The hydrogen solution?

For climate experts, green or renewable hydrogen — made from the electrolysis of water powered by solar or wind — is indispensable to climate neutrality. It features in all eight of the European Commission’s net zero emissions scenarios for 2050 (ref. 1). In theory, it can do three things: store surplus renewables power when the grid cannot absorb it, help decarbonize hard-to-electrify sectors such as long-distance transport and heavy industry, and replace fossil fuels as a zero-carbon feedstock in chemicals and fuel production.

Europe is leading the global resurgence of an energy carrier, with origins back in World War II. Hydrogen was originally used by the Nazis to produce synthetic fuels from coal. Today, it is back in business. The International Energy Agency lauded its “vast potential” in a first ever report on hydrogen in June 2019 (ref. 2). Bloomberg New Energy Finance said clean hydrogen “can help address the toughest third of global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050” in March 2020 (ref. 3).

“Europe is the laboratory,” says Emmanouil Kakaras, head of new business at Mitsubishi Power Europe and member of an internal task force dedicated to carbon-free fuels. “We look at it as the place where technology and especially policy can be tested and pave the way for global deployment.” The hydrogen economy is a priority for the EU’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery package4; this package is guided by the European Green Deal, which commits Europe to become the world’s first climate neutral continent by 2050 (ref. 5). It is hard to overstate the difference with Europe’s past goal, an 80–95% emission reduction by 2050. Net-zero requires a full fossil fuel phase-out. It puts the spotlight on gas for the first time. And the gas industry is turning to hydrogen for a new lease of life.

“If Europe adopts a 55% emission reduction target for 2030, Germany would have to reduce its heating emissions by half,” says Eva Hennig, head of EU energy policy for Thuega, a network of local German utilities. “That is impossible with realistic renovation rates and just electricity. You will have to decarbonize gas for heating.” Hydrogen is a lifebelt for regions such as the Northern Netherlands, with an expertise and infrastructure looking for a new purpose as earthquakes and climate change turn natural gas from boon to bane.

Yet the climate community is cautious. “The risk is that the [hydrogen] hype triggers a reversal of priorities,” says Brussels-based Dries Acke, head of the energy programme at the European Climate Foundation, a philanthropic initiative to catalyse the transition to a climate-neutral economy. “Energy efficiency, renewables and direct electrification are the bulk solutions [to climate change]. Hydrogen comes in around that. Hydrogen is essential to get to net zero in certain sectors like industry, but we are talking about the last 20% of emission reductions.”

Moreover, the climate impact of hydrogen depends entirely on how it is made. “There is a risk of policy before definitions,” continues Acke. He warns that this could see hydrogen go the way of biofuels, which have suffered from start-stop policies because of intense debate over their net impact on climate change. “Hydrogen is not a technology, it is an energy carrier that can be produced clean or dirty,” he says.

Blue hydrogen: a controversial stepping stone
Blue hydrogen revives the capture and storage (CCS) story. It is the production of ‘decarbonized’ hydrogen by applying CCS to the traditional route of making hydrogen via steam methane reforming. The European Commission calls CCS a “priority breakthrough technology” in its Green Deal and promises it fresh money in its COVID-19 recovery package.

The big difference with the past — policymakers in Europe have already poured billions into the technology, with little to show for it — is the new hydrogen economy narrative, a shift in focus from the power sector to industry, and projects starting from the transport and storage rather than carbon capture perspective. The concept has moved from post- to pre-combustion CCS. This means the business case no longer depends entirely on the EU carbon price — never high enough — but also on the value of the blue hydrogen it produces.
The oil and gas industry is one of the biggest supporters of blue hydrogen because it offers them a path towards clean fuels while drawing on their existing gas production, transport and storage facilities. “What we are risking [with CCS] is a rapid decarbonization of gas,” joked Per Sandberg from Norwegian oil and gas giant Equinor at a CCS event in the European Parliament in Brussels in January 2020.

