Why Hydrogen is Critical to Combating Climate Change Part 2

Governments around the world are increasingly feeling the heat and are enacting ‘Net Zero’ emissions targets. The sense of urgency only seems to have been heightened by the pandemic. As part of its European Green Deal agenda, the European Union for example is targeting 55% emissions reductions by 2030 and net zero emissions (which will be enshrined by law) by 2050.
 
These targets are highly ambitious. Just phasing out fossil fuels and installing renewable energy like wind and solar will still leave us far away from reaching these goals, as the International Energy Agency has argued. Indeed, both the IEA and EU believe developing the hydrogen economy is critical to reaching Net Zero.

In our discussion with Professor Wijk we delve into why hydrogen holds so much promise for decarbonization, and why the Northern Netherlands is shaping up to be a strategic hub for the hydrogen economy and could become a role model region for other parts of the world. Due to its existing highly developed natural gas industry, the region already has the knowledge, infrastructure and industry off-takers to transition to the hydrogen economy relatively easily. It will also benefit from being connected to large future supplies of electricity from Norwegian hydro resources and Dutch and offshore wind farms.

Of course, there still major challenges to developing the hydrogen economy, with the most important being the cost of production. As we go into in greater depth, to overcome this will require large-scale infrastructure investment to bring down the cost of production, storage, and distribution via economies of scale.

Hear the full interview here:

If you would like to find out more about Professor Wijk’s work you can read his blog or find him on LinkedIn.

Dr. Indranil Ghosh

Podcast voor Eco-Runner Team Delft

In deze eerste aflevering van De Waterstofpodcast spreekt onze host, Sieb Rodenburg, met Ad van Wijk, hoogleraar Future Energy Systems aan de TU Delft, maar beter bekend als ‘de waterstofprofessor’. Ze praten over wat waterstof is, wat de geschiedenis ervan is, waar we het nu voor gebruiken en hoe we het maken. Ook bespreken ze een recent artikel van Ad van Wijk, dat breed opgepikt is in Brussel: A 2 x 40 GW initiative.

Luister direct op spotify via deze link: https://spoti.fi/33UDfpD

[English]
The podcast is live!

In this first episode of ‘De Waterstofpodcast’ our host, Sieb Rodenburg, speaks with Ad van Wijk, professor of Future Energy Systems at TU Delft, but better known as ‘the hydrogen professor’. They talk about what hydrogen is, what its history is, what we use it for now and how we make it. They also discuss a recent article by Ad van Wijk, widely picked up in Brussels: A 2 x 40 GW initiative.

Listen directly on spotify through this link: https://spoti.fi/33UDfpD

Deze Zutphenaar helpt heel ons land aan waterstof: ‘Echt niet alle huizen zijn over 10 jaar aardgasloos’

Nederland gaat in 2022 van het Groningse aardgas af. En dan maakt Gasunie-topman René Schutte (52) uit Zutphen het leidingnet stap voor stap klaar voor waterstof, de nieuwe en schone energie van de toekomst. ,,We kunnen dat.”

,,We hebben dat eerder gedaan”, zegt René Schutte. Dat was toen ‘we’ aan het aardgas gingen. Gasunie verandert van aardgasbedrijf in waterstofonderneming. Maar een koud kunstje is de ombouw nou ook weer niet, legt hij uit.

U bent ‘programmamanager waterstof’, u draait aan de waterstofknoppen in Nederland en bent architect van de energietransitie.

,,Nou, ik niet alleen. Gasunie gaat over de infrastructuur van het aardgasnet in Nederland en Noord-Duitsland. Dat loopt (hij laat een kaart zien) door tot en met Berlijn. Die leidingen kun je relatief eenvoudig geschikt maken voor waterstof. Voor die transitie heb je iedereen nodig.”

Als de Groningse aardgaskraan in 2022 dichtgaat moet Nederland aardgas inkopen, want voorlopig kunnen we nog niet zonder. De route naar alternatieve, duurzame energie duurt tot 2050.Je cookie instellingen zorgen ervoor dat deze inhoud niet getoond wordt. Pas je cookie instellingen hier aan.

,,Overstappen op waterstof gaat niet zomaar. Om heel veel redenen. Er moet nogal wat bij elkaar komen. De productie van waterstof, transport, opslag in zoutkoepels – want in de winter is er meer energievraag dan in de zomer en dan is het prettig dat je een voorraad hebt – en dan bij de eindgebruiker, bij u thuis of bij bedrijven. Je heb cv-ketels nodig die op waterstof werken en monteurs die die kunnen monteren… Dat moet allemaal tegelijk passen.”

Wat maakt u bij uitstek geschikt om de operatie ‘van aardgas naar waterstof’ te leiden?

,,Ik kan het hele waterstofverhaal uitleggen en verbinden. Dat is ook de rol van Gasunie, letterlijk en figuurlijk.”

Eurocommissaris Frans Timmermans noemt waterstof ‘de nieuwe rockster in energieland’. Als je het aardgasnet ombouwt naar waterstof, heb je maar een kwart van de kosten die je zou hebben als je alles nieuw moet aanleggen. Daar ligt volgens hem voor Nederland een enorme kans.

,,Zegt hij dat? Daar ben ik het wel mee eens. Mooie vergelijking, dat met die ‘rockster’. Dat klinkt swingend.”

Eurocommissaris Frans Timmermans tijdens de presentatie van de Europese waterstof-strategie op 8 juli in Brussel.
Eurocommissaris Frans Timmermans tijdens de presentatie van de Europese waterstof-strategie op 8 juli in Brussel. © AFP

Timmermans waarschuwt ook dat we vaart moeten maken met waterstof; nu loopt Europa technologisch nog voorop, maar ‘we moeten extra inzetten om voorop te blijven omdat de rest van de wereld snel langszij komt’.

,,Je ziet dat Europa de opvatting aanpast van ‘just in time’ naar ‘just in case’: kijk naar wat je zelf in huis wilt hebben. En daar hoort waterstof-technologie bij. De situatie door corona versterkt en voedt die opvatting. We hebben een klimaatuitdaging en daar wil Europa een voortrekkersrol in spelen. En vergis u niet, er gebeurt ook al heel veel.” 

Hij vouwt een kaart uit met daarop 22 projecten waar Gasunie bemoeienis mee heeft. Op de Noordzee staan kolossale energie-eilanden ingetekend die met de stroom van zeewindparken waterstof gaan produceren. Via pijpleidingen rechtstreeks in het ‘aardgasnet’ van Gasunie.

Gasunie schakelt tussen nu en 2050 over op waterstof. Het gasbedrijf maakt op weg daarheen een routekaart; die vermeldt 22 projecten, waaronder waterstofproductielocaties bij windenergieparken op zee.
Gasunie schakelt tussen nu en 2050 over op waterstof. Het gasbedrijf maakt op weg daarheen een routekaart; die vermeldt 22 projecten, waaronder waterstofproductielocaties bij windenergieparken op zee. © Gasunie

In de Eemshaven figureert op de kaart van Schutte de grootste ‘groene waterstoffabriek’ van Europa die Gasunie samen met Shell en Groningen Seaport in de bouwplanning heeft staan. ‘Groen’ omdat de stroom voor de fabriek komt van wind op zee.

Als de overheid meewerkt zijn allebei, Noordzee en Eemshaven, klaar in 2030. Iets zuidelijker bij Zuidwending (Groningen) komt een opslag van waterstof in zoutcavernes. Links en rechts op de plattegrond staan elektrolysers die met elektriciteit waterstof produceren uit water. ,,En dat zijn dan alleen nog maar initiatieven waar wij bij zijn betrokken”, zegt Schutte. 

Erg snel

,,Tata Steel, Shell, energiemaatschappij Engie, die hebben zelf ook allemaal projecten. De ontwikkelingen gaan erg snel. In het regeerakkoord kwam het woord waterstof nog niet eens voor. Drie jaar later, nota bene middenin coronatijd, omarmt de regering waterstof en ligt er een waterstofvisie.”

