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

Europe bids to lead renewable hydrogen revolution

The European Union intends to do with hydrogen what it failed to do with solar and batteries: lead the world.

Clean hydrogen – which ultimately means green or renewable hydrogen made from solar- or wind-powered electrolysis – is one of the European Commission’s top priorities, Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said recently at the launch of the EU’s post-coronavirus recovery package. The Commission is due to unveil a European hydrogen strategy and a sector integration strategy focused on decarbonising industry on June 24. Ahead of this, the newsflow around hydrogen has exploded. Climate campaigners say hydrogen is indispensable to Europe’s ambition for net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. At the same time, they are worried. “The risk is that the [hydrogen] hype triggers a reversal of priorities,” said Dries Acke, head of the energy program at the European Climate Foundation (ECF), a Brussels-based think tank. “Energy efficiency, renewables and direct electrification are the bulk solutions. Hydrogen is essential to get to net zero in certain sectors like industry but we are talking about the last 20% of emission reductions,” he said. National hydrogen strategies, the most recent of which has just been unveiled in Germany, target heavy industry and long-distance transport. But for many advocates hydrogen has a vital role to play across the energy system. “Even if all production and consumption was electric, more than half of that power would have to be converted to hydrogen for [cost-effective] transport and storage,” said Ad van Wijk, professor for future energy systems at Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands and a founding father of the hydrogen economy concept. “In a sustainable energy system, you calculate in terms of system costs, not efficiency,” he said. As such, it made more sense to generate renewable power in the Sahara and import it to the Netherlands in the form of hydrogen, even with the energy losses that conversion entailed, than to install solar and electrolysers in the Netherlands. There is a general consensus that most of Europe’s future hydrogen demand would be met by imports. This is recognized in the German strategy, which puts aside Eur2 billion in hydrogen subsidies to develop production partnerships with third countries. A study by German think tank Agora Energiewende in March highlighted the importance of cooperation within Europe. It warned the number of offshore wind turbines expected to be squeezed into the German section of the North Sea risked reducing full-load hours from 4,000-5,000 per year to 3,000/yr.

Hydrogen hedge

The business case for green hydrogen is tied up with that for renewables. It can improve the business case for offshore wind in particular by avoiding additional pressure on an already overloaded grid. Hydrogen can also provide renewables with a business case when the electricity system cannot. “Conversion to hydrogen is a kind of hedging for a renewables investor,” said Emmanouil Kakaras, head of new business at Mitsubishi Power Europe. For hydrogen advocates like Van Wijk and Kakaras, the biggest challenge to a clean hydrogen economy is getting the right regulations in place. “EU policy is trying to repeat the success story of renewables,” said Kakaras. “But there is a big difference: unlike solar and wind, green hydrogen production is driven by operational not capital expenditure. 80% of the cost depends on the electricity price.”

German tax boost

This is why the German government’s pledge to “look into” removing taxes and levies on power used for hydrogen production is as important as its ambition for 5 GW of domestic electrolysis capacity by 2030. “You need an electricity price which is expensive enough to make renewable power viable and low enough to make the hydrogen produced from it competitive with gas,” Kakaras said.

In practice, stakeholders are pushing for Contracts for Difference for green hydrogen. The German government has said it would pilot these for steel and chemicals. And this is where stakeholders diverge: hydrogen enthusiasts want policymakers to promote green hydrogen – and, to get things started, blue hydrogen made from natural gas with carbon capture and storage (CCS) – across the economy. Climate campaigners say hydrogen should be steered to where it has the greatest value, namely industry, long-distance transport and seasonal storage of electricity. They also want a clear definition of what “clean” hydrogen is before it is promoted.

“There is a risk of policy before definitions,” said Acke. “Hydrogen is not a technology, it is an energy carrier that can be produced clean or dirty.”

Blending debate

There is a split over blending hydrogen with natural gas. “Blending is essential to help ramp up clean hydrogen production and its transport and distribution, and begin the process of the gas switch,” said Eva Hennig, head of EU energy policy for Thuega, a network of local German utilities. If Europe adopted a 55% emission reduction target for 2030, Germany would need to decarbonise gas for heating, she said. Climate campaigners argue that heat pumps and district heating are more cost-effective for space heating. Others say that hydrogen is too valuable to mix with natural gas, both in climate and economic terms.

