Hydrogen - usage hyposthases in the new technological era

Emilian M. Dobrescu (TRANSLATED BY COSMIN GHIDOVEANU)
English Section / 31 mai

Hydrogen - usage hyposthases in the new technological era

Hydrogen is the revolution of the future in the energy sector, and Romania needs to make the most of the opportunities made available by the European Union's funding plans and instruments in this respect, a growing number of experts in the field are saying. Important companies in the energy sector, both globally and in our country, have made plans to invest in hydrogen-based projects.

In this context, new technologies, new institutions and new strategies are under development and application, first in the pilot phase, then in the mass stage, in EU member countries, including Romania. Certainly, competition is very high and whoever uses the ways outlined and exemplified below, will have a relevant role to play in the new global scientific and ecological architecture.

The European Alliance for Clean Hydrogen

In September 2018, Romania signed the "Hydrogen Initiative" launched by Austria; In order to contribute to the achievement of this strategy, the European Commission has also launched the European Alliance for Clean Hydrogen, together with industry leaders, the civil society, member countries' ministers and with the involvement of the European Investment Bank. The Alliance will develop the investment framework for large-scale hydrogen production and will support the demand for clean hydrogen in the EU.

With 75% of greenhouse gas emissions originating from energy production, we need a paradigm change to achieve our 2030 and 2050 goals. The EU energy system must become better integrated, more flexible and able to accommodate the cleanest and most efficient solutions in terms of cost; Hydrogen will play a key role in this regard, as the fall in renewable energy prices and constant innovation make it a viable solution for a climate neutral economy", said European Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson.

Iron and nickel based batteries - a possible source for clean hydrogen

Discovered before 1900, the nickel and iron battery was considered dangerous because it released hydrogen during its charging process (https://www.forbes.ro/bateria-pe-baza-de-nichel-si-fier-o-posibila-sursa-curata-de-hidrogen-204907): today, that is precisely the reason that can bring back its usefulness.

In the early 1900s, American inventor Thomas Edison was driving around proudly in his electric car, outfitted with an iron and nickel based battery. Edison was using the discovery of Swiss inventor Ernst Waldemar Jungner, which he hoped he would be able to improve to set it to work on the vehicles of his time. Jungner's battery lasted longer than its contemporary acid-based counterparts, and charged two times faster than they did; Edison had even succeeded in concluding a partnership with Ford Motors to produce an electric vehicle that would operate using that battery.

But the nickel and iron battery had a few shortcomings: it was bigger and more expensive than its competitors and, most important, it emitted hydrogen while charging. Since Edison did not succeed in getting in time a more efficient battery, electric cars were "pulled over" by fossil fuel cars, which traveled longer distances between two tank fills.

A hundred years later, a team of engineers from the Delft Institute of Technology in Holland rediscovered nickel and iron based batteries. It is now being reviewed as a possible source of renewable energy, and hydrogen - which was back then considered dangerous - could today be the most useful product these batteries offer.

The Dutch noticed certain similarities with electrolysis in the reactions occurring during the charging of nickel-iron batteries: although they knew that hydrogen was released during charging, the scientists were surprised that the battery was even more effective when used as an electrolyzer; moreover, the electrodes withstood even better the electrolysis process, as the latter can considerably shorten the life of conventional batteries, and energy efficiency amounted to 80-90%.

The Dutch called their creation the battolyser and are hoping that their discovery will solve two important issues: energy storage and, when batteries are full, clean fuel production.

One of the major shortcomings of alternative energy sources (solar or wind) is their inconsistency and unpredictability. Conventional batteries, such as lithium-based ones, can store energy in the short-term, but when completely loaded they can heat up and suffer degradation: the Dutch battolyser remains stable even when fully charged, at which point it can start producing hydrogen.

Another advantage is that iron and nickel batteries are more resistant to undercharging and overcharging compared to other batteries. In addition, they need minimal maintenance and are very resilient - some work for as long as 40 years. Last but not least, the metals used for their manufacturing, iron and nickel, are more accessible than cobalt, used in conventional batteries - which opens up a new opportunity for the battolyser, that of making renewable energy more profitable. The price of renewable energy fluctuates based on demand and supply - surplus or shortage energy may lead to a sudden price decrease or increase, and the battolyser could alleviate these extremes.

In February 2021, the biggest operational battolyser had a capacity of 15 kW and could provide energy for two households. A double-capacity version was being worked on at a factory in Eemshaven (Netherlands). Supporters of the idea say that a battolyser with a capacity in the gigawatts could provide the energy that we now get from 400 wind turbines, but those of smaller sizes could also be useful - for example, in isolated communities that can not be connected to the conventional electrical grid.