We moeten de leercurve goed bewaken. De knop in een keer omzetten voor het hele land is niet verstandigRené Schutte, program manager hydrogen bij Gasunie ziet een belangrijke rol voor waterstof maar waarschuwt voor te veel haast

In die visie trekken Gasunie en het ministerie van Economische Zaken samen op om het gasnet om te vormen en klaar te maken voor waterstof. René Schutte is projectleider van HyWay 27 die dat handen en voeten moet geven. Eind dit jaar moet hij zijn eerste verslag uitbrengen.

,,Vanaf 2022 komt een deel van de gasinfrastructuur beschikbaar omdat er dan geen Gronings gas meer door de leidingen stroomt. Ja, een tijdlang zal er nog buitenlands gas doorheen gaan, maar een deel kunnen we alvast schoonmaken, afsluitingen renoveren, het systeem up to date maken en dan kan er waterstof doorheen. De hele ombouw kost 1,5 tot 2 miljard euro. Dat is relatief heel weinig voor een operatie van die omvang. In die zin is ons gasnet inderdaad zoals Frans Timmermans zegt goud waard.”

René Schutte, topman bij Gasunie, tegen het decor van zijn woonplaats Zutphen. ,,Lokale waterstofinitiatieven weten mij te vinden.”
René Schutte, topman bij Gasunie, tegen het decor van zijn woonplaats Zutphen. ,,Lokale waterstofinitiatieven weten mij te vinden.” © Patrick van Gemert

Volgens ‘waterstofprofessor’ Ad van Wijk van de TU in Delft moet de overheid centrale regie nemen zodat waterstof ook echt een plek krijgt.  

,,Daar heeft Ad gelijk in. Het waterstoflandschap in Nederland was nogal versnipperd. Iedereen deed wat. Die centrale regie begint er nu te komen. Er ligt een visie. Maar we hebben tijd nodig om te leren. Van aardgas weten we alles. Heeft u ooit van een aardgasstoring gehoord? Niemand maakt zich er zorgen over dat er bij de productie en transport, de hele logistiek tot en met de cv-ketel in huis iets mis kan gaan.

Die leveringszekerheid willen we bij waterstof ook. Maar het gaat wel over nieuwe systemen, nieuwe apparatuur en nieuwe opslag. Waterstof is ‘dunner’ dan aardgas en gedraagt zich anders. Natuurlijk kom je dan onderweg ‘iets’ tegen. De knop in een keer omzetten voor het hele land is niet verstandig. Je moet uitkijken dat je in een situatie terechtkomt die niet werkt. Dat is wat ik doe. Duwen, trekken, leren, stappen zetten, bij elkaar brengen…”

Iedereen moet er tegelijk klaar voor zijn?

,,Wij kunnen onze leidingen en de hele infrastructuur klaarmaken voor 2027, maar als er dan geen waterstof is of als niemand het gebruikt, heb je daar niets aan. Er moet voldoende massa, voldoende vraag en aanbod zijn. Je gaat niet voor één bedrijf alles aanpassen.”

Langs Zutphen lopen zes hoofdgasleidingen van Gasunie. U woont in Zutphen. Geeft dat wat thuisvoordeel?

Hij lacht. ,,Nou ja, zo’n gesprek gaat ’s avonds net iets gemakkelijker even tussendoor. Lokale waterstofinitiatieven – en die zijn er – weten mij te vinden. Ik vertel wat nodig is om het voor elkaar te krijgen. Ik draag ze een warm hart toe. Misschien kan ik er ook weer wat van leren.”

Als ik nu een nieuwe cv-ketel moet aanschaffen, wat raadt u dan aan?

,,Gewoon een nieuwe hr-ketel op aardgas of misschien een hybride ketel die je combineert met een warmtepomp. Het is echt niet zo dat over tien jaar alle 7, 8 miljoen huizen aardgasloos zijn. Kijk naar de levensduur van een ketel en je persoonlijke situatie. Maar dat zeg ik nu. Volgend jaar kan alles anders zijn. Ontwikkelingen gaan snel. Er zullen zich innovaties voordoen die we nu nog niet kunnen bedenken.”

Waterstofprofessor Ad van Wijk legt uit waarom waterstof dé oplossing is voor ons energieprobleem

Hoogleraar Ad van Wijk van de TU Delft pleit voor een waterstofeconomie. Op de foto staat hij bij een waterstofauto die ook energie terug kan leveren aan bijvoorbeeld een woning.
Hoogleraar Ad van Wijk van de TU Delft pleit voor een waterstofeconomie. Op de foto staat hij bij een waterstofauto die ook energie terug kan leveren aan bijvoorbeeld een woning. © Hollandse Hoogte / Guus Schoonewille fotografie

Om waterstof te maken heb je elektriciteit nodig. Die splitst water in waterstof en zuurstof. Waterstof kun je verbranden, bijvoorbeeld in een cv-ketel, of weer omzetten in stroom. Belangrijk voordeel: je kunt waterstof ook opslaan en later gebruiken als je dat nodig hebt. Dat kan niet of veel moeilijker met stroom uit zon en wind.

Ons elektriciteitsnet kraakt en piept

nu al omdat die de toevloed aan energie uit zon en wind niet meer aankan. „En dan hebben we eigenlijk alleen nog maar naar de elektriciteitsvoorziening gekeken. Dat is 15 procent van de energie die we gebruiken. We moeten ook de warmtevoorziening, mobiliteit en industrie nog verduurzamen”, waarschuwt waterstofprofessor Ad van Wijk van de TU Delft.  

De capaciteit van ons gasnet is 15 keer zo groot als die van het elektriciteitsnet 

en de transportkosten zijn tot een factor 20 lager dan die van stroom. Dus dat loont al snel. Het allerbelangrijkste: het afval van waterstof is superschoon… water.

Haal waterstof uit de Sahara

Het is volgens Van Wijk  een idee fixe om te denken dat Nederland alle benodigde duurzame energie zelf kan opwekken. Dat hoeft volgens hem ook niet. „Met waterstof kun je ook van elders energie importeren. Als je in de Sahara datzelfde zonnepaneel neerzet dat op je dak ligt, brengt dat drie keer zoveel op. Zelfs met transportkosten erbij ben je nog goedkoper uit.”

Dit artikel verscheen eerder op: https://www.destentor.nl/zutphen/deze-zutphenaar-helpt-heel-ons-land-aan-waterstof-echt-niet-alle-huizen-zijn-over-10-jaar-aardgasloos~ae5a9f7e/ (auteur: Lex van Kooten)

Chinese future tractor runs on hydrogen

The Chinese are now also getting involved in future tractors. With the new e-tractor named ET504-H they want to position themselves accordingly in the market. They also want to make agricultural machinery more environmentally friendly.

Sporting a futuristic appearance, the model ET504-H tractor adopts 5G mobile communication technology, has a self-driving mode, and can be remotely controlled. The future tractor is co-developed by Luoyang Research Institute for Intelligent Agricultural Equipment Co., Ltd. ( CHIAIC) and Luoyang advanced manufacturing industry R&D base of Tsinghua University’s Tianjin Research Institute for Advanced Equipment.

Tractor manufacturer YTO involved
The largest Chinese tractor manufacturer YTO is also involved in the development. Some parts of the prototype were manufactured by YTO. YTO says that CHIAIC will continue to pour efforts into developing new energy unmanned tractors, get ahead in such key technologies as unmanned driving and electric control, and create new energy unmanned equipment in the field of agricultural machinery.

Fully electric
The ET504_H tractor has a main permanent-magnet, synchronous mid-motor and independent electric lifting and steering motors. The hydrogen fuel cell operates when the tractor does not require its full power, while under heavy load, the lithium battery will add further power supply. The electric driveline can deliver 50 horsepower with a maximum speed of 30 kilometers per hour ( 18 miles per hour).