Many argue that blue hydrogen is essential to build up a market for what will ultimately be green hydrogen. The climate community is divided, however. From a climate perspective, the problem of blue hydrogen is that it depends on CCS and natural gas. First, commercially viable CCS remains an aspiration rather than a reality, and second, carbon capture can never be 100% efficient. At the same time, there is great uncertainty over the climate impact of upstream methane leakage.
Methane is the most important short-lived climate pollutant. Methane emissions in 2020 will cause half the global warming over the next 20 years, according to the US-based NGO the Environmental Defense Fund. The oil and gas industry is the second biggest source of methane emissions after agriculture and the easiest one to tackle. Forty per cent of the industry’s emissions could be avoided at no net cost, estimates the International Energy Agency12.

The EU is working on a methane strategy. Reducing methane emissions could play a “very significant role” in enabling it to increase its climate ambitions for 2030, an EU official said in November 2019. “The credibility of gas is on the line,” said Mónika Zsigri from the Commission’s energy department. “Methane leakage determines how interesting gas is versus jumping directly to renewables.” It also determines how interesting blue hydrogen is versus green.

There are three main types of hydrogen discussed today. First, ‘grey’ hydrogen. The vast majority of hydrogen in use — and there is plenty of it, mainly in industry — is made from natural gas. The process emits CO2. Second, ‘blue’, or as the gas industry likes to call it, ‘decarbonized’, hydrogen is made from natural gas with carbon capture and storage (CCS) (see Box 1). Finally, ‘green’ or ‘renewable’ hydrogen — which every hydrogen advocate says is the ultimate goal — is made from the electrolysis of water powered by renewables.

There are other colours. The main one on the horizon is ‘turquoise’ hydrogen made from molten metal pyrolysis. This is the thermal cracking of natural gas into hydrogen and solid carbon. Its appeal is twofold: one, it does not require CCS, and two, instead of CO2 it produces a material that has been on the EU’s critical raw materials list for years (as ‘natural graphite’). Big corporates such as Russia’s Gazprom and Germany’s BASF are looking into it, but this is a technology that is still in its infancy.

Making the business case

For some such as Samuele Furfari, professor in energy geopolitics at the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, hydrogen of any colour makes little sense. It makes much more sense to use fossil fuels or electricity directly. “Each [conversion] step is a waste of energy,” he says. “The processes are technically feasible but they are nonsense from an energy and economic point of view. Hydrogen has re-emerged because we need a solution to the intermittency of renewables.”

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, counters that efficiency is no longer the benchmark: “a solar panel in the Sahara generates 2–3 times as much power as one in the Netherlands. If you convert that power to hydrogen, transport it here and turn it back into power via a fuel cell, you are left with more energy than if you install that solar panel on a Dutch roof. In a sustainable energy system, you calculate in terms of system costs, not efficiency.”

van Wijk sums up: “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.” Electricity cables can transport up to 1–2 GW, but the average gas pipeline can carry 20 GW (and is 10–20 times cheaper to build). The challenge is converting existing gas pipelines from natural gas to hydrogen, says van Wijk.

Nevertheless, clean hydrogen faces a paradox in its business case. The potential volumes are in industry, while the potential profit margins are in transport. Energy-intensive industries are the biggest hydrogen consumers today. With Europe aiming for climate neutrality in 2050, there is growing interest in clean hydrogen from sectors such as steel and chemicals (over half of all the hydrogen worldwide is used in fertilizer production and oil refining). Yet these are also extremely price-sensitive industries exposed to global competition. Companies are not prepared to pay several times the ‘grey’ price for a climate-friendly alternative.

“There is a push from heavy industry to get green hydrogen into road transport so private car owners bear some of the early costs,” says Philipp Niessen, director for industry and innovation at ECF. “But we believe it will be a scarce resource and it makes more sense to grow demand in sectors such as heavy industry where there is no decarbonization alternative.”

“There is momentum for a political compromise around steel,” Niessen adds. The European steel industry is suffering from ageing assets, over-capacity and Chinese competition. “Public support for clean steel could help the European industry rebuild its assets, first to run on gas and from the mid-2030s, on clean hydrogen.” So far steel production is still coal-based.

