Federal Environment Minister Lemke hesitates when it comes to hydrogen

Steffi Lemke

The Federal Environment Minister has trouble with the hydrogen economy and the refinery operators.

(Photo: dpa)

for years will start the green hydrogen industry in the refining sector. The aim is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to reduce, save natural gas and advance the ramp-up of the hydrogen economy. But under Federal Environment Minister Steffi Lemke (Greens), the issue is not progressing.

The Association of Machine and Plant Builders (VDMA) and the German Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association (DWV) are now appealing in a joint letter to Lemke to create the legal prerequisites for the use of green hydrogen in refineries.

The letter, which is available to the Handelsblatt, states that the ministry can use an ordinance to “clear the way for an economically viable substitution of natural gas with renewable hydrogen and at the same time reduce emissions in traffic”. The “unexplainable delay” in issuing the regulation endangers safe and sustainable fuel production in Germany.

The topic has been smoldering for a long time. In addition to the DWV and the VDMA the refinery operators are also pushing for itto finally create the conditions for the use of hydrogen. The previous government already struggled with the issue.

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In industry circles it is said that in the Ministry of the Environment the concerns of the industry are being specifically torpedoed by individual specialist officials. They wanted to prevent even the slightest advance in combustion engine technology. Even among the Greens, Lemke’s hesitation is now met with incomprehension. “Especially in the acute energy crisis, speed is now required,” Dieter Janecek, economic policy spokesman for the Greens parliamentary group, told the Handelsblatt.

Green hydrogen would significantly reduce the carbon footprint of refineries

Hydrogen is indispensable in the refinery process, i.e. in the production of heating oil, petrol and diesel. So far, however, only so-called gray hydrogen, which is produced on the basis of natural gas, has been used in the refineries. Significant amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) are released in the process.

Green hydrogen would significantly improve the carbon footprint of refineries and the fuels produced there. But this requires a legal framework. We talk about green, renewable or sustainable hydrogen when hydrogen is produced by electrolysis and the electricity required for electrolysis comes from renewable sources.

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When asked, the Ministry of the Environment withdrew from the fact that there was no legal framework for the enactment of the regulation. First, two EU regulations would have to be passed. According to the Commission, after the public consultation and the participation of the Council and the EU Parliament, the relevant regulations can be expected to be passed in the fourth quarter of 2022, says the house of Steffi Lemke mimt. After the two EU regulations have been passed, the Ministry of the Environment will make the necessary adjustments to the 37th regulation for the implementation of the Federal Immission Control Act (BImSchV).

The industry is convinced, however, that the argument is advanced. DWV and VDMA refer to a legal opinion commissioned by DWV from the law firm Becker Büttner Held (BBH). According to the report, there is no need to wait for Brussels.

Party friends: Obstacles must be dismantled

Criticism is now also stirring among Lemke’s party friends. “The willingness to invest in the ramp-up of the hydrogen economy is high, the legal framework must take this into account and remove existing obstacles,” emphasized Janecek.

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The potential is significant. According to the German Energy Agency (Dena), the refinery industry accounts for around 20 percent of the CO2 emissions in the industrial sector. There is a high demand for hydrogen as an energy source for production in refineries: According to Dena, around 40 percent of the gray hydrogen produced in Germany is required for processing crude oil in refineries.

By using climate-friendly green hydrogen, nine tons of CO2 emissions can be avoided per ton of hydrogen. In this way, the CO2 footprint of fuels can be significantly reduced at relatively low additional costs.

With the enactment of the regulation required by the industry, the ministry would not only create the economic conditions for the substitution of natural gas with green hydrogen, but at the same time avoid up to 1.7 million tons of CO2 emissions annually, the letter says by VDMA and DWV. The ministry “not only endangers the achievement of the climate goals with the ongoing blockade, but rather it risks the security of supply for industry and our citizens,” it says.

The industry is ready to “immediately make” the necessary investments for hydrogen production from renewable energies. A side effect would be that this would trigger investments in the ramp-up of the hydrogen economy of over two billion euros, the authors continue.

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