Eurogas study

On June 9 energy consultants DNV GL presented preliminary results from a year-long study commissioned by Eurogas into how to decarbonise the European gas sector. They modelled a scenario that hits the EU’s decarbonisation targets for 2030 and 2050, but with more gas and at lower total cost – mainly due to less grid build-out – than one of the European Commission’s main net-zero scenarios.

The Eurogas version has nearly equal shares of electricity (36%) and renewable or decarbonised gas (32%) in final energy demand in 2050, versus the Commission’s 51% versus 20%. Variable renewables make up half the electricity mix in 2038 rather than 2032. But the carbon price also reaches just €100 a tonne in 2050, rather than €350 a tonne.

CCS assumptions

A big difference between the two scenarios is in the power sector. The Eurogas scenario has a lot more negative emissions from power plants – essentially from CCS applied to biomethane or biomass – to offset emissions in other sectors, notably transport and buildings. The consultants have assumed that CCS becomes viable at Eur100-Eur110/metric tonne. Both scenarios rely heavily on the technology, above all in power plants which is where it has thus far failed to get off the ground.

Nor is everyone convinced it ever will. CEO of Enel Francesco Starace told a May 28 webinar that Enel would not re-invest in CCS: “For us, CCS is a dead-end.” He added: “The future of natural gas will be decided more by what renewables can do than what gas can do.”

In the long run, CCS becomes less important for hydrogen production than electrolysis. By 2050, one MWh of green hydrogen will cost a quarter that of hydrogen made from natural gas with CCS, estimates DNV GL. Cheap wind and solar power are “the game-changer”, says Van Wijk. The Eurogas study does not model powerfuels, or hydrogen-derived liquid fuels, because they were “too cost-prohibitive” when the work started, a DNV consultant said. The full study is due June 30.

Author: Sonja Van Renssen

Forze H2 team TU Delft

ForzeH2 shows that hydrogen cars are far from boring or limiting; they’re incredibly fast race cars that offer a sustainable alternative to the regular racing world.

In the episodes below the ForceH2 team by the Delft University of Technology gives an in-dept look into its hydrogen race car in all its facets. Jump right in!

The MENA Hydrogen Alliance

The MENA Hydrogen Alliance was launched in 2020 to accelerate the development of value chains for green molecules in the region and brings together private and public sector actors and academia. Under the umbrella of Desertec 3.0, Dii Desert Energy acts as neutral advisor to elaborate business cases and to educate different stakeholders on all aspects of producing, transporting and using green hydrogen and other green molecules. This includes exporting green molecules to world markets, including Europe.

Following the first stakeholders’ consultation at the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi in January, hosted by Masdar, and the official launch at InterSolar Middle East on 4th of March 2020, the 3rd meeting of the MENA Hydrogen Alliance provided a review on recent activities, as well as a discussion on the alliance’s work until the end of 2020. This particular edition focused on connecting 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.

Watch the 3rd (online) Meeting of the MENA Hydrogen Alliance

Dossier waterstof

Als gast hoofdredacteur van het digtiale magazine VN Forum voor het dossier de opmars van waterstof, blad van de NVVN de Nederlandse Vereniging van de Verenigde Natiers, wordt er elke week een artikel bijgeplaatst op http://nvvn.nl/category/dossier-waterstof/ 

Evenals vele andere lidstaten van de VN kent ook Nederland een Vereniging voor de Verenigde Naties. Deze vereniging, kortweg de NVVN genaamd, werd in 1987 opgericht. In de statuten wordt het doel van de NVVN als volgt verwoord: “Het bevorderen van de doelstellingen van de Verenigde Naties in Nederland teneinde de bevolking bewust te maken van de noodzaak tot internationale samenwerking en de vestiging van een internationale rechtsorde.

De toekomst van waterstof: De ontbrekende schakel

Energie: De toekomst van waterstof

De ontbrekende schakel

Hoewel waterstof vaak wordt voorgesteld als hét symbool van een duurzame toekomst, is de weg daarnaartoe allesbehalve rechtlijnig. Een actieve regie is nodig. ‘Nederland heeft de neiging om te zeggen: laat de markt alles doen.’

