Keeping pace with the hydrogen boom
From enthusiastic startups to multinational majors, the world is in the grip of a hydrogen frenzy. The pressures to deliver net zero targets and reverse decades of fossil fuel carbon consumption mean we have to quickly embrace a raft of renewable energies – and hydrogen is set to play a pivotal role in the new energy era.
In a paper exploring the role of hydrogen in the energy transition for The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, Adam Hawkes, from the Sustainable Gas Institute at Imperial College, London, writes that the weight of evidence suggests that hydrogen has “a fighting chance” at a role in future energy systems.
“The features of hydrogen, particularly its potential for long-duration storage and transportability, make it a solid zero-emissions partner to variable renewable energy,” he writes. “Hydrogen would likely have on-tap availability to serve peak demands, and the related supply chain can both consume and produce electricity, heat, motive power, and other services to complement zero and netnegative carbon electricity systems.”
The paper concludes that, while technology has reached a point where many hydrogen solutions are commercially viable, current barriers to widespread adoption are primarily due to a lack of infrastructure in the case of transport applications, and cost competitiveness in the case of power and industry. New efforts are undertaken globally to remove these barriers through targeted policy support and scaling up activities.
The cost of production currently is a major barrier to adoption of green hydrogen, which is produced solely with renewable sources; it is approximately six times more expensive today than grey hydrogen to produce and between two to three times more expensive than hybrid blue hydrogen, both of which are produced using fossil fuels as an energy source.
Startup profile: Bramble Energy
One man at the emerging hydrogen front line is Dr. Tom Mason, CEO at Bramble Energy, who claims its printed circuit board technology (PCBFC) offers a more flexible, cheaper and scalable option to traditional fuel cells, up to 75% cheaper than incumbent fuel cell stacks.
The startup has raised £9m to date, and he is confident of raising more by the end of this year. “I’ve got very significant support – we’re in a market which is very buoyant for hydrogen technologies, and we have to be ambitious, it’s the only way we’re going to achieve net zero.”
The company is currently working with three customers involved in industrial, construction and surveillance, and aims for commercial launch this year. The head count at its Gatwick-side, 13,500sq ft design-and-development facility has jumped from 3 to 25 in just under a year, and another 50 are coming.
He outlines the thesis behind its portable power range. “Batteries are very powerful but don’t have a lot of energy in them. Our customers are looking to run things which are relatively unpowerful, but want to run them for a long period of time. Hydrogen is a solution because it’s low power with lots of energy.”
It has tied up with launch distributor BOC, part of the Linde Group, to launch four units (15W, 30W, 45W and 60W) up to 1KW. They hold 20 litres, about the size of your patio gas cylinder, and store about 7KW hours of energy in them. All manufacturing is handled through the supply chain (currently using ZOT Engineering in Scotland). UK & Ireland and Europe will be the initial focus, and export opportunities are also targeted.
“This will help us generate revenue but the really exciting part of the business is liquid cooled fuel cells,” adds Mason. “We’ve got a project with MAHLE Powertrain to demonstrate our first liquid-cooled stack in a vehicle – it’s a range extender for a small electric van – and we aim to launch that at an event in September.”
“The reason for doing it is validation and changing the narrative – we’re no longer a university spin-out but a business with actual technology. Our mission is really about enabling net zero. I have a big problem with people who talk about sustainability and say that batteries are better than hydrogen – sustainability is much more than CO2, it’s about natural resource consumption and biodiversity destruction.”
He believes it is “abundantly clear” that hydrogen needs to be used extensively to meet net zero targets. “The larger the mass you’re moving, and longer the distance, the more likely you’re going to need hydrogen over battery electric.”
Mason refuels his hydrogen fuel car at the south London airport. “It takes five minutes to charge, and I can do 300 miles. It’s exactly the same experience as petrol and diesel with zero emissions. There is plenty of activity with infrastructure – it will come. The grant funding in the UK is fantastic, but what’s important is we build commercial relationships.”
