Webinar Veilige Energietransitie: Waterstof

Tijdens de webinar nam lector Energie- en transportveiligheid Nils Rosmuller samen met een aantal gasten de kijkers in anderhalf uur mee. Ad van Wijk van de TU Delft nam de kijkers mee in de grote lijn van energietransitie in Nederland, en de cruciale rol van waterstof als transport- en opslagmedium daarin. Bart Vogelzang van Alliander maakte duidelijk op welke wijze waterstof getransporteerd en gedistribueerd wordt, en vertelde  welke veiligheidsaspecten daaraan verbonden zijn. Projectmanager Wim Hazenberg van Stork ging vervolgens in op het gebruik van waterstof in de gebouwde omgeving. Tot slot vertelden Dirk van Dijken en Niels Westra van Veiligheidsregio Drenthe hoe ze in hun regio  vanuit risicobeheersing te werk gaan, nu er een complete wijk op waterstof wordt aangesloten. De webinar werd afgesloten met een paneldiscussie met alle deskundigen. Ook werden er vragen beantwoord in de chat.

Verbindende rol

“‘We willen bekendheid geven aan nieuwe vormen van energie. Daarom maken we deze serie van minicolleges om verschillende partijen kennis te geven over welke rol zij hebben en wat het betekent voor de veiligheid. Juist door de verschillende betrokken partners met elkaar te verbinden en met elkaar in gesprek te gaan over de veiligheidsaspecten in verschillende schakels van de waterstofketen, kunnen we grote stappen voorwaarts zetten”, vertelt Rosmuller.

The race for green hydrogen

Large swaths of low-cost land: check. Lots of sun and wind: check. The ability to transport green hydrogen cost-effectively to energy importing economies: check. Then you’re in the race to become one of the “renewable energy superpowers” of the low-carbon economy. A growing number of countries are assessing their renewable resources and natural attributes and positioning themselves to become green hydrogen exporters. However, not all are created equal. FEBRUARY 13, 2021 BLAKE MATICH

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera has set his country the ambitious target of becoming a world-leading hydrogen producer by 2030.
Image: Gobierno de Chile

From pv magazine 02/2021

In light of green hydrogen’s potential and the geopolitical prospectus of the 21st Century, a question arises: would the sun have set on the British Empire if it had been covered in solar panels? This is to say, if green hydrogen is going to power this century forward, which nation or nations will possess that power? Those with the key resources of solar and wind must now be engaged in a geopolitical race for that power both literal, economic and political.

Of course, fossil fuels can also be used to generate hydrogen. However, as Professor Ad van Wijk of TU Delft in the Netherlands explains, costs of green hydrogen are likely to fall. “If you can produce electricity for US$0.01-0.02/kWh, and in solar there are good signs already… then you can produce for $1.50-2.00/kg.” At that price green hydrogen produced by solar and wind will out-compete gray and blue hydrogen.

Major actors

Goldman Sachs has called green hydrogen a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” that it estimates “could give rise to a €10 trillion addressable market globally by 2050 for the utilities industry alone.” Given such economic potential, realpolitik tells us that, like nuclear weapons, whoever lacks a foothold in the green hydrogen economy is at a significant geopolitical disadvantage. But, just as the United States had the scientists in WWII, it is the countries with the right resources, infrastructure, and entrepreneurial zeal, that have the distinct advantage in the race for green hydrogen.

Many nations are rich in solar and wind resources, fewer possess the other requirements alongside. According to Nadim Chaudhry, CEO of World Hydrogen Leaders, an online platform of industry executives designed to accelerate the production and distribution of clean hydrogen, the leaders in the geopolitical race for green hydrogen are Australia, Saudi Arabia, and the North Sea nations – the Netherlands in particular.

“Specifically, Australia” says Chaudhry, “for the sheer size of the proposed projects, political support, robust financial system with a low weighted average cost of capital, a strong body of entrepreneurs and the asset maximizing combination of wind and solar in say the Western Australian project of Infinite Blue Energy.” That project being the 26 GW Asian Renewable Energy Hub (AREH) in the Pilbara region of Western Australia (WA).

The AREH is not the only significant green hydrogen project in Australia, nor even in Western Australia, nor even in the Pilbara region. Proposals for green hydrogen plants are becoming commonplace in sunburnt and windswept Australia. In large part this is due to the interest of trading partners, particularly Japan and South Korea, but even a nation as far distant as Germany has joined Australia in a feasibility study for a supply chain.

Of course, there are countries far closer to Europe with similar resources, state-led economies such as Algeria, Morocco, and Saudi Arabia. However, Chaudhry suggests “they may lack the entrepreneurial pace of what is happening in Australia.” Like Van Wijk, Chaudhry says that it is a “race to scale and the costs of transport.” Green ammonia could prove a cost-effective energy vector in this regard, allowing a nation as far afield as Australia to reach extra-regional partners. Although, in the long term “Australia would lose any first mover advantage …There is lots of land in North Africa and four existing methane pipelines connecting Africa to Europe.”

Of course, we cannot forget the giant red dragon in the room. As Marius Foss, Head of Global Energy Systems at Rystad Energy explained, China are a race leader too thanks to “their willingness to invest heavily”, particularly in electrolyzers which Foss likens to solar manufacturing.