Luuk Sengers

22 april 2020 – verschenen in nr. 17-18

Tankstation NXT in Westzaan biedt vanaf 2020 waterstof als brandstof aan. Augustus 2019© Berlinda van Dam / HH

Een belangrijke bron van energie in de toekomst wordt gezonde voeding. Hele wijken zijn straks alleen nog te voet of op de fiets bereikbaar. Auto’s zijn uit de binnensteden verdrongen door metro’s, trams en elektrische stadsbussen.

Een rit met een auto begint bij een oplaadpaal; de elektrische auto heeft de economische strijd gewonnen van de waterstofvariant. Alleen vrachtwagens en touringcars rijden op waterstof, omdat een waterstoftank minder weegt dan batterijen. En de vliegtuigen in de lucht verbranden ‘synthetische’ kerosine, een combinatie van waterstof en herwinbare kooldioxide.

In monumentale buurten en op het platteland zijn gasketels vervangen door waterstofketels en komt er waterstof uit de oude gasleidingen. Grachtenpanden en boerderijen zijn niet zuinig genoeg om met elektriciteit te verwarmen en op een warmtepomp aan de zeventiende-eeuwse gevel of warmtebuizen in de gracht zit niemand te wachten. In moderne buurten ligt dat anders: daar zijn de woningen via een warmtenet aangesloten op restwarmte van de industrie of thermische warmte uit de grond. Of ze hebben warmtepompen die warmte uit de lucht, de bodem of het grondwater halen.

Uit de kust en uit het zicht staan gigantische windmolenparken in de Noordzee. Daartussen enkele kunstmatige eilanden waarop uit windenergie waterstof wordt geproduceerd. Maar de meeste elektrolysers voor de productie van waterstof staan op het land, dicht bij industriële clusters, zoals in Delfzijl, Amsterdam, de Maasvlakte en Borsele. Tot bezwaren leidt dat nauwelijks, want elektrolysers doen hun geruisloze werk in gigantische loodsen – en aan ‘dozen’ in het landschap is Nederland in 2040 inmiddels wel gewend. Bovendien komt er nu zoveel energie van zee en uit zonnepanelen dat men begonnen is omstreden windmolens op het land te onttakelen.

De industrie zit voor het grootste deel ‘aan het stopcontact’: de voedingsfabrikanten, de machinefabrieken, de hele chemiesector. Alleen waar temperaturen van meer dan zeshonderd graden noodzakelijk zijn, zoals voor het maken van staal, glas en bakstenen en voor chemische processen, wordt waterstof gebruikt. Verder is waterstof een belangrijke grondstof voor de productie van bijvoorbeeld kunststof of kunstmest.

Olie wordt alleen nog geproduceerd als grondstof voor de chemische industrie en, niet onbelangrijk, om windturbines te smeren – hoewel de meeste chemische producten tegen die tijd misschien al uit biomassa, waterstof en hergebruikte koolstof worden gemaakt. En aardgas wordt hooguit ingezet om tekorten aan waterstof op te vangen. Het moet dan wel uit Noorwegen of Rusland worden geïmporteerd, want Slochteren is dan al vijftien jaar dicht. Het twaalfduizend kilometer lange aardgasnet van Gasunie wordt nu voornamelijk gebruikt om waterstof te verdelen.

Het lijkt niet zo moeilijk om je voor te stellen waar onze energie in 2040 vandaan komt. Later is allang begonnen. Een op de elf geplande windmolens in de Noordzee staat al fier overeind (één gigawatt van de geplande elf gigawatt). Er ligt een klimaatakkoord met een routeplan tot in elk geval 2030. De twee tegenpolen, de industrie en de natuur- en milieuorganisaties, hebben elkaar gevonden in een ‘waterstofcoalitie’. En twee weken geleden heeft het kabinet een ‘waterstofvisie’ gepubliceerd. De opties zijn beperkt en de tijd dringt: in 2050 moeten we, net als de rest van de wereld, volledig CO2-neutraal zijn.

Ons energiesysteem wordt een mix van groene elektronen (stroom) en groene moleculen (waterstof). Want de waterstof is nodig om de flauwtes in de duurzame energieopwekking (periodes zonder wind en zon) te overbruggen.

