Interview with Jill Thesen (BDI) and Christoph Stemmler (acatech)

„HySupply – Construction drawing for a German-Australian hydrogen bridge“

interview | 23.04.2021

We are hearing and reading more and more about hydrogen as the energy carrier of the future: Viessmann, for example, wants to use it to make heating systems more climate-friendly, and the Next Mobility Accelerator Consortium wants to make trucks more climate-friendly. But how can the demand for hydrogen be met and how can sustainable business models based on it be developed?

As part of the "HySupply" project, acatech – the German Academy of Science and Engineering – and BDI, the Federation of German Industries, are sounding out hydrogen cooperation opportunities between Germany and Australia together with an Australian consortium. Jill Thesen, project officer at BDI, and Christoph Stemmler, scientific officer at acatech, are coordinating the project on the German side – from Maschinenraum. 

We talked to them about the "HySupply" project, thinking outside the box and the topic of hydrogen.

Jill, Christoph - why do we need Australian hydrogen?

Jill: The energy transition in Germany has so far focused mainly on electricity from renewable sources. However, electricity is only a small part of the energy system. More than 80 percent of our energy still comes from fossil sources, especially in the areas of industry, transport and buildings. Hydrogen from the electrolysis of water powered by renewable electricity can help to defossilise these areas as well.

Christoph: But this will hardly succeed without imports. The main reason for this is that in Germany we are not yet far enough along in the expansion of wind and solar plants to produce the required amounts of renewable electricity. That's why a sun- and wind-rich country like Australia is a good cooperation partner to produce hydrogen in large quantities much more cheaply and deliver it to Europe and Germany.

What role does the "HySupply" project play in this?

Christoph: With the "HySupply" project, we want to investigate together with Australian partners what a value chain for renewable hydrogen between the two countries could look like. From production in Australia to ship transport to distribution and use in Europe and Germany. Our goal is to provide the blueprint for a hydrogen bridge between the two countries. In doing so, we want to help pave the way for a global hydrogen market.

Jill: We can't say at the moment what this hydrogen bridge will look like. In any case, it is important for German industry that sufficient quantities of climate-neutral hydrogen are available promptly at competitive prices. Only in this way can the economy become climate-neutral without losing important value chains in industry. At the same time, such a bridge offers companies great potential for exporting German hydrogen technologies.

How did you both come to the topic and the project?

Jill: I studied Environmental Planning at the TU Berlin and joined BDI in 2019 through my Master's thesis on the credibility of Australia's energy policy and through my student project assistance at adelphi on the topic of hydrogen. Australia was one of the countries that acatech and BDI studied in the previous project "Pathways to the Energy Future". 

Christoph:  I started at acatech in 2017 as a working student and have since been working there in various positions and areas, especially for the topics of mobility and energy. Together with Jill, I also worked on the predecessor project, so I'm happy that we got such a great project off the ground. I studied Environmental Policy and Planning at the TU and FU Berlin.

Thematically, you fit just as well into the Maschinenraum, which is a shared innovation ecosystem that aims to bring together different organizations from science and industry. What do you appreciate about this environment?

Christoph: First of all, it was important for us to have short and quick routes so that we can work closely and efficiently together as a project team. Although Corona makes things a little more difficult, the hygiene concept of Maschinenraum means that we can still use the rooms well if necessary.

Jill: It is also important for us to think outside the box: it is enriching to simply talk to experts from other fields and thus get a completely different view of our topic. The open and transparent concept of Maschinenraum makes it easier to start a conversation.

How do other members respond to your work?

Christoph: We notice in the conversations that by now almost everyone has heard something about hydrogen. Unfortunately, we can't predict which hydrogen stocks you should invest in - sorry! (laughs). In addition to the growing interest in topics around the energy transition, we also notice that there is still a lot of need for explanation around the importance of global hydrogen partnerships. Of course, this motivates us to push the issue even further.

Finally, the question: What is the best thing about the Maschinenraum?

Jill: In addition to the networking opportunities, the modern architecture and open design make Maschinenraum a perfect meeting place, whether for working, for events or for an after-work beer.

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