Few believe that private cars will run on hydrogen in future. They are widely expected to go electric. Instead, trucks are the battleground. Truck makers such as Volvo and Daimler and logistics giants such as Deutsche Post DHL and Schenker told a conference in Brussels in February 2020 that for them, the future of freight is electric and for long haul, electric plus hydrogen. The advantage of electric trucks is that they are already available today, they said. In contrast, oil and gas suppliers argue that ‘low-carbon liquid fuels’, which increasingly means synthetic fuels or ‘e-fuels’ made from renewable hydrogen, are the way forward.

In practice, the Commission is considering mandating EU member states to roll out an electric charging infrastructure for trucks and blending quotas for sustainable fuels in aviation and shipping. Stakeholders agree that e-fuels are essential to decarbonize planes and ships in the long run. Along with heavy industry, emissions from these two sectors are the hardest and most expensive to abate.

Policy dependent

The emergence of a clean hydrogen economy depends on regulation (see Fig. 1 for distribution of policies in place mid-2019). “The biggest challenge is getting the right policies in place,” says van Wijk. “We need to build up a hydrogen infrastructure. That is a huge task that needs political support.” The first-ever European hydrogen strategy, released in July 2020 (ref. 6), aims to support the broader goal of ‘sector integration’. This originally meant using carbon-free power to help decarbonize other sectors, such as transport and industry. But it has become a broader bid to delineate roles for electricity and ‘molecules’ in the future energy system.

A new EU industrial strategy in March 2020 named the decarbonization of industry a ‘top priority’. “Industry has some of the longest-lived assets,” explains Matthias Deutsch, a senior associate and hydrogen expert at Agora Energiewende, a German think tank dedicated to the energytransition. “Production plants can run for 30–40 years. That means there will be investments in this decade that determine the climate footprint of industries in 2050. We need to give them a long-term outlook.

”There is another industrial dimension: Europe is the global leader in electrolysis technology. It has filed about twice as many patents and publications as its nearest competitors — the US, China and Japan — over the last 10–15 years7. “Electrolysers will become one of those critical technologies like solar, wind and batteries,” says Acke. “Europe has a competitive advantage and it can maintain it.” Nevertheless, there are those who already warn of strong competition from China.

The green hydrogen economy needs tailored support. “EU policy is trying to repeat the success story of renewables,” says Kakaras. “But there is a big difference: unlike solar and wind, green hydrogen production is driven by operational not capital expenditure. Eighty per cent of the cost depends on the electricity price.” Subsidies to promote large-scale deployment might bring down the cost of electrolysers, but this will not necessarily make green hydrogen production cheaper.

Kakaras explains: “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.” In practice, it is not possible to do both, he adds. “Policymakers need to bridge the gap between the carbon-free fuel price and the gas price.” In practice, stakeholders are converging on the idea of Contracts for Difference for green hydrogen.

Eurogas, representing the European gas industry, wants policymakers to set targets for renewable and decarbonized gas and let the market decide what works best for a variety of end-uses. Other stakeholders such as Agora Energiewende and ECF believe that hydrogen support should reflect the need to prioritize specific sectors. It must, after all, remain supplementary to energy efficiency, renewables and direct electrification.

One of the most controversial questions is the use of hydrogen in residential heating. Hennig says: “even if you blend in only 20% hydrogen — and reduce CO2 by only 6.5% as a result — that is better than nothing. Especially if it is possible without adapting end-user appliances.” She argues that blending hydrogen into gas grids is essential to help ramp up clean hydrogen production and its transportation. Climate campaigners respond that houses should switch instead to more efficient heat pumps and district heating. Extending hydrogen to heating risks ‘supersizing’ Europe’s energy infrastructure8.

Renewables as game-changer

The biggest challenge to green hydrogen is that it will require vast amounts of renewable power. The IEA estimates that meeting today’s hydrogen demand through water electrolysis would require 3,600 TWh a year, or more than the EU’s entire annual electricity production2. Imagine its use extended from industrial feedstock to energy carrier in industry, transport, heating and power production.

Stakeholders agree that Europe could never produce enough renewable power to run a self-sufficient hydrogen economy. The Commission assumes there is scope for 1,000 GW of offshore wind in the North Sea, half of that dedicated to electrolysis1. But a study by Agora Energiewende also warns that the number of offshore wind turbines expected in the German section of the North Sea after 2030 risks reducing their full-load hours from 4,000–5,000 to just 3,000 (ref. 9).