Maar dat is niet het hele verhaal. Waterstof is óók een onmisbare grondstof en brandstof voor de industrie. En deze heeft er belang bij dat de waterstof zo goedkoop mogelijk wordt geproduceerd. Dat wil zeggen: uit aardgas en niet uit water met behulp van elektriciteit van windmolens. De CO2 die daarbij vrijkomt, wil de industrie opslaan onder de grond – een technologie die volgens critici niet alleen gevaarlijk is, maar ook de transitie naar een werkelijk duurzame economie vertraagt. Hoewel waterstof dus vaak wordt voorgesteld als hét symbool van een duurzame toekomst, zou ze ook wel eens dé hinderpaal op weg naar die toekomst kunnen zijn.

Waterstof. ‘H’ voor scheikundigen – van ‘hydrogenium’. Het deeltje dat het meest voorkomt in het universum (hele sterren bestaan uit waterstof) en dat op onze planeet vooral bekend is door zijn unieke verbinding met zuurstof, in de vorm van H2O. Hydrogenium: ‘de watermaker’.

Dat je water ook weer uit elkaar kunt halen, is uiteraard een ontdekking van de mens. Zet een bak water onder stroom en de zuurstofatomen zwemmen naar de ene kant en de waterstofatomen naar de andere. Waterstof- en zuurstofatomen delen in H2O vier elektronen. Als je deze lokt met een positieve of negatieve elektrische lading van buiten, vergeten ze hun loyaliteit en laten ze het watermolecuul uit elkaar vallen.

Waterstof komt op aarde vooral voor in verbindingen met andere atomen. Aardgas, bijvoorbeeld, bevat ook waterstofatomen. Net als olie, vetten, zuren en menselijk weefsel. Omdat het niet zelfstandig kan overleven, hecht het zich met groot enthousiasme aan alles wat voorbijkomt. En het is déze enorme energie die waterstof zo gewild maakt. Als je een waterstofatoom dat op de ene plaats door elektrolyse is losgeweekt van een zuurstofatoom op een andere plaats weer verbindt met een zuurstofatoom, komt er veel energie vrij. De rol van waterstof in ons toekomstige energiesysteem is die van ‘energiedrager’: we kunnen er elektrische energie in opslaan en vervoeren.Waterstof is ook een onmisbare grondstof en brandstof voor de industrie, dus moet het zo goedkoop mogelijk zijn

Dat maakt waterstof tot de ontbrekende schakel in een duurzaam energiesysteem. Op momenten dat er te veel elektriciteit is, gebruiken we deze voor elektrolyse. De waterstof slaan we op in zoutkoepels. In periodes dat het níet waait én de zon niet schijnt, gebruiken we de waterstof om elektriciteit op te wekken. Stroomtekorten worden op de eerste plaats opgelost door elektriciteit uit andere landen in te kopen. ‘Dunkelflautes’, waarbij er op hetzelfde moment in héél Europa geen wind of zon is, zijn zeldzaam, maar komen voor. Het is dus goed om waterstof achter de hand te hebben.

Waterstof is bovendien ‘schoon’: bij het samenvoegen van waterstof met zuurstof (bij verbranding) ontstaat water. Daardoor is het ook een ideaal alternatief voor koolstofhoudende brandstoffen zoals aardgas en diesel.

We zullen in Nederland in 2040 waarschijnlijk lang niet al onze waterstof zelf kunnen produceren. De windturbines die daarvoor nodig zijn, moeten immers óók helpen om de honger van onze laptops, auto’s en koelkasten te stillen. In alle scenario’s wordt daarom ook gerekend op aanvoer uit bijvoorbeeld Spanje en Marokko, waar waterstof uit elektriciteit van goedkope zonnepanelen kan worden gemaakt.

De uitdaging van waterstof is gelegen in de elektriciteit die nodig is om haar te scheiden van andere atomen. Bij de omzetting van elektrische energie naar moleculaire energie gaat twintig tot dertig procent verloren. Huidige elektrolysers maken bovendien nog gebruik van zeer zeldzame metalen, zoals iridium. Efficiëntere en goedkopere elektrolysemethodes zijn de heilige graal.

