“Hydrogen use as a building block on the road to decarbonisation” Interview with Christian Hein, Aurubis AG
EEHH: Norddeutsches Reallabor (NRL) or North German Real Lab is notable for its holistic approach and the diversity of the various projects in its real-world laboratory landscape. Was this the reason why you decided to participate in this collaborative project?
Christian Hein: “Aurubis regards hydrogen use as a building block on the road to decarbonisation. We’re currently analysing the technology-neutral decarbonisation of our processes – as well as the use of hydrogen, electrification, for example, is another possibility. The solution will be a combination of individual technologies and measures, but the regulatory and economic framework conditions for this need to be created. As well as project funding, the NRL also provides a great opportunity for sharing ideas with project partners and politicians and developing joint solutions.”
EEHH: What other reasons prompted you to do so?
Christian Hein: “Following our successful involvement in NEW4.0, participating in the NRL was the next logical and meaningful step. I’m also looking forward to sharing our experience with experts from other companies, in order to gain insights for our work and accelerate technological progress.”
EEHH: Within the NRL framework, you manage the ‘Industry’ working group. What exactly is your remit and what motivated you to assume such a pivotal role within the NRL?
Christian Hein: “Personally, I’ve always been interested in the different processes and individual challenges within the industry and fascinated with its innovation efforts. What particularly motivated me to manage this working group was collaborating with the project partners and associated partners to find common ground within industry with regard to the necessary technical, economic and regulatory framework conditions for the use of hydrogen. It’s also important to emphasise the individual requirements and opportunities of the various sectors involved. Hydrogen is part of the solution – other technologies are also required for decarbonisation.”
EEHH: What goals are your working group striving to achieve by the end of the project (4/2026)? What are you aiming to demonstrate as part of the NRL?
Christian Hein: “The size and complexity of the ‘Norddeutsches Reallabor’ collaborative project provides the opportunity to be able to simultaneously pursue several goals. The use of green hydrogen on an industrial scale and the increase in innovation potential for sector coupling are the two most important aspects here. This will also result in the identification of the technical limits of hydrogen substitution. Another goal is therefore to plan the capacity requirements for hydrogen production, including the necessary peripherals and operational integration.
New technologies also require new regulatory and political frameworks. Which is why we’ve also set ourselves the goal of researching proposed solutions to eliminate regulatory, statutory and other obstacles that are currently hindering implementation, while simultaneously developing new business models for successful, sustainable application. Last but not least, we’re aiming to make an important contribution to the successful achievement of climate protection goals. We’d like to demonstrate that this is possible for our industry and ideally offer transferable solutions for other industrial sectors.
In summary, the working group aims to demonstrate that innovative, technology-neutral and sustainable industrial projects can be implemented more quickly if suitable regulatory and economic framework conditions are created.”
EEHH: Your full-time job is Head of Sustainability at the multi-metal producer and copper recycler Aurubis in Hamburg. Would you describe this burgeoning transformation – towards climate-neutral industry - as an ‘industrial revolution’ for your sector?
Christian Hein: “I think we’ve already made significant progress - Aurubis will continue to develop its industrial pioneering role in terms of sustainability. Sustainable actions and business practices are integral elements of the Aurubis strategy. So I wouldn’t call it an ‘industrial revolution’, but rather an ‘industrial transformation’. We act independently and with confidence. By participating in the science-based target initiative and taking specific actions to reduce emissions, we aim to achieve climate-neutral production well before 2050. Aurubis’ CO2 footprint is already below the industry average: with its existing processes, Aurubis already emits around half the global CO2 footprint per ton of copper produced – averaged across all copper smelting plants. The production techniques used by Aurubis are already making a considerable contribution to the responsible use of resources, thereby helping to achieve the energy transition, along with the company’s products. We also think beyond our factory gates, as demonstrated by the CO2-free supply of industrial heat to eastern areas of HafenCity and to the city of Hamburg’s district heating system. Thanks to the Copper Mark Initiative, the sector is embarking on a transparent journey towards holistic sustainable management – Aurubis has adopted this initiative, started the certification process and successfully completed this for its first site.”
EEHH: This transformation is necessary, in order to implement the required climate targets and is now the focus of many political discussions. What political support do you expect and/or hope for?
Christian Hein: “The EU has an ambitious target for 2050: a resilient economy and society that achieves climate neutrality by means of a high level of innovation and competitiveness. This coincides with our goals. We’re the world’s most sustainable integrated steel plant network and aim to continue improving our energy efficiency. The framework conditions for this must now be created, to ensure that sustainability doesn’t become a competitive disadvantage:
» Competitive energy prices
» Continuity of legislation
» Research & development funding
» Funding for investments in future technologies
» Initiatives that reward low-carbon products”
Thanks for the interview!