Unmanned cluster technology
The ET504-H tractor has been developed from the outset to be able to drive without a driver. For this purpose, the tractor relies on the 5G network from China Mobile and also uses GPS antenna, millimetre-wave radar and large data technology for remote control. This navigation technology can perceive the running state of the vehicle and surrounding working environment in real-time. It takes advantage of 5G features such as high speed, low delay and large connection volume, and combines them with intelligent unmanned cluster technology to effectively improve the reliability of agricultural machinery operations and provide consumers with higher quality services.

No clear market plan
“With this tractor we want to give local demonstrations to show that an autonomous tractor running on hydrogen is possible in farming practice”, says Huang Shengcao, Deputy General Manager of CHIAIC. “With this tractor we want to give local demonstrations to show that an autonomous tractor running on hydrogen is possible in farming practice”, says Huang Shengcao, Deputy General Manager of CHIAIC. ‘’The ET504-H tractor has now completed a series of trials in production and marketing. But due to current impact of the high battery cost, there is no clear sales plan yet. However, that can change quickly if the costs for the batteries drop.”

More hydrogen-powered tractors
Research has been conducted for some time into agricultural tractors that run on hydrogen with fuel cells. New Holland Agriculture released its first ever hydrogen-powered NH2 tractor in 2009, which was after then in service on farms in Europe by 2012. But due limited availability of the fuel and high production costs , it has never made it commercially viable.

This article first appeared on: https://www.farmingportal.co.za/index.php/agri-index/70-machinery/4951-chinese-future-tractor-runs-on-hydrogen

Green Leader Ad van Wijk over zijn jeugd, falen en de noodzaak van een waterstoftransitie

Ad van Wijk staat nu bekend als de waterstofprofessor van Nederland, maar de hoogleraar future energy systems aan de TU Delft maakte eerder naam als duurzaam ondernemer met Econcern. Dit duurzame energiebedrijf ging na een stormachtige groei failliet. Het leverde veel media-aandacht op. In de Green Leader podcast vertelt Van Wijk over deze periode. Welke lessen zijn daaruit te trekken? Ook brengt hij nieuws mee over de miljoenen die op Prinsjesdag naar waterstof gaan en benadrukt hij de economische noodzaak voor een waterstoftransitie.

Luister de podcast op: https://greenleaders.podigee.io/55-ad-van-wijk

Hydrogen: The Bridge between Africa and Europe

Hydrogen will play a pivotal role in achieving an affordable, clean and sustainable economy. It allows for cost-efficient bulk transport and storage of renewable energy, and can decarbonize energy use in all sectors.

Green hydrogen is one of the top priorities in the energy transition, as it will help to decarbonize several industrial sectors such as steel, fertilizers, petrochemicals, mobility and heating. Furthermore, the development of a green hydrogen economy can also help to integrate more renewables in the energy system, and to contribute to green growth and job creation. In the MENA region, there are abundant natural resources, allowing a high combined capacity factor for solar PV and wind, which is crucial to achieve low prices for the production of green hydrogen. Equally, Europe is a potential off-taker with some of the largest industrial players in the steel and heavy transport industries, combined with an incumbent target for no zero emissions by 2050. In this context, the MENA region has the potential to become a highly scalable ‘Green Powerhouse’ for its own people and industry, as well as for exporting green energy to the world energy markets, as far as local conditions allow.

The ‘Green Hydrogen for a European Green Deal‘ is a market orientation policy paper, which was co-written by Prof. Ad van Wijk, Member of the Advisory Board of Dii Desert Energy, and Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, Secretary General of Hydrogen Europe. The paper was presented in April to the Executive Vice-President of the European Commission, Mr. Frans Timmermans, in charge of the EU Green Deal, and Mrs. Simson, European Commissioner for Energy. The video conference included H.E. Aziz Rabbah, Minister of Energy, Mines and Environment of Morocco, Orstedt and 14 CEOs of companies such as EDF, Enel, NEL, tyssenkrupp, and SNAM among others.

Dii Desert Energy, in cooperation with Hydrogen Europe, the EU GCC Clean Energy Technology Network and others, has significantly contributed to the development of the 2×40 GW Initiative. The proposal found its way in the European Hydrogen Strategy, which was released on 8 July. A target of 40GW electrolyser capacity in Europe by 2030 is part of the strategy, as well as an immediate target of 6GW by 2024.

Several impactful studies were recently published by Dii Desert Energy, among which the ‘North Africa-Europe Hydrogen Manifesto’, co-written by Frank Wouters, Prof. Ad van Wijk and Dr. Badr Ikken, Director General of the Moroccan Research Institute for Solar Energy and News Energies (IRESEN) and the book: ‘Emission free energy from the deserts’, by Paul van Son and Thomas Isenburg (SmartBook Publisher/332 pages/Paperback. Click here).

The Desertec Industrial Initiative – Dii Desert Energy – was launched in 2009. Over the years, it has continued to evolve and develop in line with the spirit of its mission: “No Emissions – energy without harmful emissions”. Desertec 3.0 focus in the first place on renewable energy (both electrons and molecules) and, hence, emission reduction in MENA for the benefit of the local communities and industries.

Under the umbrella of Desertec 3.0, Dii Desert Energy launched among others the MENA Hydrogen Alliance to accelerate the development of value chains for green molecules in the region by bringing together private-public sector actors and academia. Dii Desert Energy acts as an impartial advisor to elaborate business cases and to educate different stakeholders on all aspects of producing, transporting, conversion to green hydrogen and other green molecules, storage and flexible demand. This comprises eventually exporting green molecules to world markets, including Europe. The mission is to connect MENA to Europe by fostering a regional partnership between Europe, North Africa and the Middle East to accelerate the deployment of green hydrogen projects and local value chains.

Read the full paper by Prof. Dr. Ad van Wijk and Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, an Initiative led by Hydrogen Europe, Dii Desert Energy, EUGCC Clean Energy Technology Network, , Ukrainian Hydrogen Council.

DOWNLOAD REPORT

This article first appeared on EnergyNet

Here comes the electro-hydrogen era!

Hydrogen and electricity are energy carriers that can be made from fossil and renewable energy. Green hydrogen can be produced from water and green electricity through water electrolysis.

Worldwide, the potential for solar and wind energy is huge. Only 8% of the Sahara Desert area, if covered with solar panels, could produce all of the global energy demand. Electricity from solar and wind is cheap in places with high solar irradiation or wind speeds, at locations often far away from demand centres. To supply cheap solar and wind electricity at the right place and at all times, hydrogen is necessary because it is much cheaper to transport and store than electricity. A smart combination of green electricity and green hydrogen leads to a more reliable system with overall lower system cost compared to a system without hydrogen.Therefore, a sustainable energy system will have two very important symbiotic energy carriers; electricity and hydrogen. Electricity and hydrogen can be converted into each other using proven electro-chemical conversion technologies; electrolysers and fuel cells. After the steam era and combustion era, it is now time for the Electro-Hydrogen era!

WHAT IS HYDROGEN: GREY, BLUE AND GREEN HYDROGEN

Like electricity, hydrogen is an energy carrier that can be made from renewable energy sources, but also from fossil energy sources. But hydrogen, like electricity, is not an energy source!

Hydrogen from fossil hydrocarbons

Hydrocarbons or fossil fuels are compounds consisting of carbon and hydrogen. For example, methane (CH4) the main component of natural gas, is a compound of one carbon atom with 4 hydrogen atoms. The hydrogen atoms can be split from the carbon atoms using various techniques, including the widely used Steam Methane Reforming (SMR). Steam (H2O) reacts with methane (CH4) to form hydrogen (H2) and carbon dioxide (CO2), depicted in the following reactions:

CH4 + H2O (steam) 🡪 3H2 + CO

CO + H2O (steam) 🡪 H2 + CO2

As can be seen, carbon dioxide CO2 is formed here. If the CO2 is emitted into the air, contributing to the greenhouse effect, the resulting hydrogen is called grey hydrogen.