‘Over twintig jaar kan het aandeel van elektriciteit in het verbruik twee keer zo groot zijn als nu’, denkt Pieter Boot, sectorhoofd klimaat, lucht en energie bij het Planbureau voor de Leefomgeving. ‘Dat komt onder andere door elektrificatie van het wagenpark en van de industrie en door het wegvallen van aardgas. Zelfs als we op andere vlakken zuiniger worden met energie – en dat is verstandig om te doen – zal onze stroomhonger groter worden.’

Straks kan de helft van onze energie uit het stopcontact komen. Nog eens een kwart komt van omgevingswarmte of van de industrie. ‘Waterstof is de laatste keus’, zegt Boot, ‘op de plaatsen waar andere energiedragers lastiger zijn. Maar dan heb je het misschien toch nog altijd over 25 procent van onze energiebehoefte.’

Maar terwijl windmolens al rendabel zijn, moet de eerste commerciële waterstoffabriek nog worden gebouwd. Hoe kan dat? Er lijkt een belangrijke rol weggelegd voor de industrie. Zij verbruikt immers veruit de meeste energie (vooral in de vorm van aardgas), is nu al de grootste afnemer van waterstof (als grondstof) en is, als het goed is, in staat het voortouw te nemen bij de noodzakelijke giga-investeringen. Maar het gedrag van de olie-, chemie-, kunstmest- en staalreuzen laat zich moeilijker voorspellen dan dat van moleculen.

Het ministerie van Economische Zaken en Klimaat telde eind vorig jaar acht serieuze plannen van de industrie voor een investeringsbedrag van in totaal een miljard euro. In wisselende coalities hadden Nouryon, Tata Steel, Dow Benelux, Yara, BP en KLM plannen gepresenteerd voor de grootschalige productie van waterstof. Recent hebben Shell en Gasunie zich daarbij aangesloten, met een schets voor een gigantisch windmolenpark met elektrolysers in de Noordzee.

Dit lijkt een behoorlijk commitment. Maar geen van deze ontwerpen prikt al op een bord op een bouwterrein. Sinds het Kyoto-protocol van 23 jaar geleden weet de industrie dat ze niet aan verduurzaming kan ontsnappen. Ze past elektrolyse (een ontdekking uit 1832) al lang toe om metalen te winnen uit mineralen. En de brandstofcel, die chemische energie weer omzet in elektrische energie, beleefde zijn grote doorbraak in 1993, dus vier jaar vóór Kyoto.

Er draaien wel talloze kleine projectjes met waterstof: in Veendam zet een elektrolyser van Gasunie (met één megawatt de grootste tot nu toe in Nederland) zonne- en windenergie om in waterstof; in Rozenburg en Hoogeveen worden woningen verwarmd met waterstofketels; tussen Groningen en Leeuwarden rijdt sinds kort een waterstoftrein; in Delfzijl bouwen KLM en Schiphol mee aan een fabriek die groene kerosine moet gaan maken en wat verder van huis, in Zweden, draait al een staalfabriekje (van SSAB) op waterstof in plaats van op kolen.

Volgens ondernemersorganisatie FME sleutelen er in Nederland 260 kleine en middelgrote bedrijven aan innovaties op het gebied van waterstof. Een voorbeeld is H2Fuel Systems in Voorschoten, dat ontdekte hoe je waterstof (een gas) in een vloeistof en in korrels kunt bewaren, wat meer mogelijkheden biedt voor opslag en vervoer. Voor al deze initiatieven geldt: het is wachten op een markt.

‘We hebben niet nóg meer rapporten en studies nodig’, zegt Noé van Hulst, topambtenaar bij Economische Zaken en Klimaat en al twintig jaar een invloedrijke energiedeskundige binnen de overheid. ‘Nu moet de schop in de grond.’