REA calls for clear policy frameworks
The Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA) has called on the UK Government to produce a clear policy framework for the delivery of low-carbon hydrogen that attracts investment, accelerates deployment of the technology, and sets out ambitious delivery targets for 2030 in its forthcoming Hydrogen Strategy.
The Strategy was due to be published in March, but delays have meant that the industry has faced months of uncertainty. In contrast, Germany published its Hydrogen Strategy in June 2020, providing a clear signal to developers and funders about their long-term commitment to renewable forms of hydrogen.
Dr Nina Skorupska CBE, Chief Executive of the Association for Renewable Energy and Clean Technology (REA), said the Government had previously set a target of 5GW production capacity from hydrogen by 2030 in its Energy White Paper, but this must be much more ambitious to drive growth in the sector.
“There is an opportunity with the upcoming Hydrogen Strategy for the UK to position itself as a leading producer and exporter of low-carbon hydrogen. However, this can only be realised if the Government is bold in its targets and will set out the clear policy framework that is required,” she said.
Projects accelerate from Australia to the Netherlands
On the other side of the world, Australia is busy striving to be the largest green hydrogen producer globally – as facilities, funding and collaborations continue to multiply.
The Western Green Energy Hub (WGEH), in Western Australia, will be a collaboration between InterContinental Energy, the Mirning People (the first owners of the land), and CWP Global, a renewable energy developer.
The hub will cover more than 5,790 square miles (15,000 sq kms) and be able to produce up to 50GW of hybrid wind and solar power, and generate up to 3.5 million tons of green hydrogen or 20 million tons of green ammonia per year.
The Daxing hydrogen station equipped with Air Liquide technology is the world's largest hydrogen station with a capacity of nearly 5 tonnes per day. Located in Beijing, it is part of a 200,00sqm International Hydrogen Energy Demonstration Zone which includes an exhibition hall was inaugurated in July.
Europe’s largest PEM hydrogen electrolyser has begun operations at Shell’s Energy and Chemicals Park Rheinland, producing green hydrogen.
As part of the Refhyne European consortium and with European Commission funding through the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), the fully operational plant is the first to use this technology at such a large scale in a refinery.
Plans are under way to expand capacity of the electrolyser from 10MW to 100MW at the Rheinland site, near Cologne, where Shell also intends to produce sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) using renewable power and biomass in the future. A plant for bio-LNG is also in development.
“This project demonstrates a new kind of energy future and a model of lower-carbon energy production that can be replicated worldwide,” said Shell’s Downstream Director, Huibert Vigeveno.
“Shell wants to become a leading supplier of green hydrogen for industrial and transport customers in Germany,” he added. “We will be involved in the whole process – from power generation, using offshore wind, to hydrogen production and distribution across sectors. We want to be the partner of choice for our customers as we help them decarbonise.”
Aker Clean Hydrogen and CapeOmega have signed an MoU with AS Norske Shell to explore opportunities to develop the Aukra Hydrogen Hub to a large-scale production facility for clean hydrogen using natural gas from the local gas processing plant at Nyhamna.
ABB has joined forces with Swiss utility Axpo to develop modular green hydrogen production plants in Italy, that aim at creating an optimum operating model to produce affordable, green hydrogen.
The two companies will apply their complementary skills to achieve their joint vision of more affordable green hydrogen, with ABB harnessing its automation, electrification, and digital leadership in industrial operations and Axpo’s experience as an established energy provider.
Initial work will include feasibility studies that explore ways to reduce operating costs and ensure a low carbon footprint, with the aim of identifying synergies that will support the standardisation, modularisation, efficient and flexible production of green hydrogen.
Nel Hydrogen Electrolyser has entered into a collaboration for a fossil-free hydrogen facility in Hofors, Sweden, together with partners Ovako, Volvo, Hitachi ABB, and H2 Green Steel. The conversion to green hydrogen in the production process will reduce CO2-emissions from the facility by 50% from current levels with possibilities for future development of hydrogen infrastructure for transportation.