Citing Wright’s Law, Foss says that it’s “simply a volume game where the one that produces the most becomes the most competitive.” However, Foss also noted that if, as we are seeing in the battery space today, the United States and Europe develop “a willingness to pay a premium to get locally sourced components,” then China’s comparative advantage could deteriorate.

Bit parts

Given the logistics of transportation from resource rich areas to population hubs, it is hard to see the green hydrogen economy becoming monopolized anytime soon. As IDTechEX Energy Storage/Hydrogen Technology analyst, Daniele Gatti, told pv magazine: “Adopting a hydrogen economy means developing the entire supply chain: production, transportation and distribution, and also its consumption.”

Even Australia then, a big fish at this point, will ultimately have to settle for being a big fish in a regional pond – the Asia Pacific. “Australia will mainly have Japan, China, South Korea … as their home markets,” said Van Wijk. The world will be divided into regional markets of “cheap hydrogen where there will be competition purely on cost basis.” In Asia, for instance, Australia will compete with Saudi Arabia and Oman.

In a regional geopolitical landscape, there’s great potential for bit parts to play significant roles. Take Chile for example, in November 2020 President Sebastian Pinera set his government the ambitious goal of becoming one of the world’s leading exporters of green hydrogen by 2030.

According to S&P Global, President Pinera believes his country’s record solar irradiation levels mean it could become the world’s most efficient producer of green hydrogen, “more than compensating for the country’s distance from major markets.” However, considering the price of solar and wind will continue to drop across the board, in the long run Chile’s solar efficiency advantage wouldn’t obviate the transport costs incurred in its distance from major markets. In the end, Chile will be a big long fish in the American pond.

Among Chile’s green hydrogen competition in the Americas will be Canada. The Great White North has significant hydro and geothermal power. Such resources will not be able to compete for major market share with solar and wind but countries like Canada and Iceland can certainly produce green hydrogen cheaply.

This is not to forget the giant, until recently orange, dragon in the room, the United States. As Van Wijk pointed out, not even the Trump Administration attempted to diminish the growth of hydrogen. “And why was that?” he asked rhetorically, “Because you can also produce hydrogen from coal and natural gas.” Though it is hard to see the Biden Administration continuing in that vein, the United States suffers under the same transport costs as everyone else, and due to its natural gas reserves, like Russia, it will likely proceed with hybridized hydrogen for the foreseeable future.

Some potential dark horses in the geopolitical race for the green hydrogen economy, particularly from a European perspective, are Portugal and the Ukraine. “We have been impressed with the Portuguese government’s grasp of the hydrogen opportunity,” said Chaudhry, and “the other dark horse is Ukraine, which has good solar and wind resources, pipelines into Europe and a vested political interest in becoming resource independent.”

Death throes

Green hydrogen may be the talk of the town, but grey, blue, and even “turquoise” hydrogen still make up a good amount of the talk that’s going on behind closed doors. Many nations will be unwilling to commit to green hydrogen, some lack the resources, some the infrastructure, some the political or entrepreneurial will, and some are waiting, perhaps greedily, for more immediate incentives from trading partners and the market. “There is difference all around the world,” said Van Wijk, “of where the hydrogen will come from.”

For this reason, many nations will adopt the hybridized approach. Take Kazakhstan for instance, it is a nation the size of Europe with enormous resources, particularly wind and natural gas. Kazakhstan’s central location on the Eurasian landmass makes it ideally situated to export to export to hydrogen hungry nations in both Europe and Asia. Moreover, as Van Wijk points out, Kazakhstan is already venous with pipelines that can be used to transport their gray-green hydrogen.

In the end though, as Van Wijk is unafraid to declare, solar and wind will win out. Fossil fuels will simply fail to compete for price on the global market as the century rolls on with sun beating and wind chiming. “I’m not so afraid,” say Van Wijk “in the end solar and wind will out-compete.”

In the interim, the play of these opposites, renewables and non-renewables, future energies and “traditional” energy sources, will ensure a dynamic geopolitical scramble. While future generations will scoff derisively at the idea that fossil fuels could ever be deemed more “traditional’” than sun, wind, and water, living generations know that some traditions die hard.

Nevertheless, this scramble for the green hydrogen economy looks set to play out on a global scale between resource-rich nations with existing infrastructure, before the race devolves into regional markets wherein those who have solar and wind will compete for exports to neighbours who have not.


Hydrogen as an energy vector

This month, following our 2021 editorial line on past & present disruptors, we have dedicated our post to Henry Cavendish, chemist and physicist who discovered hydrogen back in 1766, an element of great importance in the present energy transition.

This time, we have interviewed Professor Ad van Wijk, professor of Future Energy Systems at TU Delft in The Netherlands and advisor in sustainable energy. Among other subjects, he talked about his view of hydrogen as a priority element in the future of energy, its key applications, the challenges it faces and the countries involved in this hydrogen-based transition revolution.

Could Hydrogen Replace the Need for an Electric Grid?