Ook de beheerders van de infrastructuur, Gasunie, Stedin en TenneT, raken ongeduldig. ‘2030 is voor ons morgen’, zegt Hans Coenen, vicepresident corporate strategy van Gasunie. ‘We hoeven niet veel aan te passen aan ons leidingnet om het geschikt te maken voor waterstof, maar we kijken niettemin aan tegen een investering van twee miljard euro en we moeten snel beslissen om op tijd klaar te zijn.’Het gedrag van de olie-, chemie-, kunstmest- en staalreuzen laat zich moeilijker voorspellen dan dat van moleculen

‘Het komt moeizaam op gang, maar dat ligt niet alleen aan de industrie’, zegt hoogleraar Ad van Wijk, die in binnen- en buitenland bekendheid geniet als waterstofdeskundige en onder andere de Europese Commissie adviseert. Zo is er bijvoorbeeld nog geen subsidieloket voor waterstof. ‘De huidige subsidieregeling voor duurzame energie, SDE++, beoordeelt aanvragen op hun CO2-besparing en bij de productie van waterstof wordt geen CO2 bespaard. Indirect natuurlijk wel, omdat dankzij waterstof fossiele brandstoffen overbodig worden, maar zo ziet de wetgever dat nog niet.’

Plannen voor elektrolysers op zee stuiten ook op een andere hindernis: alleen offertes (tenders) tot één gigawatt windenergie komen in aanmerking voor subsidie. ‘Maar voor een elektrolyser is minstens tien keer zoveel capaciteit nodig’, aldus Van Wijk. ‘Shell heeft onlangs de knuppel in het hoenderhok gegooid met zijn voorstel voor een windpark van tien gigawatt.’

Een derde barrière vormt het transport van de geproduceerde waterstof. Van Wijk: ‘TenneT is verplicht energiekabels van windparken op zee aan te sluiten op het net. Het is echter veel voordeliger om waterstof op zee te maken en dan als gas door een pijp aan land te brengen. Daar zou de Gasunie moeten zorgen voor verder transport. Maar voor de Gasunie geldt nog niet dezelfde verplichting als voor TenneT.’

Misschien maakt de industrie ook om een andere reden geen haast, denkt hoogleraar transitiekunde Jan Rotmans. ‘De industrie wint nu waterstof uit aardgas. En als ze het voor elkaar krijgt om de CO2 die daarbij vrijkomt op te mogen slaan onder de grond, dan hoeft ze voorlopig helemaal niet in windmolens en elektrolysers te investeren.’

De industrie gebruikt nu ook al veel waterstof, als grondstof. Deze wordt gewonnen uit aardgas (CH4) en wordt ‘grijze waterstof’ genoemd – ter onderscheiding van ‘groene waterstof’ die met herwinbare energie uit water wordt gemaakt.

Enkele invloedrijke bedrijven, waaronder ExxonMobil, Shell en de Rotterdamse haven, lobbyen momenteel voor toestemming en subsidie om het eerste Carbon Capture and Storage-project (CCS) in lege gasvelden onder de Noordzee te kunnen beginnen, het Porthos-project. De milieubeweging is mordicus tegen, wegens het risico op verzuring van de zee en omdat de initiatiefnemers de maatschappij willen laten betalen voor de infrastructuur.

‘Ik ben bang dat de industrie “blauwe” waterstof, waarbij de CO2 wordt afgevangen, als ontsnapping ziet’, zegt Rotmans. ‘Dan kan ze voorlopig gewoon door blijven gaan met haar huidige productiewijzen.’ Campagneleider en energiedeskundige Faiza Oulahsen van Greenpeace deelt die zorg. ‘Enkele bedrijven kijken gelukkig wél serieus naar groene waterstof, maar andere lijken te denken: als we gedwongen worden, geef ons dan maar geld voor CCS. En zodra de infrastructuur voor CCS er eenmaal is, gaat deze werken als een lock-in. Dan komt de massale elektrificatie van de industrie niet van de grond.’

‘De komende tien jaar leidt het inzetten op waterstof dus helemaal niet tot CO2-reductie, integendeel’, zegt Rotmans. ‘De uitstoot zal eerst omhoog gaan, doordat er veel fossiele energie nodig is om grijze waterstof te maken en om de CCS-infrastructuur aan te leggen.’

De Groene Amsterdammer heeft twee grote spelers, Shell en Nouryon, naar hun mening gevraagd. Nouryon reageerde dat ze hier nu ‘geen ruimte’ voor hebben en Shell reageerde helemaal niet.

