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Renewable energy at Linde Gas

Kari Larsen & Steve Barrett

Linde’s involvement in renewable energy stretches back 20 years, when Linde started its development of hydrogen as a fuel. Since then, the company has entered renewable energy areas such as biogas, biomass, wind, geothermal, solar photovoltaics (PV), solar thermal, and fuel cells. Here Renewable Energy Focus’ Steve Barrett and Kari Larsen talk to Alan Watkins, Head of Merchant and Packaged Gases, and Andreas Opfermann, Head of Innovation Management at Linde Gas.


Linde has been developing hydrogen fuelling technologies for more than 15 years, building on its core expertise in industrial gases. The company has the technology to produce hydrogen using both conventional and advanced low-carbon processes. In particular, it has the conditioning and fuelling equipment needed to build efficient and economic hydrogen stations.

Opfermann tells Renewable Energy Focus that a widespread hydrogen fuelling infrastructure is still 5-10 years from commercial viability. But he feels that the overall context has changed in the last decade, so this timescale now looks realistic rather than just hopeful.

Linde is a key player in the German H2 Mobility initiative, which aims to establish a network of hydrogen fuelling stations across Germany by the end of 2011. The second phase will roll out a nationwide hydrogen infrastructure by 2015, to support the global introduction of series produced hydrogen powered vehicles – including fuel cell cars – from 2015, which was announced by a global alliance of automakers last year.

"From our perspective, we are really at the start of a new era of mobility," says Opfermann.

In San Francisco, Linde is building a hydrogen fueling station that will begin operating in 2010 to fuel a fleet of shuttle buses at San Francisco International Airport, as well as fuel cell vehicles.

Fuel Cells

Linde already sees a genuine commercial application for fuel cells, says Alan Watkins: forklift trucks.

"The ready availability of power directly translates to cost savings for the operator of the fleet," explains Opfermann. This compares with the traditional use of batteries, which repeatedly need to be swapped out and recharged. Such mini fleets of forklifts only require a single, well used hydrogen fuelling station.

Linde is working with companies in the USA and Europe as they demonstrate the use of hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles in materials handling applications – including in some of its own facilities. It is also collaborating with several US-based fuel cell manufacturers and system integrators as they target large distribution centres for fuel cell powered forklifts.

The other promising potential early market for fuel cells is buses, again with high use of a single hydrogen station at the depot. "They can generate good utilisation of the fueling points," observes Opfermann. Here a key driver is the regulatory pressure to cut or eliminate emissions in city centres.

Opfermann sees future mobility as a mix of technologies, both fuel cell electric and battery electric vehicles. "We will see the year 2010 as the start of the era of flexible mobility," he says.


Another renewable energy in which Linde is involved is geothermal. “We’re not drilling holes – that’s not our business,” Opfermann says. Linde’s expertise lies in the manufacturing and integration of organic Rankin cycle (ORC) equipment. In the OCR, the working fluid is pumped to a boiler where it is evaporated, passes through a turbine and is finally re-condensed.

Opfermann tells Renewable Energy Focus that Linde is moving into the geothermal market, but that they need to find the right project developers as Linde is primarily an equipment provider and not a geothermal developer.

He says more news about Linde’s involvement in geothermal energy will emerge soon.


The Altamont Landfill near Livermore, California, is said to be the largest landfill gas to liquefied natural gas plant. The plant purifies and liquefies landfill gas, and is designed to produce up to 13,000 gallons of LNG a day – enough to fuel 300 of Waste Management’s 485 LNG waste and recycling collection vehicles.

Linde is very active in bioenergy, through its involvement with liquid natural gas (LNG).

“The most exciting project at the moment is in California where we’ve just launched a ‘landfill to LNG’ facility with our partner Waste Management, one of the largest waste companies in the US,” Watkins tells Renewable Energy Focus.

Linde’s US$15 million landfill to liquid natural gas captures methane and a mixture of gases that come from the landfill.

“We purify it. We liquefy the gas, and then fuel it back into the Waste Management garbage trucks. As Waste Management said in a presentation: ‘What better way of using garbage than to fuel garbage trucks!’”, Watkins adds.

Algenol uses a method where algae, CO2, salt water and sunlight produce third-generation bioethanol and other biofuels or biochemicals in photobioreactors.

Although the trucks emit CO2, they have taken away methane from the atmosphere, a gas with a 22 times higher global warming potential than CO2. Furthermore, the trucks do not use other fuel or resources associated with that fuel, Watkins explains.

Linde Gas is also involved in a project converting algae into biofuel in cooperation with Algenol Biofuel. Linde Gas’ involvement is in drawing CO2 from the atmosphere and feed it to the algae, whereas Algenol converts the algae into ethanol biofuel.Opfermann points out that algae can be grown anywhere, no agricultural land is needed. Furthermore, the algae can grow in salt water, so valuable drinking water is not wasted.

In May 2009, Linde and German catalyst and adsorbents manufacturer Süd-Chemie AG launched the production of biofuels based on lignocellulosic biomass in Munich. A pilot plant uses cereal straw to manufacture up to two tonnes of bioethanol biofuel annually. Linde and Süd-Chemie are planning a larger demonstration plant “producing several thousand tonnes of bioethanol each year … in the near future.”

He believes Linde Gas and Algenol will “find a technology package that is scalable within the next couple of years.”

The algae to biofuel project also ties in with Linde’s activities in carbon capture and storage (CCS).

In addition to projects producing biofuel and biogas, Linde is the operator of 12 fuelling stations for biogas. The company has, for example a waste water to biogas treatment plant in Norway used to fuel cars, and in the UK, landfill gas is used for heating and fuelling.

Solar PV

One of the more obvious renewable energy applications for Linde Gas is solar photovoltaics (PV).

Watkins tells Renewable Energy Focus that solar PV requires a broad range of gases for cooling, inerting and processing activities. Linde Gas sees significant sales of gases such as nitrogen, argon and helium for cooling and inerting, and a range of processing chemicals of which silane is the most significant.

In September 2009, Linde announced it was reviewing the entire thin-film manufacturing and supply chain from a materials perspective, and has identified the possibility of significant CO2-eq. emission savings in the PECVD chamber cleaning process. This is done by using fluorine in place of nitrogen tri-fluoride – a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential 17,200 times that of CO2. By doing this, the CO2 payback time for thin-film solar PV modules could be cut by up to two years.

Opfermann points out that the gases make up a large proportion of the production cost of solar thin-films, and that the gases are therefore an important aspect of reducing costs.

He believes grid parity can be reached for thin-film through more efficient use of gases. As he points out, “gas is gas”, so what is important is how those gases are transported and applied.

Watkins adds that Germany is currently a very important market for Linde Gas' solar PV products, but that the Middle East and Asian countries such as India and China are becoming more and more important.


Opfermann concludes that “we will not have 100% renewable energy tomorrow, we have to have fossil fuel and renewable energy side by side, but I think renewables is the area where you can grow whilst doing good for the world.”

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Bioenergy  •  Energy infrastructure  •  Energy storage including Fuel cells  •  Geothermal  •  Photovoltaics (PV)  •  Solar electricity



infojunkie said

18 February 2010
While I believe in Hydrogen as one of the best solutions to the energy problem I am having a very difficukt time in getting the states to recognize Hydrogen as an alternative and or a renewable fuel. Recently PA Bill 80 lists solar, wind , clean coal tech etc as qualifying for credits as well as part of mandated reneable energy use-nowwhere is Hydrogen included. The is true for most states.
I can notget answers from most agencies such as PSC as why not Hydrogen?
As a developer of alternative power solutions I have a hard time raising fund for such projects!

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