.

It is an interesting move for Volkswagen, which tried to sell off MAN Energy Solutions in 2019, but failed to attract an acceptable offer.

VW CEO Herbert Diess is notoriously cynical about fuel-cell cars, telling the Financial Times last year: “You won’t see any hydrogen usage in cars... not even in ten years, because the physics behind it are so unreasonable.”

Vehicles using green hydrogen have an energy efficiency of just 30%, according to the European non-profit Transport & Environment — for every 100kWh of renewable energy used to produce the H2, only 30kWh is useable on the road, making it an expensive proposition. The comparable figure for battery electric vehicles is 77%.

Nevertheless, VW’s main MAN unit — which manufactures trucks, buses and vans — is still developing fuel-cell vehicles.

But vehicles do not seem to be on the minds of senior figures at MAN Energy Solutions.

“On the path toward toward achieving climate neutrality, hydrogen plays a key role for sectors such as international shipping or industrial processes in which direct electrification is not possible,” said Gunnar Kilian, the company chairman and a VW board member. “It is therefore essential for our subsidiary MAN Energy Solutions to continue to strengthen its strategic position in the future market for power-to-X technology and synthetic fuels with investment in hydrogen production.”

And the new CEO of H-TEC, Robin von Plettenberg, added: “We are increasingly expecting projects on a scale of over 100 megawatts and, in the medium term, are also predicting structural changes in the market for multi-gigawatt large-scale plants, which are used in particular to export hydrogen and supply industrial sectors worldwide.”