The renewable hydrogen charter

The European Coalition for Renewable Hydrogen (RHC) has won the support of the most innovative and ambitious companies in the entire energy chain and launched the "Policy Charter" for the integration of renewable hydrogen in Europe and to place the continent at the head of the global race for ecological solutions. The HC was launched in November 2020, and the policy document is signed by 21 leading companies in energy innovation, including European energy giants such as Enel, Iberdrola, Siemens Gamesa and RWE. The RHC Political Charter establishes essential policy fundamentals to allow for the expansion and absorption of renewable hydrogen produced by renewable electrolysis and electricity.

Priorities of the Renewable Hydrogen Charter

The creation of additional capabilities for the production of renewable sources all over Europe, as the premise for a booming industry for the production of renewable hydrogen;

more efficient investments in renewable hydrogen structure to avoid spending EU taxpayer money in locked assets;

the introduction of support mechanisms that would allow the competitive absorption of renewable hydrogen and synthetic fuels (e-fuels), derived in difficult to electrify sectors;

the intensification of support for innovation and research to develop the next generation of renewable hydrogen technologies;

Clear, consistent and transparent EU definition of renewable hydrogen;

Ensuring the conditions for fair competition between energy transporters, especially through the taxation rules;

The Renewable Hydrogen Coalition calls on all innovative and ambitious businesses promoting similar ideas, from energy and technology suppliers, start-ups, entrepreneurs and all the way to participants in relevant sectors committed to achieving climate neutrality by 2050, to sign the Political Charter and join the Coalition to build Europe's renewable hydrogen industry.

In 2020, the European Commission launched the ambitious Hydrogen Strategy (see below in this article). But some sectors cannot be easily electrified and for them renewable hydrogen is the missing link. "Wind energy already represents 16% of Europe's electricity; but Europe will need more wind farms to meet the demand for renewable electricity and to meet its aspirations to be a world leader in renewable hydrogen technology and solutions", said Giles Dickson, CEO of WindEurope.

"Achieving the complete decarbonization of Europe requires renewable hydrogen to complete direct electrification. In order to support jobs and hydrogen based on renewable energy, we need the electrical energy grids in the EU to be stronger and for standardized licensing procedures to exist; this will allow Europe to maintain its position of world leader in this technology of the future", says Walburga Hemetsberger, CEO of SolarPower Europe.

Ann Mettler, vice-president for Europe of Breakthrough Energy, said: "Through the approval of this political charter, the supporters of the Renewable Hydrogen Coalition have shown that they are a powerful force.  They bring a new entrepreneurial voice in the policy debates in the European Union at a time when the potential of renewable hydrogen to contribute to the reaching of the bloc's ambitious climate goals is becoming clearer every day. It is time for decision makers in the EU to cooperate with this coalition to contribute to accelerating the development and expansion of an innovative industry, one that is future-proof, which is in a crucial moment - that thing can contribute to the recovery, to the cutting of carbon emissions and the creation of jobs".

Dirigible with the biggest hydrogen fuel cell in the world

Google's co-founder intends to launch a dirigible for the rescue in the case of disasters, which will be supplied with the biggest movable hydrogen cell in the world (https://www.forbes.ro/fondatorul-google-construieste-un-dirigibil-cu-cea-mai-mare-celula-de-combustibil-cu-hidrogen-din-lume). Billionnaire Sergey Brin has created the company LTA to research increasing the capabilities of modern dirigibles. Headquartered in Ohio, LTA is working on a 1.5 MW hydrogen-based propulsion system.

Dirigibles are ideal for humanitarian aid due to their abilities to carry large usable loads over long distances. Dirigibles can also land in much more convenient places than airplanes, as they are capable of traveling longer distances using hydrogen, compared to the battery-based systems.

The Halânga project

The announcement of the partnership between Romgaz and GSP Power to build the plant in Halânga, near Drobeta Turnu Severin, was made in September 2020 (https://www.forbes.ro/ministrul-energiei-proiectul-pilot-al-centralei-pe-gaz-si-hidrogen-de-la-halanga-fost-acceptat-de-catre-comisia-europeana-212344?mc_cid=e84bd6ab41&mc_eid=bda0dfd26e).

On April 24, 2021, the pilot-project of the gas and hydrogen plant of Halânga was accepted by the European Commission in terms of the concept: the land has been acquired, and the feasibility study is being worked on. The project has been made to include - the 150 MW plant for the generation of natural gas, 50 MW of photovoltaic panels that will be producing hydrogen, and that hydrogen will be reintroduced into the plant and burned as part of a mix with natural gas, producing more energy than the one resulted from the burning of natural gas, and also cleaner.

The Halânga pilot project was sent to the European Commission and was accepted as a gas-based electricity production concept much cleaner than the standard methodology. The Pilot Project in Haltenga "will be replicated internationally ... It was our initial thinking, and when we presented it in Brussels, they were very pleasantly surprised", said Romanian Energy Minister Virgil Popescu.