The CO2, which is generated in pure form, can also be captured and stored in an empty gas field or aquifer. This is called Carbon Capture and Storage or CCS. Up to 90% of the CO2 can be captured and stored in this way. Hydrogen produced through SMR in combination with CCS is called low-carbon hydrogen or blue hydrogen.

Hydrogen from bio hydrocarbons

Biogas or synthesis gas can be made from organic residues such as manure, waste wood or organic waste. Such syngas consists of various components: methane, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, but also to a greater or lesser extent hydrogen. Pure Hydrogen with pure carbon dioxide can be made from biogas/syngas. If the share of methane is high, this can be converted into hydrogen and carbon dioxide using  SMR as described above. Since the feedstock is green, this process yields green hydrogen and green carbon dioxide.

Both green hydrogen and green carbon (dioxide) are valuable because they can be used as feedstock to produce green chemicals or green fuels such as plastics or green synthetic kerosene. Because the process replaces fossil carbon with carbon captured from the atmosphere when the biomass grows, CO2 emissions are avoided. Better still, when this green carbon dioxide is captured and stored, the net greenhouse gas emissions are negative.

Hydrogen from water

Hydrogen can also be made from water (H2O) in a process called electrolysis, which is a chemical reaction in which a substance is decomposed into components under the influence of an electric current. In water electrolysis, the water molecule (H2O) is split into hydrogen (H2) and oxygen (O2), depicted in the following reaction:

Electrolyser:  2H2O + 2e 🡪 2H2 + O2 

If the electricity is produced in a coal, oil or gas power plant, the hydrogen is not carbon free and is called grey hydrogen. But if the electricity is generated using green electricity from solar panels, wind turbines or hydroelectric power, the hydrogen is called green hydrogen.

It is the energy source that determines whether the hydrogen is green or not.

WORLDWIDE ENERGY CONSUMPTION.

About 90% of the world’s energy consumption in 2016, amounting to 155,000 TWh (TWh=billion kWh), is fossil energy: oil, gas and coal. For comparison, the Netherlands uses about 1,000 TWh per year. This fossil energy is transported around the world by ship or pipeline, then converted into a useful energy carrier, electricity, gasoline/diesel or a gas. The conversion to a useful energy carrier is often associated with energy losses. For example, the efficiency of a modern gas-fired power plant is about 60%, which implies that 40% of the energy is lost as heat. These useful energy carriers are then distributed and used in houses, cars, factories, etc.

Energy is used in many parts of our modern life: For heating and cooling houses and buildings. For electricity production to power equipment, appliances and lighting. For transport by vehicles, ships or planes. And for industry, where processes require high temperature heat and steam. But fossil energy is also a feedstock, from which chemical products such as plastics or fertilizers can be made.

Hydrogen is not only an energy carrier but also a feedstock. Hydrogen is nowadays mainly made from natural gas or coal and primarily used as a feedstock to produce ammonia (the main component of fertilizers) or methanol, among other things. And hydrogen is used in refineries to desulfurize oil and in the production of gasoline and diesel.

A distribution of current global final energy consumption is given in the figure below, whereby hydrogen use is part of the feedstock use.

CAN SOLAR AND WIND ENERGY REPLACE ALL FOSSIL ENERGY?

The question is whether all the fossil energy used worldwide can be replaced by green energy, and is it possible to generate it using solar panels and wind turbines. The answer is simply: no problem. The potential of solar and wind energy is very large.

If worldwide energy demand, amounting to 155,000 TWh, had to be produced with solar panels only, it would require a surface area covering about 10% of Australia or 8% of the Sahara Desert. The Sahara Desert is about 9.2 million square kilometres in size, which is more than twice the area covered by ​​the European Union.

The global wind energy potential is also very high. In a scenario where the entire worldwide energy demand would be produced with wind turbines, would only requires an area of ​​1.5% of the Pacific Ocean. It should be noted that that surface, however, is used to a limited extent, with one large floating wind turbine every kilometer.

So there is more than enough space to produce all the necessary energy for the whole world with solar and wind. This is even the case with an increasing global population and rising prosperity level.

WHY IS HYDROGEN NEEDED? 

Clean electricity is produced by solar panels and wind turbines. Electricity can be used to power all kinds of devices and for lighting, but also for heating, cooling and for mobility. So why would we convert electricity into hydrogen, with energy losses and extra costs?

Solar panels can produce electricity very cheaply in locations where solar irradiation is highest, for example in desert areas. The lowest prices for electricity from solar panels that have been offered in large tenders recently, April 2020, are around 1.25 and 1.5 Euro cents per kWh.

Wind turbines can also produce electricity very cheaply in windy places, mainly at sea and in certain areas such as Patagonia or Kazakhstan. But it can also be very windy in desert areas, also in the Sahara Desert, around the Red Sea or in areas in Algeria and Morocco. Electricity production cost with wind turbines on land are, mid 2020, around 2 Euro cents per kWh at good sites.

Today, in 2020, solar and wind electricity is even cheaper than electricity generated using fossil fuels, but mainly in areas far away from the demand. That leaves the question how this cheap green energy can be delivered to the energy user at the right place and time. This requires transport and storage of energy. Transport of electricity is possible via electricity cables, but that is roughly 10 times more expensive than transporting the same amount of energy as hydrogen by pipeline. Equally, storage of electricity in batteries or by pumping up water is more than 100 times as expensive than storing hydrogen in underground salt caverns.

For longer distances, beyond the feasible range of cables or pipelines, energy will have to be transported by train, truck or ship. The only feasible pathway is by converting electricity into hydrogen and convert it for transport. Like natural gas, hydrogen can be liquefied, which requires temperatures of -253 degrees Celsius, only 20 degrees above the absolute zero. Hydrogen can also be combined with nitrogen from air to produce ammonia, the main component of fertilizer, which is already liquid at -33 degrees Celsius, so cheaper and easier to transport than liquid hydrogen.

Now comes calculating, what is cheaper? Is it cheaper to generate electricity from solar or wind far away from demand and to bring it to the user via electricity cables and when necessary store this electricity in batteries? Or is a conversion to hydrogen and transport by pipeline and hydrogen storage in salt caverns and (if necessary) conversion back to electricity cheaper, despite the energy losses and extra conversion cost? Or is higher cost solar or wind electricity generation closer to the user, but with lower transport costs, a cheaper solution?

An example for a simplified comparison is given in the diagram below. It is a comparison between a solar cell system on the roof of a house in North-Western Europe and a solar cell system in a desert. Both systems must supply 100 kWh electricity to the house. The assumption is that desert electricity can be produced at a cost of 1 Eurocent per kWh. Because the yield at the roof of a house in North-Western Europe is a factor 2 to 3 lower and the costs of a small system are a factor 2.5 to 3 higher than for a large system in the desert, the solar panels on the house produce electricity at a cost of 5-9 Euro cents per kWh. So, 100 kWh electricity from the solar panels on the roof costs 5-9 Euro. 

The solar power from the desert, on the other hand, is converted via electrolysis into hydrogen, liquefied and transported in a ship, put in a pipeline and converted into electricity at home with a fuel cell. Electrolysis in the desert requires not only solar electricity but also water. By pipeline, sea water can be transported to these solar hydrogen production plants, reverse osmosis converts the sea water into demineralized water, the feedstock for hydrogen production. Even with distances over 1.000 km, these demineralized water cost, are only a couple percent of total hydrogen production cost. 

Despite all the extra costs and losses, 100 kWh of solar power from the desert costs about the same as that from the solar panels on the roof. The major advantage of the desert electricity, however, is the availability at any time, summer and winter and day and night.

It is also interesting to note that a factor of 2.5 more electricity must be produced in the desert given the conversion losses, but the number of solar panels placed on the roof or in the desert is approximately the same. After all, the same solar panel in the desert produces 2-3 times as much as on the roof in Europe.