As a solution to climate change, hydrogen is starting to attract a lot of attention — and investment. The element is the most abundant chemical substance in the universe and is already used as a feedstock in refineries and the chemical industry. But it is hydrogen’s potential as an energy carrier, capable of transporting large amounts of energy over long distances, that is generating the most excitement.

BRINK spoke to professor Ad van Wijk, who has been described as one of the pioneers of the hydrogen economy, and is professor of Future Energy Systems at Delft University of Technology, about the current state of the technology.

AD VAN WIJK: At present, most hydrogen is generated from fossil fuels, mainly from natural gas but also from coal; that creates carbon dioxide emissions when you produce the hydrogen. This is called grey hydrogen. Hydrogen is mostly used as a feedstock in the chemical industry, for example, to produce ammonia/fertilizers, and also in refineries to crack and desulfurize oil. 

However, the future of hydrogen is as an energy carrier. 

One of the best applications is in heavy transport — as a fuel in ships, long-distance trucks and trains that are not electrified. You can put ammonia, a hydrogen product, into a diesel engine, and even directly inject hydrogen itself into the air inlet of a diesel engine. For example, two months ago, we launched the first tractors with directly injected hydrogen in the engine in the Netherlands.

For a ship, it is a bit different because it is difficult to carry enough hydrogen in compressed form for long journeys. But for most coastal vessels, you can store enough energy, and the first ships are now being converted. 

No Need for an Electric Grid

BRINK: How feasible is it today to create hydrogen to scale with zero carbon emissions?

AD VAN WIJK: Hydrogen can be produced from water by electrolysis, whereby the water molecule is split into hydrogen and oxygen, and the hydrogen is captured. When the electricity for doing this is coming from solar or wind, then it’s completely clean — so-called green hydrogen — but when the electricity comes from fossil fuels like coal-fired power plants, it is called grey hydrogen.

You need a combination of large scale solar and wind installations connected to the electrolyzer to create green hydrogen. These hydrogen production plants, as we call them, don’t need to be connected to the electricity grid. The electricity from the solar or wind is converted directly into hydrogen, which is used to transport the energy long distances instead of electric pylons. 

When you do that at large scale at good resource sites, for example, solar farms in North Africa, you get a very high yield. Today, it is possible to produce electricity for almost 1 cent per kilowatt-hour with solar. When that is converted into hydrogen, the price for the hydrogen is about one euro, or $1 per kilo, which is competitive with even the gray fossil fuel hydrogen.

Hydrogen’s Potential As an Energy Carrier

BRINK: How do you move the hydrogen from the solar farms?

AD VAN WIJK: By pipeline. That’s the interesting thing: It is about 10 times cheaper to transport energy by a hydrogen pipeline than by an electric cable. That makes it possible to transport electricity very cheaply from somewhere like North Africa to the demand centers in Europe, for example.

Hydrogen is a very modular technology: There are no rotating parts and no high temperatures; it therefore promises to be much cheaper than combustion technology.

At its destination, you can use the hydrogen directly as a fuel. But you can also transport the hydrogen to a power plant, convert it back to electricity, and then distribute the electricity through the local grid. 

For economic reasons, it is much better to transport energy over long distances by molecules. When you transport hydrogen over a distance of about a thousand miles by pipeline, the costs are about half a cent per kilowatt-hour. When you do the same with electricity, it is about 5 cents per kilowatt-hour.

The Promise of Hydrogen Fuel Cells

BRINK: You mentioned fuel cells. How advanced is the technology for creating them?

AD VAN WIJK: The fuel cell technology is the reverse process of electrolysis, you could say; fuel cells and electrolyzers do opposite things. They are more or less the same technology — the only thing is, you reverse the process.

Fuel cells have a lot of promise for mobility because you don’t have any tailpipe emissions, and they offer much higher efficiency than combustion technologies. Also, with hydrogen you can fuel your car in four or five minutes, the same as diesel or gasoline engines. 

That is why car manufacturers are developing fuel cell technology for their larger cars — and especially for buses and trucks. Once this is done on a mass scale, the cost of these fuel cells will come down to about $30 to $50 per kilowatt fuel cell system. 

Hydrogen is a very modular technology. It’s really quite a simple thing. Unlike a combustion engine, there are no rotating parts and no high temperatures; it therefore promises to be much cheaper than combustion technology which has a lot of costly materials.

Fuel Cells Ready for Mass Production

In five to 10 years, fuel cells will start replacing combustion technology such as diesel engines. A fuel cell converts hydrogen electrochemically into electricity, and the electricity is then used to drive the car or the propellers of the ship. So you don’t have any other emissions like the nitrogen oxide that you have with a combustion engine. 

Ten years ago, the fuel cells were too heavy and too large and didn’t have the right lifetime, but in the past few years, car manufacturers like Toyota and Hyundai have developed fuel cells that are ready for mass production.

The fuel cell technology can also be used for so-called electricity balancing, when you don’t have enough electricity produced by solar and wind. And today in Japan, Panasonic is even making very small fuel cells for homes for when your solar panels are not sufficient. They can also potentially be used for home heating. 

This article originally appeared on https://www.brinknews.com/could-hydrogen-replace-the-need-for-an-electric-grid/