The Haru Oni project

Through the norms known as Euro 7, the maximum emission ceilings are drastically lowered, a few times, to 100 mg CO2/ kilometer, 10 mg nitrouds oxides (from 60 - 80 mg, depending on the diesel or gas engines), starting with 2025 (https://cursdeguvernare.ro/industria-auto-lucreaza-la-carburanti-sintetici-si-hibridizare-sub-biciul-legislatiei-europene.html). The automotive industry has reacted vehemently: Euro 7 norms mean the concealed ban on internal combustion engines.

At around the same time that the European Commission was preparing the new Euro 7 norms, Porsche & Co had already selected for the Haru Oni project, the Chilean province of Magallanes, because over there the wind conditions are "excellent" for producing the electricity needed for obtaining hydrogen through electrolysis, With hydrogen to be further used for the production of methanol through the reaction with CO2 and then with methanol - in obtaining synthetic fuels (eFuels) (our emphasis). The plans of Porsche and its partners alone aim at producing 130,000 liters of eFuels in 2022, increasing capacity to 55 million liters a year by 2024 and ten times more in 2026.

It is possible to calculate how much CO2 gets sent to the atmosphere through the burning of fossil fuels obtained with CO2 absorbed from the air: nitrous oxides are no longer emitted nor other pollutants and CO2 is recirculated in nature. Becoming reality on an industrial scale, the synthetic fuel technology allows the classic automotive industry to climate neutrality.

In the Haru Oni partnership, Siemens Energy functions as an integrator of the entire value chain, according to the draft, from the wind turbines, which is consumed for obtaining hydrogen through electrolysis and up until its conversion and of CO2 into methanol and further into synthetic fuels (eFuels). Siemens Energy received a grant of 8 million euros from the Federal Ministry of Economy and Energy, and the initial investment of the German company is 20 million euros.

Siemens will also supply the PEM (Proton Exchange Membrane) electrolysis devices, which would split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Chilean energy company AME, together with ENEL and oil company ENAP have created the project company Highly Innovative Fuels (HIF), which will also handle the absorption of CO2 from the atmosphere, probably with ethanolamines. Lastly, what follows is the reaction of CO2 and H2 into methanol (a reaction that is taught in school, but one whose industrial production will only now become commercially possible) and respectively, the conversion of methanol into synthetic gas through the MTG technology of ExxonMobil.

Hydrogen trains

European countries doing the best in production and testing hydrogen-based trains are Holland, Germany, Austria and Italy. Alll European tests have been conducted with French-made Alstom trains.

Alstom's hydrogen train successfully met the four objectives of the testing framework: a) the authorization by the national safety evaluator to circulate on the railroads in the country in question; b) zero emissions and the perfect compatibility with the commercial service of the current schedule; c) quick and easy refuel; d) familiarization of the large public with hydrogen-based mobility.

- Austria

Hydrogen trains have entered the regular service for passengers at the end of November 2020.

- Germany

Prepared to replace the old diesel locomotives, new hydrogen trains Mireo Plus H can reach a maximum speed of 160 km/h and cover distances of up to 600 Km with one fueling (https://www.descopera.ro/dnews/19575843-trenurile-cu-hidrogen-ar-putea-inlocui-vechile-locomotive-diesel-tara-care-a-anuntat-deja-inlocuirea-intregii-flote). German railroad operator Deutsche Bahn (DB), has announced in June 2020 that it has plans drawn up to replace the Diesel locomotive fleet with a non-polluting non-electric alternative. Already in the experimental testing stage, the locomotive developed by Siemens Mobility uses a hybrid system based on li-ion chargeable cells and pressurized hydrogen,. Both types of cells store energy obtained from renewable sources, such as photovoltaic panels or wind turbines. The first train of this type will cover the Tubingen, Horb and Pforzheim route, in the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg, the first test runes are scheduled for 2024. Deutsche Bahn estimates that in the pilot phase alone, the new train will avoid the emission of 330 tons of CO2 in the atmosphere.

On the other hand, French company Alstom has announced that it will deliver 14 trains that use pressurized hydrogen for movement by 2022 to run in the German state of Lower Saxony.

- Holland

Dutch province Groningen announced that it will introduce hydrogen trains on a regional line after launching a call for tenders for such hydrogen trains in 2021.

((https://www.forbes.ro/olanda-introduce-circulatie-trenuri-cu-hidrogen-185728)). The Province of Groningen in the Netherlands has published a report showing the results of the Alstom Coradia iLint train tests carried out in March 2020 on the 65 km railway between Groningen and Leeuwarden in the north of the Netherlands. The tests were aimed at examining whether a hydrogen fuel cell train could be a fully sustainable alternative to Diesel trains currently circulating in the northern part of the country.

