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EU Makes a New Bet on Green Hydrogen

Aug. 5, 2019
Green hydrogen to balance out volatile electricity generation from new renewable energy sources, integrate them into the energy system.

The European Commission has awarded the H2FUTURE project to a consortium made up of voestalpine, Siemens, VERBUND, and Austrian Power Grid (APG). Joining forces with them are research-partners K1-MET and ECN. The contract is for the construction of one of the world’s largest electrolysis plants for producing green hydrogen. The project partners will work and research cooperatively to develop an innovative hydrogen demonstration plant at the voestalpine site in Linz, Austria.

The project is based on a key assumption: both the industry at large and energy providers are confronted with serious energy policy challenges in Europe. The European Union’s (EU) climate and energy goals stipulate a 40% reduction of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, which poses almost unsolvable problems for energy-intensive industries. The European electricity sector is experiencing a radical change, with overcapacities of volatile new renewable solar and wind energy. Green hydrogen produced based on carbon dioxide-free green electricity presents enormous potential for use as an industrial process gas, as well as for energy storage. The H2FUTURE project is an important milestone on the road toward coupling the energy sector with various key industry sectors.

Bart Biebuyck, executive director, European Commission, Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU) said that the FCH JU is “thrilled to see the launch of such a ground-breaking project. H2FUTURE gathers a constructive partnership which is decisive in the process of greening the industry while harnessing the power of renewables. This is key to positioning the industry and the sector the right way to help meet the Cop 21 agreement targets. After having supported 25 projects in the field of electrolyzers, the FCH JU is proud to see the birth of the most ambitious project in this field, aiming to build one of the largest proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzers.”

The FCH JU allocated approximately 12 million euros in funding from the EU Horizon 2020 program for implementing this project, with the goal of producing green hydrogen. The green hydrogen for industrial use and for balancing the power reserve market will be produced in one of the largest and most modern electrolyzers with PEM technology. The total project volume amounts to about 18 million euros over the course of four and a half years.

The key partners in the project are three companies who have worked well together for many decades: voestalpine, Siemens, and VERBUND. The plant will be built and operated on the premises of voestalpine in Linz. The green hydrogen which is generated will be fed directly into the internal gas network, allowing the testing of the use of hydrogen in various process stages of steel production.

The technology supplier for the PEM electrolyzer is Siemens. VERBUND, the project coordinator, will provide electricity from renewable energy sources and is responsible for development of grid-relevant services. Further partners in the project are the research institution ECN from the Netherlands — which is responsible for the scientific analysis of the demonstration operation and the transferability to other industrial sectors — and the Austrian transmission system operator APG — which will provide support in integrating the plant into the power reserve markets. The Austrian COMET Competence Center, K1-MET, provides its expertise in the operation of the plant and demonstrates its potential applications in the European and global steel sector.

H2FUTURE will be evaluating the potentials and possibilities for using green hydrogen in various process stages of steel production. In addition, the transferability of this technology to other industrial sectors which use hydrogen in their production processes will be investigated. A further focus is integrating the responsive PEM electrolysis plant into the power reserve markets by developing demand-side management solutions, thus compensating for short-term fluctuations in the increasingly volatile power supply by means of load management for bulk consumers.

voestalpine has long been regarded as an environmental and efficiency benchmark in its industry. In the last 10 years, the technology and industrial goods group has spent more than 2.2 billion euros on the ongoing operation of its environmental facilities in Austria.

voestalpine is striving for the replacement of coal through the use of alternative energy sources in steel production over the next two decades by bridging technologies, primarily based on natural gas, like in the new reduction facility in Texas. Eder noted that "with the construction of the new pilot plant for the production of carbon dioxide-neutral hydrogen at our Linz location, we are taking a step further toward the long-term realization of technology transformation in the steel industry." However, the prerequisites needed are the provision of sufficient energy from renewable sources as well as political framework conditions, which allow for secure long-term planning.

Sustainable electricity generation is gaining increasing global importance against the background of shrinking resources. The development of renewable energies is intended to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions, among other things. One of the challenges is in capturing excess wind and solar energy and feeding it back into the grid as required. Siemens has developed an electrolysis system based on PEM technology, which enables large quantities of energy to be captured and stored through the conversion of electrical current into hydrogen. The electrolysis system is already successfully in use in several projects and is subject to ongoing development by Siemens.

With a capacity of 6 MW, the latest generation of the technology will now be applied in a closed cell unit in Linz. "The hydrogen produced has a multitude of applications, not only as a raw material in the industry as is seen in Linz but also as a fuel for mobility and as an energy carrier in electricity and gas supply," said Wolfgang Hesoun, CEO of Siemens Austria.

More than 500 billion cubic meter of hydrogen is used annually worldwide, more than 95% of which had been hitherto produced via a carbon dioxide-intensive gas reforming process. "This carbon dioxide-heavy hydrogen can be replaced by hydrogen from electrolysis, greatly improving the emission balance resulting from industrial processes. Moreover, if the electrolysis is undertaken with electricity from renewable sources, the hydrogen production is virtually climate-neutral."

Already today, VERBUND generates around 96% of its electricity from renewable energy sources, primarily hydropower. In addition to generating, transmitting, trading, and marketing electricity, the company is increasingly focusing on the expansion of energy-related services for industrial and commercial clients, as well as for household customers. VERBUND Chairman of the Board Wolfgang Anzengruber said, “With H2FUTURE we are consistently continuing on the path to becoming a 100% carbon dioxide-free energy provider. We welcome this forward-looking project, which links the challenges of the production industry and the efficient use of clean energy in an ideal way. Our common goal is the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions and strengthening Austria as a business location through the use of state-of-the-art green technology.”

Green hydrogen offers great potential for industrial use and also as a storage medium, to balance out volatile electricity generation from new renewable energy sources and to ideally integrate them into the energy system.

VERBUND is Austria’s leading electricity company and one of Europe’s largest hydropower electricity producers. More than 96% of the company’s electricity is generated from hydropower. VERBUND trades in electricity in 12 countries, and in 2015 with around 3000 employees, it achieved an annual turnover of 3 billion euros. Along with its subsidiaries and affiliates, VERBUND is active from electricity generation to transport and on to international trading and marketing. VERBUND has been listed on the Vienna Stock Exchange since 1988, and 51 % of the share capital is held by the Republic of Austria.

The FCH JU is a unique public-private partnership supporting research, technological development and demonstration (RTD) activities in fuel cell and hydrogen energy technologies in Europe. Its aim is to accelerate the market introduction of these technologies, realizing their potential as instrumental in achieving a carbon-lean energy system.

Fuel cells, as an efficient conversion technology, and hydrogen, as a clean energy carrier, have great potential to help fight carbon dioxide emissions, to reduce dependence on hydrocarbons, and to contribute to economic growth. The objective of the FCH JU is to bring these benefits to Europeans through a concentrated effort from all sectors.

The three members of the FCH JU are the European Commission, fuel cell and hydrogen industries represented by Hydrogen Europe, and the research community represented by the Research Grouping N.ERGHY.

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