Industrial gas giant Linde will build and operate what it claims will be the “world’s largest PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) electrolyser” plant to produce green hydrogen once it is operational at the Leuna chemical complex in Germany.

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The 24MW electrolyser will produce green hydrogen to supply Linde's industrial customers through the company's existing pipeline network. In addition, Linde will distribute liquefied green hydrogen to refuelling stations and other industrial customers in the region.

"Clean hydrogen is a cornerstone of the German and EU strategies to address the challenge of climate change. It is part of the solution to help reduce carbon dioxide emissions across many industries, including chemicals and refining," said Jens Waldeck, President Region Europe West at Linde.

"This project shows that electrolyser capacity continues to scale up and it is a stepping stone towards even larger plants."

Production start next year

The world’s largest electrolyser in operation today is a 10MW unit in Japan that is linked to a 20MW solar array near Fukushima.

Earlier today, French oil major Total and utility Engie announced plans for 40MW of electrolyser capacity linked to solar power at a refinery in southern France. That plant is slated to be operational in 2024.

The green hydrogen to be produced at Leuna could fuel about six hundred fuel cell buses, driving 40m kilometres and saving up to 40,000 tons of carbon dioxide tailpipe emissions per year.

The electrolyser will be built by ITM Linde Electrolysis, a joint venture between Linde and ITM Power, using high-efficiency PEM technology. The plant is due to start production in the second half of 2022.

Plant in wind power hotspot

The facility will initially be fuelled with certified renewable energy, but will ultimately be powered by a new local renewable power station, a Linde press official told Recharge. The Leuna chemicals complex is located in the German State of Saxony-Anhalt, which is one of the country’s wind power hotspots.

PEM electrolysers currently are seen as the most cost-efficient way to produce green hydrogen from renewable power as they are able to withstand the intermittency of renewable generation.

Another method, solid oxide electrolysis (SOE) uses high-temperature heat to increase the efficiency of hydrogen production, but the process still is rather expensive as it needs more electricity.

To date, SOE electrolysers have only been deployed in pilot projects. French utility Engie and partners early last year announced they will build a first commercial-scale SOE electrolyser in the Netherlands with a capacity of 2.6.MW.

A third method is alkaline electrolysis, which exists since the 1920s, but is more efficient if powered by baseload sources of electricity – which is not the case for wind or solar power.