Alstom's hydrogen train has been tested in detail by the Arriva operator in Groningen, the Dutch railway infrastructure operator ProRail and the energy company Engie. DEKRA, an independent testing and certification company, conducted the tests, which took place without passengers.

- Romania

"I would like us to develop a project for hydrogen-based trains and we had talks with the industry, but I would be happy to be the first adopters, to use a term from the field of It start-ups, meaning to take a technology that is in incipient stages (https://www.forbes.ro/ministrul-transporturilor-vrea-ca-%E2%80%8Bromania-sa-testeze-trenurile-cu-hidrogen-208175?mc_cid=f5f1cb7d64&mc_eid=bda0dfd26e). That would allow us to use European grants and to reach our global objectives when it comes to carbon emissions; that could help us develop an industry and I think it is best, beyond strategies, talk and papers, when you do it by example", said Cătălin Drulă, Transports minister at the Zilele Feroviare (Railroad Days) conference.

Hydrogen production in Romania

Hidroelectrica has announced since May 2020 that it was interested in investing in hydrogen production by hydrolysis and the development of e-mobility networks, according to the company's investment strategy. It then commissioned a feasibility study in a project of common European interest (IPCEI - Important Project of Common European Interest), with the topic "Green Hydrogen on the Blue Danube", in which several member states will participate, according to the company's strategy; The Hidroelectrica Development Strategy also provides for the construction of wind farms.

An electrolysis section whereby the water is decomposed into hydrogen and oxygen could be placed at Drobeta-Turnu Severin, to use the electricity produced in the Porţile de Fier hydroelectric plant, but also the wind or solar energy. The decision to send the prior notification of the project was stipulated for the year 2021, and its goals seem to be inspired by the European programs: a) the production of "green" hydrogen on a large scale in South-Eastern Europe, using green energy (hydro, wind and solar); b) The transportation of the hydrogen on the Danube to users from the countries of the Transnational Program Danube Interreg; c) the implementation of the necessary infrastructure for the use of hydrogen in the participating member states, along the corridors of the Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T). Hidroelectrica is the only Romanian energy company involved in this direction, and it also has renewable energy resources.

Given the new strategy and the new 6.9 GB production capacities from renewable sources, we believe that there will be a significant market for hydrogen as a storage element. There are initiatives in the market through which companies that want to develop gas-based power plants with integrated vision, respectively the production of hydrogen from renewable sources and the use of hydrogen mixed with gas in the production of electricity, with low carbon emissions.

It is important for the hydrogen production to be usable as an energy storage system. Given the new strategy and new renewable production capacities of 6.9 GW, we believe there will be a significant hydrogen market as a storage element. There are market initiatives by which companies wishing to develop gas on gas with integrated vision, respectively the production of hydrogen from renewable sources and the use of hydrogen mixed with gas in low-carbon electricity production.

There are initiatives at a European level for "green" steel production, replacing coke with hydrogen. In transport, a development has been anticipated as early as this decade and there are some countries already engaged in the development of hydrogen-based transportation means. All new gas networks that will be built in Romania will also be able to carry hydrogen.

eFuels production in Romania

The ideas of producing hydrogen or converting methane to methanol are the object of new plans drawn up by Romanian energy companies.

Hidroelectrica wants to profit from the green energy it produces to make hydrogen, and Romgaz (SNG) and OMV Petrom (SNP) want to produce methanol with wind energy.

INSERT

Hydrogen strategy

On July 8, 2020, the European Commission launched the strategy for integrating production storage and use of hydrogen in the energy system, as part of the European Ecological Pact - Green Deal (https://cursdeguvernare.ro/energie-comisia-europeana-a-lansat-strategia-hidrogenului-hidroelectrica-fructifica-oportunitatea.html). In Romania, the development strategy of Hidroelectrica, the biggest electricity maker in Romania, already provides investments in the production of ren renewable hydrogen (through the electrolysis of water with the consumption of green energy) and the storage of hydrogen to be used in transportation.

The strategy launched by the European Commission aims at 38 actions concerning an integrated energy system, in which hydrogen contributes to "decarbonating industry, transport, electricity production and buildings across Europe; The EU Hydrogen Strategy aims at capitalizing on this potential through investment, regulation, the creation of the specialized market, as well as through research and innovation. The priority of using renewable hydrogen, especially produced by using renewable energy, will be achieved by going through the following steps:

2020-2024, the construction of electrolysis installation with a power of at least 6 Gigawatts (GW) in the EU, for producing up to a million tons of renewable hydrogen;

2025-2030, hydrogen becomes an intrinsic part of the integrated energy sector, with a capacity of at least 40 GW of the electrolysis installations for the production of up to 10 million tons of renewable hydrogen in the EU;

2030-2050, the maturing of renewable hydrogen technologies and their widespread implementation in all sectors difficult to decarbonize.

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