On the way Towards Sustainability and Resiliency

Two weeks ago, from March 22-25, FZJ (Forschungszentrum Jülich) hosted the National Academy of Engineering and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, for a symposium titled “On the way Towards Sustainability and Resiliency”. This was the 20th German-American Frontiers of Engineering (GAFOE) symposium.

GAFOE 2023 brought together four disciplines to share ideas, discuss overlaps, and build collaborations. The topic areas were: supply chain resiliency, sustainable production and circulation economy, neuromorphic computing (an approach to computing inspired by the brain), and the hydrogen economy.

Hydrogen for Grid Support

I was privileged to be invited as a US speaker and representative to discuss “Hydrogen for Grid Support.” I focused on two interconnected use cases for grid-tied hydrogen production. The first, using hydrogen for long-duration energy storage. The second, treating hydrogen production as a flexible electricity load on the grid which can adjust in real-time to support the needs of the grid.

Presenting at GAFOE 2023

The talk was intended to introduce a broad, yet technical, audience to possible uses of hydrogen in future low-carbon economies. I drew on research from colleagues studying the energy transition to illustrate the synergies between grid-tied hydrogen production and power systems with substantial wind and solar generation.

This talk led right into two of my past papers written while at Carnegie Science with Ken Caldeira and team: “Role of Long-Duration Energy Storage in Variable Renewable Electricity Systems” led by Jackie Dowling and “Opportunities for flexible electricity loads such as hydrogen production from curtailed generation” led by myself. A copy of my slides are here.

From coal towards sustainability

The location of the symposium set the tone. FZJ was founded in 1956 initially as a center for nuclear physics and energy research. Now, Germany is again re-imagining its energy future and looking towards sustainability and more resilient energy supplies.

Two nuclear reactors and a rainbow during our FZJ campus tour.

However, a push towards sustainability will be challenging. FZJ is tucked into the forests in the middle of Germany coal county just a few minute bike ride away from immense open-pit coal mines. In these pits Bucket Wheel Excavators, some of the world’s largest movable machines, rip away at the Earth to uncover the valuable coal.

Open-pit coal mine a few minute bike ride from FZJ. Note wind turbines and coal power plant on the horizon, left side and massive coal seam in the pit.

Yet, the region is trying to break free of its coal dependence. Wind turbines speckle the countryside and FZJ was proud to announce to us that they have grown their hydrogen research team for a handful two years ago to over 350 researchers today. This is amazing progress, but is set in contrast to the 20,000 coal industry jobs which will be disappearing in the coming years.

I hope that the German government can work with this region and it constituents to help usher in a successful and just transition towards a low-carbon economy.

Many thanks to Emily Grubert and Lars Lauterbach who co-chaired The Hydrogen Economy session at GAFOE 2023, Thomas Kurfess and Olivier Guillon who chaired the symposium. And, extra thanks to Bethany Frew who masterfully presented an introduction to energy system modeling and hydrogen production that graciously provided helpful context for my talk.