Research actively supports the positive developments in the Danish hydrogen market

At DTU Energy, Department of Energy Conversion and Storage, a staff of a total of 220 people researches and teaches, among other things, hydrogen, fuel cells and electrolysis processes for use in the moblity sector and industrial processes. DTU often seeks collaboration with industry in the projects the university participates in, as the research results in this way benefit the industry.

DTU Energy is divided into sections that both work independently with projects, and collaborate across the board in the so-called technology tracks, where the sections benefit from each other’s expertise and can participate in larger projects.

DTU Energy works for developing as well as improving fuel cells and electrolysis cells. Fuel cells convert hydrogen into electricity, and electrolytic cells convert electricity into hydrogen. Both types of cells are available in high- and low-temperature variants, and even as ‘hybrid’, where DTU e.g. researches how low-temperature fuel cells can perform at higher temperatures.

In the vast majority of their projects, DTU Energy seeks collaboration with Danish hydrogen companies, and offers continuing education courses in the field to companies and other interested parties. The research contributes to the development of products that consist of both robust but affordable materials, with high performance and long service life. Thus, DTU actively supports the positive developments in the Danish Hydrogen Market.

Member portrait

This article is part of Hydrogen Denmark’s series of member portraits. Here we highligt the members’ work with hydrogen and Power-to-X technologies for the benefit of both climate, employment, and Danish export.

High-temperature fuel cells

Professor Anke Hagen works in the solid state chemistry section. She works with high-temperature fuel cells, also known as solid oxide fuel cells (SOFCs), which convert hydrogen to electricity at temperatures between 550-1000 degrees Celcius. The high temperature ensures efficient conversion with relatively little energy loss. SOFCs can e.g. be used in generators or on ships.

In her role as coordinator, Anke Hagen keeps track of the many projects across the sections, and makes sure to map trends on European calls for projects, so that the department can seek relevant funding and relevant collaborations across industries and national borders.

The actual work with fuel cells is very broad, says Anke Hagen: “We start with material research, developing new electrode materials that we can implement in individual fuel cells and possibly also in stacks. At the same time, we look at the microstructure, the composition of the materials, and make guidelines for improving the processes.”

High-temperature PEM fuel cell Source: DTU

Solid oxide electrolysis cells Source: DTU

Polymer fuel cells and alkaline electrolysis cells

Jens Oluf Jensen, professor in the sector of electrochemistry, confirms that DTU works broadly: “We work both theoretically and practically, from basic research to widely used forms of research.” At present, Jens Oluf Jensen works with fuel cells as well as alkaline electrolysis cells. Polymer fuels cells (PEMFC) are low temperature fuel cells and are used in e.g. hydrogen cars.

Source: DTU

Jens Oluf Jensen: ”Polymer fuel cells usually work at temperatures around and below 100 degrees Celcius, but we work on a high-temperature polymer fuel cell, which works at around 160 degrees Celcius. This is the technology the companies Serenergy and Blue World Technologies are based on.

Jens Oluf Jensen works with colleague Qingfeng Li, also a professor in the electrochemistry section, who adds: “We work with the development of new materials for, for example, the catalysts and membranes that go into the fuel cell, so we can constantly optimize the performance of the fuel cell.”

Another and rapidly growing area of research at DTU Energy is alkaline electrolysis cells. The goal is to upgrade from yesterday’s traditional cell stacks to a high-performance technology, without the use of rare strategic materials such as precious metals and with unlimited potential for clarification and cost-effectiveness. This is done in close collaboration with the industry.

New momentum

Both Jens Oluf Jensen and Qingfeng Li also teach the students at DTU, for example in the theoretical course Hydrogen, Energy and Fuel Cells.

Qingfeng Li: ”When we started our course 15 years ago, we had maybe 8-10 participants. This year we almost have 100 participants. It has become a very popular course.”

”With the current accelerated development in the hydrogen and fuel cell industrial sectors, the demand to educating professionals and graduates is increasing. We offer tailored, flexible courses in areas of our research, for example Introduction to fuel cells & electrolysis and Power to X,” adds Anke Hagen.

For the benefit of the industry

The other sections of DTU Energy have also noticed the momentum that has arisen around hydrogen and fuel cell technologies. Therefore, it is even more important that before for DTU that projects have an anchor in the indstry, because the research greatly helps the industry forward.

Video: DTU

Henrik Lund Fransen, senior researcher in the section of continuum modelling and testing, says: ”Many companies will have to scale up their production equipment in the coming years if they are to keep up with their order book. One can imagine that there was a lot of research that had to support a positive upscaling process.”

As an example, Henrik Lund Frandsen mentions that DTU can optimize the various process steps and materials to ensure a high yield, so that the technology is as cheap as possible: “When we talk about high-temperature electrolysis cells, we look at e.g. on how we can make the cell as robust as possible so that we can extend its life span. Besides that, we can make sure that we make them from the cheapest possible materials. That will benefit the market.”

The high-temperature electrolysis technology is the most efficient and by upscaling it, a lot of money can be saved on the expansion of power grids, windmills and solar cells.

All four colleagues agree that a lot has happened in the last 10-15 years in area of hydrogen and fuel cells, however none of them have finished their research. Henrik Lund Frandsen: ”Even though we have come a long way, we are not done at all. There are yet many handles to turn on!”