This example shows that a sustainable energy system is about total system costs and not about system efficiency. And it clearly explains the merit of hydrogen in a sustainable energy system, namely for cheap transport and storage of low cost solar and wind electricity. With hydrogen, a clean, affordable and reliable sustainable energy system can be realized. And green hydrogen, along with green electricity, can easily replace all fossil fuels.

ELECTRICITY AND HYDROGEN SYMBIOSIS; THE ELECTRO-HYDROGEN ERA!

A global sustainable energy system can be constructed with mainly solar and wind as energy source, converted into electricity via solar panels and wind turbines. Where possible, useful and cost effective, the electricity produced is directly used. However, lowest cost solar and wind electricity can also be produced far away from the demand, requiring conversion to hydrogen for cheap transport and storage. The lower electricity production cost and cheaper transport and storage cost will compensate for extra energy conversion losses and costs.

Hydrogen as a feedstock to produce chemical products is a direct use of hydrogen. But the application of hydrogen for heating, mobility and power means that hydrogen needs to be converted again into electricity or heat. Today, the conversion is via combustion in a boiler, furnace, gas engine or turbine. However, in future the electrochemical conversion via fuel cells will become more important. The fuel cell reaction is the reverse of the electrolyser reaction: hydrogen and oxygen form water and the process produces electricity:

Fuel cell:    2H2 + O2 🡪 2H2O + 2e

Fuel cells that produce electricity and heat will be used in houses and buildings. The volume and temperature level of the heat can be brought to the desired level by using heat pumps. And the electricity from the fuel cells supplements the electricity from solar panels on the roof.

In future, electricity from batteries can directly power an electric engine for light cars, ships and airplanes, that travel short distances. For heavier vehicles, ships, trains and airplanes with longer ranges, an onboard fuel cell converts hydrogen into electricity, which drives the electric motor. Much more energy can be carried on board by hydrogen (gaseous, liquid or packaged as e.g. ammonia) than by electricity in batteries. 

In a transitional period, hydrogen can also be used for heating, mobility and electricity production, by combusting it in a boiler, motor or turbine. But eventually electrochemical conversion using electrolysers and fuel cells will dominate. Electricity and hydrogen will be the carbon-free symbiotic energy carriers, which can be electrochemically converted into each other by these electrolysers and fuel cells.

After the past steam era, the present combustion era, a sustainable energy era will emerge with new technologies.

Here comes the electro-hydrogen era!

This article first appeared on: https://nvvn.nl/here-comes-the-electro-hydrogen-era/


Figures from: Ad van Wijk, Els van der Roest, Jos Boere, ‘Solar Power to the People’ Allied Waters, November 2017, ISBN 978-1-61499-832-7 (online)

Webinar recording Hydrogen

On July 15th 2020, Energy Post hosted an online panel discussion with Dr. Florian Ermacora (European Commission), Professor Ad van Wijk (TU Delft), Marcel Steinbach (BDEW) and Giulia Branzi (SNAM). At the event, video recording below, readers heard a summary of the proposals for Europe’s new Hydrogen and Sector Integration strategies direct form the Commission, insights from van Wijk on how supply will come as much from outside as from within the EU, a note of caution from trading specialist Steinbach and the TSO view from SNAM, Europe’s largest natural gas infrastructure company and Energy Post’s partner for the event

Sea, Sun and Sand: The Circular Solution

Since the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015, which led to the international climate agreement, there have been far-reaching developments in the sustainability of the global energy supply. More and more countries are turning to hydrogen. What can hydrogen contribute to the energy transition? We asked Professor Ad van Wijk, Professor of Future Energy Systems at Delft University of Technology. “It’s both technically and economically feasible to produce enough fully circular energy around the world,” he states.

Has a lot been achieved in terms of innovations to tackle global warming since the Paris Climate Conference?

“Absolutely, but don’t forget that the developments go back much further than 2015. Scientists have been studying the effects of burning fossil fuels, carbon emissions and the use of greenhouse gases such as CFCs and methane for decades. Since the climate summit in Kyoto in 1997, the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change has become increasingly apparent. The IPCC reports are now very clear in that area as well. An important achievement at the Paris conference was the fact that agreement was reached on the need to restrict the rise in the global temperature to no more than 1.5 to 2 degrees centigrade, and it was decided that each country would be given the latitude to formulate its own policies to combat further global warming. Since then, I have seen a rising sense of urgency, not only among politicians but also among the younger generation and, perhaps to an even greater extent, in the business world. I have frequent contacts with the leading executives of major companies and I have seen how skepticism about climate change has virtually disappeared in the business world. People are now clearly convinced that business models based on the use of fossil fuels are not sustainable in the long term. One of the effects of the Paris summit is that people are now thinking seriously about innovations that go further than quasi-environmental strategies or a ‘green’ image. My approach puts a strong emphasis on the opportunities afforded by hydrogen. I believe that the transition to hydrogen, in all its forms, is the way forward towards truly circular energy.”

Ad van Wijk, Professor of Future Energy Systems at Delft University of Technology.

Energy carrier

Can you explain how hydrogen is made?

“Let me say first of all that hydrogen is not a source of energy. It is an energy carrier that you can produce from sources such as oil, natural gas and coal. You can produce hydrogen gas by converting hydrocarbons in a chemical reaction that releases CO2. That approach is used, for example, to produce fertilizer (ammonia). Hydrogen gas is widely used in numerous applications, for example in refineries for the production of petrol. Approximately 800,000 tons of hydrogen gas is produced from natural gas annually in the Netherlands, of which 400,000 tons in the port of Rotterdam. With its large stocks of natural gas, the Netherlands has actually become the second largest producer of hydrogen in Europe after Germany. Depending on the approach used to process the released CO2, this type of hydrogen gas is usually referred to as ‘grey’ (CO2 is released to the air) or ‘blue’ (CO2 is captured and stored) hydrogen. What we are now focusing on is the production of ‘green hydrogen’, which does not result in any net release of CO2. Green hydrogen gas is made by converting electricity from solar and wind in a process known as electrolysis. In very simple terms: it’s made from ordinary water. Chemically, water consists of two elements: hydrogen and oxygen, or H2O. In short, electrolysis is a process that breaks water down into oxygen (O2) and hydrogen (H2) by sending an electrical current through it. The result is hydrogen gas – the most common gas in the universe. It is harmless and you can transport it safely through existing gas pipelines without many modifications being needed.”Read more

Storing energy

And how can hydrogen be stored?

“That is one of the great benefits of hydrogen: you can store it more easily and cheaper than electricity. One of the major limitations of solar and wind energy is that the power you produce has to be used immediately: it is difficult to store in batteries, simply because there are no batteries with enough capacity for such large amounts of energy. And building them is not a serious option either because of the cost. But there are more affordable options for storing hydrogen. Some of them resemble our current approaches for storing oil and gas in tanks. But hydrogen can also be stored in salt caverns and specific empty gas fields may also be an option. Hydrogen is already stored in salt caverns at several locations around the world, and very cheaply. That means we can produce electricity or heat using the stored hydrogen whenever we need it. Green hydrogen is a fully circular energy carrier: you produce electricity from water, releasing oxygen to the air. Exactly the same amount of oxygen is used and the same amount of water is left at the end of the process, whether you use a boiler, furnace or gas turbine or chemically convert the hydrogen in a fuel cell to produce heat and electricity.”

BY INSTALLING SOLAR PANELS IN A RELATIVELY SMALL PART OF THE SAHARA WE CAN GENERATE ENOUGH ENERGY TO SUPPLY THE ENTIRE WORLD WITH ELECTRICITY.

Fuel cell

How can you power an electric car with hydrogen?

