Siemens, steel maker Voestalpine and Verbund are planning a plant in Linz, Austria aimed at optimising the use of hydrogen for power generation purposes in an industrial setting.

The companies hope to use excess power generated by renewable energy sources to create hydrogen from water with electrolysis. The hydrogen can then be stored for reconversion into power or for direct industrial use, with the aim of eventually replacing coal power in the steel making process altogether.

The new research plant will be the biggest in the world to use so-called Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) technology developed by Siemens, which the German company says smoothes out power supply fluctuations better than other technologies.

The 6 MW, $19.2m plant will be more closely integrated into the steel-making process than similar green hydrogen projects. Experiments are likely to start in about two years, Voestalpine said.

“It will be capable of very quickly varying its output to follow renewable energy sources production,” said Bart Biebuyck, executive director of the European Commission’s fuel cells and hydrogen joint undertaking.

Voestalpine Chief Executive Wolfgang Eder said, however, that it would take at least 15 years to work out how green hydrogen could replace coal in the steel-making process without major cost increases.

“On the path towards decarbonisation we must walk from coal via natural gas as an interim solution … towards hydrogen in the long term.”