On May 27, 2020, the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center hosted Jan-Justus Schmidt, co-founder and head of operations at Enapter, as part of EnergySource Innovation Stream, an online series that highlights new energy technologies with the potential to reshape the global energy system. Schmidt delivered a presentation focused on the design, deployment, and economics of Enapter’s hydrogen electrolyzers. Randolph Bell, Richard Morningstar chair for global energy security and director of the Atlantic Council Global Energy Center, provided introductory remarks and moderated the discussion.
Schmidt asserted that green hydrogen is essential for the decarbonization of the entire energy system, including the transportation and mobility sectors. To achieve this, Enapter has developed an anion exchange membrane (AEM) electrolyzer, which produces hydrogen gas from water and electricity at low cost. Schmidt described current applications for Enapter’s hydrogen electrolyzers and relayed company plans to increase efficiency and scale production.
The innovative technology
Schmidt explained that Enapter electrolyzers differ from comparable products because they can be mass-produced with small, modular components that are easily scaled. Enapter’s system of small, modular units allows for the hydrogen generators to be stacked to reach desired hydrogen flow rates, unlike large, singular hydrogen plants.
According to Schmidt, Enapter’s unique technology and software allows it to perform more efficiently than existing products on the market. Current electrolyzers are either classified as traditional alkaline electrolyte electrolyzers or polymer electrolyte membrane electrolyzers. Enapter combines aspects of both to make a more efficient and cost-effective product. Its electrolyzers also do not require the use of expensive noble metals, like titanium, as catalysts. Furthermore, the unique properties of the anion exchange membrane allow for the separation of H20 into oxygen and hydrogen ions to ultimately produce hydrogen gas in a safe working environment and at high purity levels.
Schmidt noted that his firm’s product, the EL 2.1 electrolyzer, is already being integrated across the clean tech industry, with applications in energy storage, hydrogen vehicles, and synthetic fuels. Each electrolyzer module produces 0.5 cubic meters (Nm3) of hydrogen gas per hour. Over the past two years, Enapter has updated the product to increase efficiency, and now, each module only requires 4.4 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity to produce 1 Nm3 of hydrogen gas.
Schmidt presented a number of case studies that demonstrate current applications for Enapter’s technology. Hydrogen produced by Enapter electrolyzers is currently being used for energy storage in the French Alps; as a heat source for a Dutch building complex; and for nitrogen purification in the Portuguese ammonia, glass production, and food industries. Enapter’s electrolyzers are also used for power-to-gas applications in Australia, fuel cells in Germany, and a microgrid on Réunion Island, France. Enapter is working towards a goal of dropping the cost of hydrogen production to €1.50 per kilogram or lower by 2030.
Customers can engage with the system through Enapter’s software suite that includes mobile applications, web dashboards for monitoring devices, and gateways that combine devices into a singular, coherent system.
Schmidt responded to audience questions about short-term opportunities for Enapter electyrolzer deployment, as well as company plans to meet cost reduction goals. He explained that applications for Enapter’s technology fall into two broad categories: the future energy market (defined by opportunities like hydrogen storage for neighborhoods and green refueling for electric vehicles) and the existing hydrogen market (defined by industrial uses such as ammonia production and steel making, as well as efforts to decarbonize these hard-to-abate industries). And with respect to cost savings, he explained that Enapter has increased product density by 40 percent over the past two years; in other words, the company now requires 40 percent less material to produce the same amount of hydrogen.
Jan-Justus Schmidt, Co-founder and head of operations, Enapter
Jan-Justus Schmidt holds a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, and an master of business administration from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. Before co-founding Enapter, he was the lead project manager at the Phi Suea House, responsible for the technical design and implementation of the world’s first off-grid multi-house residence powered by a hybrid solar-hydrogen microgrid. Jan speaks German, English, Mandarin Chinese, and Thai. Jan is heading Enapter’s operations in Pisa and ensures general management of the group’s business. In 2020, he was listed as Forbes 30 under 30 in Energy.