“You use a fuel cell to power the car. It effectively reverses the process done by the electrolyzer. Hydrogen gas is combined in the fuel cell with oxygen from the air. That results in a chemical reaction which produces electricity and the only residual product is water. The electricity is routed to the car’s electric motor. This all eliminates the need for heavy batteries. Hydrogen-powered cars can cover a distance of one hundred kilometers with one kilo of hydrogen. The drive train of a fuel-cell electric vehicle is much more efficient than a diesel engine and there are no emissions of pollutants such as CO2, particulate matter and nitrogen-oxides.”

So are we seeing the end of cars and trucks with internal combustion engines?

“It looks like it. I believe that the future belongs to cars with electric motors powered by electricity from a battery or by converting hydrogen gas into electricity with a fuel cell. Electric cars have been used increasingly in recent years around the world. Most of them are battery electric cars at present but it is expected that we will have fuel-cell cars in the future that will produce electricity by converting hydrogen gas with oxygen from the air. The electricity released during that process drives the electric motor of the car. The ranges of these vehicles are increasing all the time: these cars can now manage between 400 and 600 kilometers. And filling the tank with hydrogen is just as quick as with petrol. As we speak, there are already more than eighty hydrogen filling stations across Germany. An alliance of Shell, Total and car manufacturers will build a total of 400 hydrogen fueling stations until 2023. All the car manufacturers are working on the further development of electric cars. Fuel cells are the most obvious option for large cars and certainly for vans, buses and trucks. Tests are already being conducted on inland shipping vessels that run on hydrogen.”Read more

Limiting global warming

Can hydrogen contribute to achieving the target of limiting global warming to no more than two degrees?

“That is certainly possible in technical and economic terms. By converting green energy into hydrogen, we can limit global warming. However, we need a large-scale joint approach to production, transport and storage. So actually achieving the target depends on the political will to go down this road and how quickly the business sector and the public get behind it. If you’d asked me the same question five years ago, I wouldn’t have been so optimistic. But there has been an important development: the price of solar and wind energy has now fallen to such an extent that we can now keep the total costs of our energy supply manageable. Which is why so many parties are interested. The current cost of producing a kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity at the right solar and wind sites is about 1.5-2.0 euro cents. But you have to do that in the right places. Morocco, for example. A new wind farm was recently opened there where costs can be kept to that level. A new solar farm in Dubai can produce for less than 1.5 euro cents. Even in Portugal, a recent tender for 1 GW solar has resulted in a price of 1.48 euro cents per kWh.”

Large scale required

“The technology and installation methods have progressed so far that low costs of this kind for electricity production are now a reality. By comparison, electricity from the most modern coal-fired power stations costs three times as much. Large energy companies expect the price of solar and wind to drop even further in the coming years to around 1 euro cent per kWh. But let me repeat: this is only possible with a large-scale approach and in locations with a lot of sun, such as the Sahara or Australia, or with a lot of strong winds, such as Patagonia, Kazakhstan or on the oceans. We don’t really have any locations like that in Europe. The returns from a wind turbine depend on wind strength. A wind turbine has to run at its maximum capacity for more than five thousand hours to get a return on the investment. That is hardly ever possible on land and that is why wind turbines on land are not usually viable without government subsidies. The same applies to solar panels: the climate in Northwest Europe is not really suitable and there is not enough space available. Just to give you an idea: a solar farm was opened recently in Dubai that has a capacity of 5,000 MW. By comparison, the largest solar farm in the Netherlands has a capacity of 50 MW. In an area like the Sahara, the conditions are right and it really is worth setting up large-scale systems there.”

Should Europe be abandoning the idea that we can produce our own sustainable energy?

“From the cost point of view, I think that’s fair to say. There aren’t enough possibilities in Europe for the large-scale production of green energy that will always be available. But the good news is that cheap, sustainable energy is available worldwide. By installing solar panels in a relatively small part of the Sahara, about eight percent of the desert, we can generate enough energy to supply the entire world with electricity. So there’s no space problem: the Sahara is almost twice the size of the whole of the European Union and hardly any people live there. Europe already imports more than 50% of its energy. The truth of the matter is that the conditions in Europe are such that wind turbines and solar panels are not efficient enough in this region. So it costs much more to produce energy in Europe than to import hydrogen from the Sahara through pipelines. In the area around the Red Sea, the onshore wind is at least as strong as in the North Sea, which means that large onshore wind farms can be built much more economically than our offshore wind farms. That is already happening in the Middle East: they use cheap power from solar farms in their own country and sell the oil and gas. Morocco recently set up an inter-ministerial working group to sell hydrogen as an export product, and countries such as New Zealand, Australia and Chile are also focusing on wind and solar as export products. Japan is opting for blue and green hydrogen as an alternative to nuclear energy, and China is already focusing on blue and green hydrogen extensively as well.”

Energy transport

So the main problem in Europe is that hydrogen gas can be produced relatively economically but not in adequate quantities where it is needed? Is transporting that energy actually the biggest challenge?

“That’s right. Transporting green power through cables over long distances involves power losses and costs more than hydrogen transport through pipelines. By converting electricity into hydrogen gas, you can reduce transport costs by a factor of ten or even twenty in comparison with electricity through cables. Even though you lose electricity in the conversion process, the savings in transport costs more than compensate for the losses. Scientists from, among other places, Delft University of Technology are now working on practical ways of putting this process into practice. They are working on a project in North Africa where water is being converted into hydrogen gas with electrolysis using electricity from solar farms in the Sahara. The gas is then transported to Rotterdam through an existing gas pipeline. There are even ideas for a transitional arrangement involving the installation of a pipeline with a smaller diameter inside the pipeline that is already in place for the transportation of hydrogen. But there are other ways to export hydrogen: you can liquefy it or convert it into ammonia using nitrogen from the air and then transport it by sea in tankers. Unlike hydrogen gas, liquid hydrogen or ammonia can be stored and transported in tanks.”

I BELIEVE THAT THE TRANSITION TO HYDROGEN, IN ALL ITS FORMS, IS THE WAY FORWARD TOWARDS TRULY CIRCULAR ENERGY.

Boost for Africa and Europe

How probable do you think it is that an enormous solar farm will actually be built in the Sahara?

“People are working very hard on European policy to make this possible. The Energy Commission of the European Union realizes that we can’t be self-sufficient in energy in Europe. We will have to rely on North Africa for large-scale green energy. If we manage to make agreements about joint development and exploitation with all the countries involved, we will also create opportunities for employment and prosperity in that area. It is conceivable, for example, that water will be needed to make hydrogen and that pipelines will be built to take water to the Sahara. A pipeline of that kind can obviously be used to take more water to the desert than is strictly necessary for the production of hydrogen. It would then be possible to use reverse osmosis to turn it into drinking water or even to grow food. You can also use the sand of the Sahara, or silicon, for the production of solar cells. From this point of view, it’s fair to say that sun, sea and sand are the building blocks of a fully circular system. And so the decision to install solar farms in the Sahara could trigger enormous levels of economic activity in Africa, and that could hopefully put a brake on migration flows to Europe. On top of all that, this approach could also deliver an economic boost for Europe because we not only have the knowledge required but also the facilities to produce the electrolysis systems required.”

Shipping

What consequences could the transition to hydrogen have for global shipping?

“At the moment, we are still transporting shiploads of coal, oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) all over the world and I expect a lot of those flows to be replaced by hydrogen. Either in tankers in liquid form or through gas pipelines. As I said, you can also transport hydrogen in liquid form after converting it into ammonia first. To make hydrogen gas liquid, you have to cool it to -253 degrees centigrade. The process is similar to the process used to make natural gas liquid (LNG). That always involves evaporation in a process known as boil-off. You can capture that vapor and use it to propel the ship, eliminating carbon emissions entirely. But hydrogen can also play an important role as an alternative fuel for other types of seagoing vessel.”