From another perspective, hydrogen is increasingly seen as a way of bringing offshore wind to shore and relieving pressure on an already overloaded onshore grid. Some companies are exploring the possibility of building electrolysers right into the body of wind turbines. Green hydrogen gives renewables a business case when the electricity system on its own cannot. “Conversion to hydrogen is a kind of hedging for a renewables investor,” says Kakaras.

In reality, the hydrogen economy is an international project. Cross-border cooperation can ensure North Sea wind farms get enough space. Scale and economics dictate that Europe is likely to import green hydrogen from North Africa and the Middle East, and e-fuels from as far afield as Australia and Chile.

One of the biggest questions is whether enough green hydrogen can be ready fast enough to make a difference to climate change. Niessen says: “we live within the constraint of carbon budgets. Electrolysers are not microchips. Of course, costs will go down significantly, but will they go down fast enough to meet the Paris climate goals?”

Many believe that blue hydrogen — with appropriate climate safeguards — has a transitional role to play. It could help kick-off different sectoral uses and bring down prices through economies of scale. “Blue hydrogen could help speed up industrial transformation,” says Deutsch. “The worry is that if a lot of such low-carbon hydrogen becomes available, it may not be limited to the sectors that really need it.” Today, grey hydrogen costs around €1.50 kg–1, blue hydrogen €2–3 kg–1 and green hydrogen €3.50–6 kg–1. Consultants estimate that a €50–60 per tonne carbon price could make blue hydrogen competitive in Europe10.

“In my view, we get the system moving,” says van Wijk. “As demand for hydrogen grows and green hydrogen gets cheaper, it will supplement and replace this fossil-based hydrogen.” Japan, who invested in hydrogen long before climate neutrality was on the agenda, is working with its main supplier, Australia, to transition from grey to blue to green. “Green hydrogen will ultimately be cheaper than grey hydrogen because of very cheap power from wind and solar,” says van Wijk. “That is the game-changer.”

“If deep decarbonization is on the societal agenda, then hydrogen will come,” believes Kakaras. It is not about the laws of thermodynamics but whether society is willing to pay for climate neutrality. Michael Moore’s documentary Planet of the Humans suggests that ‘less is more’ is the only long-term answer to climate change. But the COVID-19 lockdowns demonstrated just how big an ask this is: emissions dropped dramatically but did little for climate change11.

There is an opportunity here, however. As Furfari puts it: “the Green Deal was an opportunity for politicians to spend public money. The COVID-19 crisis gives them license to spend as much as they want.”

Author: Sonja van Renssen, Freelance journalist, Brussels, Belgium.
e-mail: svr.envi@gmail.com

Published online: 27 August 2020 https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-020-0891-0

References

1. A Clean Planet for all: A European Long-term Strategic Vision for a Prosperous, Modern, Competitive and Climate Neutral Economy(European Commission, 2018).
2. The Future of Hydrogen (IEA, 2019).
3. Hydrogen Economy Outlook: Key Messages (Bloomberg L.P., 2020).
4. Europe’s moment: repair and prepare for the next generation. European Commission https://bit.ly/31vlPNz (2020).
5. A European Green Deal. European Commission https://bit.ly/ 3fCJIYL (2020).
6. A Hydrogen Strategy for a Climate-neutral Europe (European Commission, 2020).
7. Biebuyck, B. FCH-JU making hydrogen and fuel cells an everyday reality. Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertakinghttps://bit.ly/3kgTJOE (2019).
8. Towards Fossil-Free Energy In 2050 (European Climate Foundation, 2019).
9. Making the Most of Offshore Winds: Re-evaluating the Potential of Offshore Wind in the German North Sea (Agora Energiewende, Agora Verkehrswende, Technical University of Denmark and Max-Planck-Institute for Biogeochemistry, 2020).
10. Peters, D. et al. Gas Decarbonisation Pathways 2020–2050: Gas for Climate (Guidehouse, 2020).
11. Le Quéré, C. et al. Nat. Clim. Change10, 647–653 (2020).
12. Methane Tracker 2020 (IEA, 2020).

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

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

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!