The PosHYdon project, recently buoyed by a subsidy of €3.6 million from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency, seeks to validate the integration of three energy systems in the Dutch North Sea: offshore wind, offshore gas and offshore hydrogen and will involve the installation of hydrogen-producing plant on the Neptune Energy-operated Q13a-A platform.
Green hydrogen will be mixed with the gas and transported via the existing gas pipeline to the coast. The 1 MW electrolyser will produce a maximum of 400 kilogrammes of green hydrogen per day. The Q13a-A is the first fully electrified platform in the Dutch North Sea, located approximately 13kms off the coast of Scheveningen (The Hague).
Siemens Energy and Messer Group have entered into a cooperation agreement with the goal to work on green hydrogen projects in the 5-50MW range for industrial and mobility applications.
Within the framework of this agreement Messer Ibérica has already submitted three clean hydrogen projects in the chemical complex of Tarragona to the Spanish government. These projects will have a total electrolyser capacity of 70MW.
Christian Bruch, CEO of Siemens Energy, said: “Green hydrogen will be one important lever to develop sustainable solutions, especially in hard-to-abate sectors of industry and mobility.”
Electric Hydrogen recently announced a $24M Series A financing led by Breakthrough Energy Ventures and joined by Prelude Ventures and Capricorn's Technology Impact Fund. The funding will support continued product development as the company expands its operations in the Greater Boston and San Francisco Bay Areas.
“Electrification will play a huge role in reducing carbon emissions, but over a third of emissions come from industrial sectors that are hard to directly electrify," said EVP of Engineering, Dorian West. "Low-cost fossil-free hydrogen provides a compelling pathway to decarbonise these dirty industries, which operate at massive scales.”
Salah Mahdy, newly appointed Global Director – Environmental Hydrogen at Howden, outlines the challenges and opportunities ahead
How challenging will it be to accelerate hydrogen solutions globally?
We know that a hydrogen-based energy transition will not happen overnight, but the hydrogen economy is enjoying unprecedented business and political momentum, with the number of projects and policies around the world expanding rapidly.
From a high level, the major challenge is reducing the hydrogen price at the pump to $1.50-$2 per kg, which requires improvements throughout the entire hydrogen value chain, from production, processing, transportation and storage, to distribution. The great support this industry is getting globally – from governments, energy companies, and relevant institutions and associations – will catalyse cost reductions by increasing research and development in hydrogen technologies and industrial processes.
Which markets will Howden be targeting?
We decided to move in two parallel routes. The first is to grow and move the same way the market will evolve. We believe that the mobility applications and pilot projects in number of process industries will take the lead in the early years, and later larger scale projects to follow once more advanced technologies are available.
In the second route, we will focus on developing more advanced technologies that the market needs in future to accelerate the deployment of the hydrogen solutions. As a global company operating from over 90 locations globally, that gives us a great opportunity to access all the major geographic growing markets, as well as provide the support that customers will need for their projects worldwide.
What role will digital play in facilitating hydrogen's growth?
Digital technologies are already playing an important role in transforming all sectors, and different angles; it clearly will play an important role in the hydrogen industry as well. Using digital solutions in areas such as predictive maintenance and data collection and virtual reality and artificial intelligence tools as Howden are doing will improve efficiency and safety in the hydrogen industry, which will contribute, to a certain degree, to reducing the levelised cost of hydrogen (LCOH) in the long term.
Movement with trucks and trains
Hyzon Motors, a leading supplier of zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell-powered commercial vehicles, has delivered its first 55-ton milk truck to Transport Groep Noord, which provides transport for multinational dairy company Royal FrieslandCampina N.V. It has a 520km range with motor power up to 550KW capacity.
Repsol has entered into an agreement with Talgo to decarbonise its hydrogen-powered train, whereby Repsol will provide renewable energy infrastructure and logistical means to supply the rail network. The plans will support the objectives of the hydrogen roadmap agreed by the Spanish Government, which involves the implementation of two hydrogen-powered commercial train lines by 2030. Click here for more details.