Even so, critics often point out that a lot of energy is lost in the production of liquid hydrogen…

“Once again, that’s right. But the question is: how much of a problem is that? You can only get a picture of the benefits of this transition by looking at the total system costs. You may need 20% more energy to liquefy hydrogen but you can easily solve that problem by installing more solar panels. If producing electricity doesn’t cost any more than 1.5 cents per kWh, the higher costs of the liquefaction process are negligible. One kilo of hydrogen is the equivalent of 39.4 kWh. So you have to generate 8 kWh extra to liquefy the hydrogen. That’s eight times 1.5 cents. In practice, the loss of this 20% leads to almost no serious increase in the cost. The total costs are still lower than other ways of generating, transporting and storing energy.”

Infrastructure

Finally: you said earlier that hydrogen gas can be transported safely through pipelines without many modifications. Does that mean we can carry on using the existing natural gas pipelines as usual?

“Certainly. There has been a hydrogen pipeline between Rotterdam and northern France for thirty years now. That proves that hydrogen can be transported safely through a pipeline. The network of gas pipelines is well regulated in the Netherlands and other Western European countries, but there is still no legislation about the transport of hydrogen. Officially, it is not yet permitted in the Netherlands to transport hydrogen through our natural gas network. As we speak, people are working on making one of the large gas pipelines suitable for this purpose. Barring a few minor modifications, such as the use of a different type of compressor, using the existing natural gas infrastructure for hydrogen is straightforward.”

Since the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in December 2015, which led to the international climate agreement, there have been far-reaching developments in the sustainability of the global energy supply. More and more countries are turning to hydrogen. What can hydrogen contribute to the energy transition? We asked Professor Ad van Wijk, Professor of Future Energy Systems at Delft University of Technology. “It’s both technically and economically feasible to produce enough fully circular energy around the world,” he states.

Has a lot been achieved in terms of innovations to tackle global warming since the Paris Climate Conference?

“Absolutely, but don’t forget that the developments go back much further than 2015. Scientists have been studying the effects of burning fossil fuels, carbon emissions and the use of greenhouse gases such as CFCs and methane for decades. Since the climate summit in Kyoto in 1997, the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change has become increasingly apparent. The IPCC reports are now very clear in that area as well. An important achievement at the Paris conference was the fact that agreement was reached on the need to restrict the rise in the global temperature to no more than 1.5 to 2 degrees centigrade, and it was decided that each country would be given the latitude to formulate its own policies to combat further global warming. Since then, I have seen a rising sense of urgency, not only among politicians but also among the younger generation and, perhaps to an even greater extent, in the business world. I have frequent contacts with the leading executives of major companies and I have seen how skepticism about climate change has virtually disappeared in the business world. People are now clearly convinced that business models based on the use of fossil fuels are not sustainable in the long term. One of the effects of the Paris summit is that people are now thinking seriously about innovations that go further than quasi-environmental strategies or a ‘green’ image. My approach puts a strong emphasis on the opportunities afforded by hydrogen. I believe that the transition to hydrogen, in all its forms, is the way forward towards truly circular energy.”

Ad van Wijk, Professor of Future Energy Systems at Delft University of Technology.

Energy carrier

Can you explain how hydrogen is made?

“Let me say first of all that hydrogen is not a source of energy. It is an energy carrier that you can produce from sources such as oil, natural gas and coal. You can produce hydrogen gas by converting hydrocarbons in a chemical reaction that releases CO2. That approach is used, for example, to produce fertilizer (ammonia). Hydrogen gas is widely used in numerous applications, for example in refineries for the production of petrol. Approximately 800,000 tons of hydrogen gas is produced from natural gas annually in the Netherlands, of which 400,000 tons in the port of Rotterdam. With its large stocks of natural gas, the Netherlands has actually become the second largest producer of hydrogen in Europe after Germany. Depending on the approach used to process the released CO2, this type of hydrogen gas is usually referred to as ‘grey’ (CO2 is released to the air) or ‘blue’ (CO2 is captured and stored) hydrogen. What we are now focusing on is the production of ‘green hydrogen’, which does not result in any net release of CO2. Green hydrogen gas is made by converting electricity from solar and wind in a process known as electrolysis. In very simple terms: it’s made from ordinary water. Chemically, water consists of two elements: hydrogen and oxygen, or H2O. In short, electrolysis is a process that breaks water down into oxygen (O2) and hydrogen (H2) by sending an electrical current through it. The result is hydrogen gas – the most common gas in the universe. It is harmless and you can transport it safely through existing gas pipelines without many modifications being needed.”Read more

Storing energy

And how can hydrogen be stored?

“That is one of the great benefits of hydrogen: you can store it more easily and cheaper than electricity. One of the major limitations of solar and wind energy is that the power you produce has to be used immediately: it is difficult to store in batteries, simply because there are no batteries with enough capacity for such large amounts of energy. And building them is not a serious option either because of the cost. But there are more affordable options for storing hydrogen. Some of them resemble our current approaches for storing oil and gas in tanks. But hydrogen can also be stored in salt caverns and specific empty gas fields may also be an option. Hydrogen is already stored in salt caverns at several locations around the world, and very cheaply. That means we can produce electricity or heat using the stored hydrogen whenever we need it. Green hydrogen is a fully circular energy carrier: you produce electricity from water, releasing oxygen to the air. Exactly the same amount of oxygen is used and the same amount of water is left at the end of the process, whether you use a boiler, furnace or gas turbine or chemically convert the hydrogen in a fuel cell to produce heat and electricity.”

BY INSTALLING SOLAR PANELS IN A RELATIVELY SMALL PART OF THE SAHARA WE CAN GENERATE ENOUGH ENERGY TO SUPPLY THE ENTIRE WORLD WITH ELECTRICITY.

Fuel cell

How can you power an electric car with hydrogen?

“You use a fuel cell to power the car. It effectively reverses the process done by the electrolyzer. Hydrogen gas is combined in the fuel cell with oxygen from the air. That results in a chemical reaction which produces electricity and the only residual product is water. The electricity is routed to the car’s electric motor. This all eliminates the need for heavy batteries. Hydrogen-powered cars can cover a distance of one hundred kilometers with one kilo of hydrogen. The drive train of a fuel-cell electric vehicle is much more efficient than a diesel engine and there are no emissions of pollutants such as CO2, particulate matter and nitrogen-oxides.”

So are we seeing the end of cars and trucks with internal combustion engines?

“It looks like it. I believe that the future belongs to cars with electric motors powered by electricity from a battery or by converting hydrogen gas into electricity with a fuel cell. Electric cars have been used increasingly in recent years around the world. Most of them are battery electric cars at present but it is expected that we will have fuel-cell cars in the future that will produce electricity by converting hydrogen gas with oxygen from the air. The electricity released during that process drives the electric motor of the car. The ranges of these vehicles are increasing all the time: these cars can now manage between 400 and 600 kilometers. And filling the tank with hydrogen is just as quick as with petrol. As we speak, there are already more than eighty hydrogen filling stations across Germany. An alliance of Shell, Total and car manufacturers will build a total of 400 hydrogen fueling stations until 2023. All the car manufacturers are working on the further development of electric cars. Fuel cells are the most obvious option for large cars and certainly for vans, buses and trucks. Tests are already being conducted on inland shipping vessels that run on hydrogen.”Read more

Limiting global warming

Can hydrogen contribute to achieving the target of limiting global warming to no more than two degrees?

“That is certainly possible in technical and economic terms. By converting green energy into hydrogen, we can limit global warming. However, we need a large-scale joint approach to production, transport and storage. So actually achieving the target depends on the political will to go down this road and how quickly the business sector and the public get behind it. If you’d asked me the same question five years ago, I wouldn’t have been so optimistic. But there has been an important development: the price of solar and wind energy has now fallen to such an extent that we can now keep the total costs of our energy supply manageable. Which is why so many parties are interested. The current cost of producing a kilowatt hour (kWh) of electricity at the right solar and wind sites is about 1.5-2.0 euro cents. But you have to do that in the right places. Morocco, for example. A new wind farm was recently opened there where costs can be kept to that level. A new solar farm in Dubai can produce for less than 1.5 euro cents. Even in Portugal, a recent tender for 1 GW solar has resulted in a price of 1.48 euro cents per kWh.”