Een actieve regie is nodig, stellen alle betrokkenen. ‘Nederland heeft de neiging om te zeggen: laat de markt alles doen’, zegt topambtenaar Van Hulst. ‘Maar die houding moeten we nu niet hebben. Gelukkig ziet het kabinet dat ook en pleit het in zijn waterstofvisie voor een actieve regisseursrol voor de overheid.’

‘De overheid heeft al jaren geen leiding meer genomen’, stelt Rotmans. ‘De meeste “visies” werden niet uitgevoerd. De energietransitie vergt een langetermijnstrategie en een centrale, sturende rol, niet alleen van de overheid, maar bijvoorbeeld ook van het Havenbedrijf Rotterdam.’

‘Energie is een publieke voorziening’, zegt zijn collega Van Wijk. ‘We moeten voorkomen dat de industrie straks alle goedkope groene energie krijgt en huishoudens duurdere energie moeten kopen. En op Texel moet de energie straks nog net zo goedkoop zijn als in hartje Amsterdam. Daar is marktordening voor nodig.’

Covid-19 biedt nu een unieke kans. In ruil voor financiële steun zou de overheid duurzaamheidseisen kunnen stellen aan de industrie en de luchtvaart. Eén simpel voorstel lag er al vóór de crisis: verplicht grootverbruikers om een deel van hun aardgas te vervangen door groene waterstof, zodat de productie daarvan eindelijk op gang komt.

‘Nadat Slochteren was ontdekt, heeft de overheid binnen een paar jaar een heel gasleidingnet uit de grond gestampt’, zegt Faiza Oulahsen van Greenpeace. ‘Dat heeft de overheid destijds toch óók niet aan de markt overgelaten?’


Dit artikel verscheen eerder in De Groene Amsterdammer
Met medewerking van René Peters, business director gastechnology van TNO

Green Hydrogen for a European Green Deal – A 2×40 GW Initiative

Green Hydrogen for a European Green Deal – A 2×40 GW Initiative

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

The European Union together with North Africa, Ukraine and other neighbouring countries have a unique opportunity to realise a green
hydrogen system. Europe including Ukraine has good renewable energy resources, while North Africa has outstanding and abundant resources. Europe can re-use its gas infrastructure with interconnections to North-Africa and other countries to transport and store hydrogen. And Europe has a globally leading industry for clean hydrogen production, especially in electrolyser manufacturing.
If the European Union, in close cooperation with its neighbouring countries, wants to build on these unique assets and create a world leading industry for renewable hydrogen production, the time to act is now. Dedicated and integrated multi GW green hydrogen production plants, will thereby unlock the vast renewable energy potential.

We, the European hydrogen industry, are committed to maintaining a strong and world-leading electrolyser industry and market and to producing renewable hydrogen at equal and eventually lower cost than low-carbon (blue) hydrogen. A prerequisite is that a 2×40 GW electrolyser market in the European Union and its neighbouring countries (e.g. North Africa and Ukraine) will develop as soon as possible.

A roadmap for 40 GW electrolyser capacity in the EU by 2030 shows a 6 GW captive market (hydrogen production at the demand location) and 34 GW hydrogen market (hydrogen production near the resource). A roadmap for 40 GW electrolyser capacity in North Africa and Ukraine by 2030 includes 7.5 GW hydrogen production for the domestic market and a 32.5 GW hydrogen production capacity for export.

If a 2×40 GW electrolyser market in 2030 is realised alongside the required additional renewable energy capacity, renewable hydrogen will become cost competitive with fossil (grey) hydrogen. GW-scale electrolysers at wind and solar hydrogen production sites will produce renewable hydrogen cost competitively with low-carbon hydrogen production (1.5-2.0 €/kg) in 2025 and with grey hydrogen (1.0-1.5 €/kg) in 2030.

By realizing 2×40 GW electrolyser capacity, producing green hydrogen, about 82 million ton CO2 emissions per year could be avoided in the EU. The total investments in electrolyser capacity will be 25-30 billion Euro, creating 140,000-170,000 jobs in manufacturing and maintenance of 2×40 GW electrolysers.

The industry needs the European Union and its member states to design, create and facilitate a hydrogen market, infrastructure and economy. Crucial is the design and realisation of new, unique and long-lasting mutual co-operation mechanisms on political, societal and economic levels between the EU and North Africa,Ukraine and other neighbouring countries.

