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Green hydrogen developers sign electrolyzer contracts

Multiple deals underscore the importance of the equipment to making low-carbon hydrogen and ammonia

by Craig Bettenhausen
September 22, 2022 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 100, Issue 34

A big metal object with bolts and panels is hoisted above a bank of rolled material in a factory.
Credit: Thyssenkrupp Nucera
A cell that makes hydrogen from water and electricity is assembled at a Thyssenkrupp Nucera plant.

Countless corporate decarbonization projects place hydrogen at their center. Biofuel firms rely on hydrogen to reduce sugar, starch, and cellulose to hydrocarbons; green steelmakers use it for both heat and electrons; and fuel-cell vehicles consume it as a transportation fuel, to name a few. But most hydrogen on the market today is made from natural gas, and around 8 kg of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere for every kilogram produced.

Green hydrogen, on the other hand, comes from splitting water using renewable electricity. A run of recent purchase orders for electrolyzers, the equipment used to carry out that chemistry, suggests that companies are getting serious about securing their hydrogen supply en route to industrial decarbonization.

The chemical engineering firm Topsoe will supply 500 MW of its solid oxide electrolyzer units to the start-up First Ammonia, which plans to use the hydrogen to make green ammonia. The deal covers potential projects in northern Germany and the southwestern US, and could expand to up to 5 GW of electrolyzer capacity.

Nel Hydrogen has received a $3 million purchase order from the biofuels start-up LanzaJet for an electrolyzer that uses its proton-exchange membrane (PEM) technology. LanzaJet is building in Soperton, Georgia, what it hopes will be the world’s first commercial-scale alcohol-to-jet fuel plant.

Another PEM maker, Ohmium, has agreed to supply 343 MW of electrolyzer capacity to the green hydrogen and ammonia developer Tarafert for a fertilizer plant in Mexico. The firms say the installation will supply enough hydrogen for 200,000 metric tons (t) of ammonia per year. “Green Hydrogen means our ammonia will no longer be subject to the volatile price spikes and pollution inherent in fossil fuel use,” Tarafert CEO Jean Perarnaud says in a statement.

PEM player Plug Power recently won a 50 MW purchase order from the green hydrogen developer Lhyfe, enough to crank out 20 t per day of hydrogen starting as early as 2023, the firms say.

And in July, the engineering firm Thyssenkrupp Nucera announced a deal to supply 60 MW of its alkaline water hydrolysis cells to the chemical maker Unigel for a planned $120 million green hydrogen plant in Brazil. Unigel plans to sell the hydrogen to steel, oil refining, and fuel customers and use it internally to make fertilizers and acrylics.

Peter White, CEO of the market research firm Rethink Technology Research, says the structure of these deals means electrolyzer makers have customers in the queue as soon as their cells become available. “We do not see any of this as a risk for them,” he says, even though some of the projects are speculative.

Meanwhile, White says, the cells themselves will get more and more efficient as companies start building them in larger and larger numbers. In a recent report, Rethink projects that by 2024, several electrolyzer makers will have systems that can beat the cost of fossil-derived hydrogen.


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