Large scale required

“The technology and installation methods have progressed so far that low costs of this kind for electricity production are now a reality. By comparison, electricity from the most modern coal-fired power stations costs three times as much. Large energy companies expect the price of solar and wind to drop even further in the coming years to around 1 euro cent per kWh. But let me repeat: this is only possible with a large-scale approach and in locations with a lot of sun, such as the Sahara or Australia, or with a lot of strong winds, such as Patagonia, Kazakhstan or on the oceans. We don’t really have any locations like that in Europe. The returns from a wind turbine depend on wind strength. A wind turbine has to run at its maximum capacity for more than five thousand hours to get a return on the investment. That is hardly ever possible on land and that is why wind turbines on land are not usually viable without government subsidies. The same applies to solar panels: the climate in Northwest Europe is not really suitable and there is not enough space available. Just to give you an idea: a solar farm was opened recently in Dubai that has a capacity of 5,000 MW. By comparison, the largest solar farm in the Netherlands has a capacity of 50 MW. In an area like the Sahara, the conditions are right and it really is worth setting up large-scale systems there.”

Should Europe be abandoning the idea that we can produce our own sustainable energy?

“From the cost point of view, I think that’s fair to say. There aren’t enough possibilities in Europe for the large-scale production of green energy that will always be available. But the good news is that cheap, sustainable energy is available worldwide. By installing solar panels in a relatively small part of the Sahara, about eight percent of the desert, we can generate enough energy to supply the entire world with electricity. So there’s no space problem: the Sahara is almost twice the size of the whole of the European Union and hardly any people live there. Europe already imports more than 50% of its energy. The truth of the matter is that the conditions in Europe are such that wind turbines and solar panels are not efficient enough in this region. So it costs much more to produce energy in Europe than to import hydrogen from the Sahara through pipelines. In the area around the Red Sea, the onshore wind is at least as strong as in the North Sea, which means that large onshore wind farms can be built much more economically than our offshore wind farms. That is already happening in the Middle East: they use cheap power from solar farms in their own country and sell the oil and gas. Morocco recently set up an inter-ministerial working group to sell hydrogen as an export product, and countries such as New Zealand, Australia and Chile are also focusing on wind and solar as export products. Japan is opting for blue and green hydrogen as an alternative to nuclear energy, and China is already focusing on blue and green hydrogen extensively as well.”

Energy transport

So the main problem in Europe is that hydrogen gas can be produced relatively economically but not in adequate quantities where it is needed? Is transporting that energy actually the biggest challenge?

“That’s right. Transporting green power through cables over long distances involves power losses and costs more than hydrogen transport through pipelines. By converting electricity into hydrogen gas, you can reduce transport costs by a factor of ten or even twenty in comparison with electricity through cables. Even though you lose electricity in the conversion process, the savings in transport costs more than compensate for the losses. Scientists from, among other places, Delft University of Technology are now working on practical ways of putting this process into practice. They are working on a project in North Africa where water is being converted into hydrogen gas with electrolysis using electricity from solar farms in the Sahara. The gas is then transported to Rotterdam through an existing gas pipeline. There are even ideas for a transitional arrangement involving the installation of a pipeline with a smaller diameter inside the pipeline that is already in place for the transportation of hydrogen. But there are other ways to export hydrogen: you can liquefy it or convert it into ammonia using nitrogen from the air and then transport it by sea in tankers. Unlike hydrogen gas, liquid hydrogen or ammonia can be stored and transported in tanks.”

I BELIEVE THAT THE TRANSITION TO HYDROGEN, IN ALL ITS FORMS, IS THE WAY FORWARD TOWARDS TRULY CIRCULAR ENERGY.

Boost for Africa and Europe

How probable do you think it is that an enormous solar farm will actually be built in the Sahara?

“People are working very hard on European policy to make this possible. The Energy Commission of the European Union realizes that we can’t be self-sufficient in energy in Europe. We will have to rely on North Africa for large-scale green energy. If we manage to make agreements about joint development and exploitation with all the countries involved, we will also create opportunities for employment and prosperity in that area. It is conceivable, for example, that water will be needed to make hydrogen and that pipelines will be built to take water to the Sahara. A pipeline of that kind can obviously be used to take more water to the desert than is strictly necessary for the production of hydrogen. It would then be possible to use reverse osmosis to turn it into drinking water or even to grow food. You can also use the sand of the Sahara, or silicon, for the production of solar cells. From this point of view, it’s fair to say that sun, sea and sand are the building blocks of a fully circular system. And so the decision to install solar farms in the Sahara could trigger enormous levels of economic activity in Africa, and that could hopefully put a brake on migration flows to Europe. On top of all that, this approach could also deliver an economic boost for Europe because we not only have the knowledge required but also the facilities to produce the electrolysis systems required.”

Shipping

What consequences could the transition to hydrogen have for global shipping?

“At the moment, we are still transporting shiploads of coal, oil and liquefied natural gas (LNG) all over the world and I expect a lot of those flows to be replaced by hydrogen. Either in tankers in liquid form or through gas pipelines. As I said, you can also transport hydrogen in liquid form after converting it into ammonia first. To make hydrogen gas liquid, you have to cool it to -253 degrees centigrade. The process is similar to the process used to make natural gas liquid (LNG). That always involves evaporation in a process known as boil-off. You can capture that vapor and use it to propel the ship, eliminating carbon emissions entirely. But hydrogen can also play an important role as an alternative fuel for other types of seagoing vessel.”

Even so, critics often point out that a lot of energy is lost in the production of liquid hydrogen…

“Once again, that’s right. But the question is: how much of a problem is that? You can only get a picture of the benefits of this transition by looking at the total system costs. You may need 20% more energy to liquefy hydrogen but you can easily solve that problem by installing more solar panels. If producing electricity doesn’t cost any more than 1.5 cents per kWh, the higher costs of the liquefaction process are negligible. One kilo of hydrogen is the equivalent of 39.4 kWh. So you have to generate 8 kWh extra to liquefy the hydrogen. That’s eight times 1.5 cents. In practice, the loss of this 20% leads to almost no serious increase in the cost. The total costs are still lower than other ways of generating, transporting and storing energy.”

Infrastructure

Finally: you said earlier that hydrogen gas can be transported safely through pipelines without many modifications. Does that mean we can carry on using the existing natural gas pipelines as usual?

“Certainly. There has been a hydrogen pipeline between Rotterdam and northern France for thirty years now. That proves that hydrogen can be transported safely through a pipeline. The network of gas pipelines is well regulated in the Netherlands and other Western European countries, but there is still no legislation about the transport of hydrogen. Officially, it is not yet permitted in the Netherlands to transport hydrogen through our natural gas network. As we speak, people are working on making one of the large gas pipelines suitable for this purpose. Barring a few minor modifications, such as the use of a different type of compressor, using the existing natural gas infrastructure for hydrogen is straightforward.”

This article appeared as part of Boskalis Magazine

The future of clean and sustainable hydrogen in Europe

On 8 July the European Commission launched its communications on the EU Energy System Integration Strategy and the EU Hydrogen Strategy. Alongside the Clean Hydrogen Alliance, these closely linked initiatives are designed to be instrumental in accelerating the transition to the energy system of the future in Europe – where hydrogen will play a key role.

Presented by the Flame conference in association with Women in Energy, Climate and Sustainability (WECS), join us for a discussion with Nienke Homan, Regional Minister in the Province of Groningen, The Netherlands, and Professor Ad van Wijk, of TU Delft, on the development of a hydrogen economy in Europe, the pioneering Hydrogen Valley in the Northern Netherlands, and the likely impact of the EU Hydrogen strategy.

Watch the recording here