Together for Green Energy
Author: Peter Knoll
For a long time hydrogen was considered a niche technology. Now, new international alliances want to ensure a green future of energy supply in many industries.
Hydrogen has long been a source of hope for a climate-friendly industry. After all, the simplest element in the chemical periodic table hasn’t only made rockets fly and propelled submarines for decades. Hydrogen has long been regarded as the oil of the future, but for decades it suffered from a reputation of being too complex and expensive to produce. Because hydrogen has so far been produced almost exclusively from fossil energy sources, the technology has not really been able to establish itself in any industry.
Take the automotive industry, for instance: According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), just over 25,000 vehicles worldwide will be refueled with hydrogen by the end of 2019. These fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV) are powered by electric motors that draw their electricity from a hydrogen-fed fuel cell. During conversion, however, large amounts of energy are lost, leaving an efficiency of around 30 percent.
“Hydrogen technologies needs to be affordable and commercial.”
Whether in vehicle construction, chemicals, shipping, or even steel production, it’s the same story everywhere. “We need a policy that makes it possible to make hydrogen technologies affordable and commercial,” demands Aditya Mittal, CFO of the world’s largest steel producer, Arcelor-Mittal, and obviously strikes a nerve. Because governments are also rethinking the issue. For example, the German Federal Government has just made seven billion euros available in a national hydrogen strategy and is explicitly talking about a European cooperation to develop a hydrogen infrastructure. Arcelor-Mittal has also found an international partner for a test run at its Hamburg plant: The city of Hamburg is contributing to the costs of around 65 million euros so that a good 100,000 tonnes of “green steel” can be produced there annually starting in 2023.
It’s international alliances such as these – whether purely private or in the public sector – and young start-ups that are becoming drivers for the development of hydrogen technology on an industrial scale. In Denmark, for example, the world’s largest shipping company Maersk has joined forces with Copenhagen Airport and logistics companies such as DFDS and DSV Panalpina to build electrolysis plants for hydrogen production in stages by 2030. The plant could reduce annual CO2 emissions by 850,000 tonnes. In the Netherlands, Shell, together with gas network operator Gasunie, is planning to build a mega wind farm that will supply up to four gigawatts of electricity, which will be directly processed into green hydrogen by an electrolyzer.
“Production of truly green hydrogen”
In Norway, 98 percent of electricity is generated from water, wind, and sun. Ideal conditions for the production of truly “green hydrogen”. Norsk e-Fuel AS, a European industrial consortium based in Oslo, has announced its intention to build a plant with international partners that will not only produce hydrogen. It will also use CO2 washed from the air to produce methane – the basis for almost any fuel. Next to German start-up and electrolysis specialist Sunfire, the project also involves the Luxembourg-based machinery and blast furnace manufacturer Paul Wurth SA. Neste Oyj, Finnish world market leader for renewable diesel, is also indirectly involved as a new Sunfire investor. In just five years’ time, the plant is expected to supply 100 million liters of synthetic fuel, e-fuel, which is burned in engines to replace petrol, diesel, and kerosene.
Daimler Trucks and the Volvo Group, on the other hand, rely on fuel cells for their commercial vehicles and want to drive the technology forward in a joint venture. A spirit of optimism also prevails at engine manufacturer Deutz, which has developed the Hydrogen TCD 7.8 engine together with still young Keyou GmbH from Unterschleissheim in Germany. It burns hydrogen directly and is considered an alternative to diesel in commercial vehicles. The engine already meets the EU specifications for a zero-emission combustor and should be ready for series production in 2022. These various alliances show that hydrogen production is on the rise. The current niche technology could possibly become a sustainably sourced standard in the near future.