The unique opportunity for the EU and its neighbouring countries to develop a green hydrogen economy will contribute to economic growth, the creation of jobs and a sustainable, affordable and fair energy system. Building on this position, Europe and its neighbours can become world market leaders for green hydrogen production technologies.

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Green gases from sun and wind are a new opportunity for North Africa

By Jorgo Chatzimarkakis (Secretary General of Hydrogen Europe)



It was a matter of principle the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s first visit abroad was to liaise with the African Union. This is not a coincidence as there are plenty of issues of common interest that look for answers and solutions. An important, if not the most critical, is the question of how to create both value and jobs on the African continent to a growing population that already suffers from the effects of climate change.

The production of renewable energy is obviously a possible option that also allows the EU to import green energy that can contribute to reaching the respective national targets that have evolved from the Paris Climate Agreement.

Solar energy resources are abundant in North Africa. Professor Ad van Wijk, from the Technical University in Delft, is an expert on renewable energies and has calculated the potential of using sun and wind energy from the Maghreb. The Sahara Desert is the sunniest year-round area in the world. It is a large area at 9.4 million square km, or more than twice the size of the European Union, that receives between 3,600-4,000 hours of on average yearly sunshine.

This translates into solar insolation levels of 2,500-3,000 kWh per square meter, per year. A fraction (8-10%) of the Sahara Desert’s area could generate the globe’s entire energy demand. What this shows is that it is only a matter of managing this huge amount of renewable potential.

In his publications, van Wijk highlights that the Sahara Desert is also one of the windiest areas on the planet, especially on the west coast.  The average annual wind speeds at ground level exceed 5 m/s in most of the desert and reaches 8-9 m/s in the western coastal regions. Wind speeds increase with height above the ground, and the Sahara winds are quite steady throughout the year.

Egypt’s Zaafarana region is comparable to Morocco’s Atlantic coast, with high and steady wind speeds. In Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt certain land areas have wind speeds that are comparable to offshore conditions in the Mediterranean, Baltic Sea and some parts of the North Sea.

Solar and wind resources are more than sufficient given that North Africa and could easily be a main source for the whole world’s energy needs. To date, the Maghreb exports natural gas from Algeria and Libya, with several pipeline connections to Spain and Italy. These pipeline connections have a capacity of more than 60 GW. In addition, there are two electricity transport cables, each with a capacity of 0.7 GW, between Morocco and Spain.

Rabat and Madrid signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2019 to realise a third power interconnector of 0.7 GW, which will be used to export solar electricity from Morocco to Spain. The capacity of these electricity inter-connections, however, is much less than the capacity of the gas inter-connections.

For Africa and Europe, it would be therefore very interesting to unlock the renewable energy export potential in North Africa if the countries of the Maghreb convert this electricity into hydrogen and transport the energy via pipelines to Europe. Part of the natural gas grid could be converted to accommodate hydrogen. The construction of new hydrogen pipelines would be a cost-effective option, compared to the construction of electricity cables, to transport renewable energy to Europe.

The realisation of a large new 2,500 km, 66 GW capacity hydrogen pipeline from Egypt, via Greece to Italy, consisting of 2 pipelines, would require an investment of about €16.5 billion. With a load factor of 4,500 hours per year, an amount of 300 TWh or 7.6-million-ton hydrogen per year can be transported. The levelised cost for hydrogen transport by such a pipeline is calculated to be 0.005 €/kWh or 0.2 €/kg H2, which is a reasonable fraction of the total cost of delivered hydrogen.

These considerations might help to trigger a closer partnership between Europeans and their African neighbours, a development that could usher in the integration of the “African dimension” into the European Green Deal.

This would then free up bottlenecks that have already been created in Europe by not achieving a ramping up of the power grid, which hampers the ability to deliver more renewables into the energy system.

The First Executive Vice-President of the EU Commission and “Mr Green Deal”, Frans Timmermans, has said on many occasions that it’s one of his dreams to see the development of an energy partnership between Europe and Africa based on the enormous renewable potential. We should adapt all the instruments that we have at hand to make this dream a reality sooner rather than later.

This article appeared on: https://www.neweurope.eu/article/green-gases-from-sun-and-wind-are-a-new-opportunity-for-north-africa/