Projects proliferate

7 November 2019

Recent months have seen a growing number of initiatives aimed at producing low carbon hydrogen and its use as an energy vector and storage medium.

Green hydrogen in Germany

Uniper and its consortium partners, VNG Gasspeicher GmbH (VGS), ONTRAS Gastransport GmbH, DBI Freiberg and Terrawatt Planungsgesellschaft mbH, have announced that they are seeking to build an electrolysis plant for production of green hydrogen, with capacity up to 35 MW, in the central German chemical triangle.

The consortium says it intends to explore the production, transportation, storage and efficient use of green hydrogen at Energiepark Bad Lauchsta¨dt in southern Saxony-Anhalt. German Minister for Economic Affairs, Peter Altmaier (CDU), said the project is considered deserving of financial support as a “living laboratory for the energy transition” and that it had reached the final round of the application process. The ministry expects to make a final decision regarding project funding by the end of 2019.

The project would involve converting renewable electricity from a nearby wind farm into green hydrogen using electrolysis. The green hydrogen will be placed in underground interim storage in a salt cavern fitted out especially for this purpose and would be fed into the chemical industry’s hydrogen grid via a re-dedicated gas pipeline and also used for transport applications. The Energiepark Bad Lauchsta¨dt would then serve as a site where “every aspect of the intelligent and economically efficient integration of green hydrogen” could be tested under real world conditions and at an industrial scale.

The planned underground salt cavern would be capable of storing up to 59 million m3 of hydrogen – an amount equivalent to approximately 150 million kWh of energy, or roughly the annual demand for household heating in a city of 20 000 residents. It would be the first hydrogen cavern in continental Europe and the first such facility in the world for storing green hydrogen, or hydrogen generated from renewable electricity.

Eckhardt Ru¨mmler, chief operating officer at Uniper, commented: “The energy transition will only succeed if we are able to store renewable energy, and in so doing make it reliable. Up to now no persuasive economic solution has been available. Our project addresses exactly this issue: we combine the production of green hydrogen from wind power together with the transportation as well as the storage and use of hydrogen for commercial purposes. If it proves successful on a large scale, we’ve found a core component for a secure and sustainable supply of energy. For many currently operating wind power generators that will soon see direct marketing and EEG [renewable energy] subsidies run out, this facility offers new prospects that are both attractive and sustainable.”

A detailed funding request has been filed as part of the final stage of the selection process. The concept of “living laboratories for the energy transition” was established as a new funding element in the German federal government’s 7th energy research programme aimed at facilitating the transfer of technology and innovation from research to everyday use. Between 2019 and 2022, subsidies totalling up to 100 million euros per year will be awarded. An additional 200 million euros will be made available to living laboratories in regions undergoing structural transformation, such as Bad Lauchsta¨dt.

Along with the Energiepark Bad Lauchsta¨dt living lab, a second project that Uniper is involved with was also shortlisted. The “North German living laboratory” will examine a range of “sector coupling” concepts focused around hydrogen and test them in the Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania regions.

Axel Wietfeld, managing director of Uniper Energy Storage GmbH said: “Green hydrogen is considered an energy source key to the success of the energy transition. We’ve added staff accordingly and established our own hydrogen team that will develop commercial projects in Germany and in other European countries. The decision by the Federal Ministry of Economics to specifically review funding for two projects that we are involved with validates our strategy of focusing on green hydrogen.”

Also in southern Saxony Anhalt, electrolysis technology provider Sunfire is partnering with Total on a project aimed at industrial- scale production of synthetic methanol from renewables and CO2 generated at the Total Raffinerie Mitteldeutschland GmbH site, Leuna. Sunfire will provide a megawatt-scale high temperature electrolyser (HyLink 200) as part of the E-CO2MET research and development project. It will also be responsible for the integration at the site as well as the operation and maintenance of the electrolyser.

The production of green methanol and hydrogen from renewables offers great opportunities says Sunfire, while Marie-Noelle Semeria, group CTO at Total said the company was “delighted to develop efficient technologies to re-use CO2 to make chemicals, materials and fuels. Carbon capture, utilisation and storage is going to play an essential role in achieving carbon neutrality without curbing economic and social growth.”

The advantage of the high-temperature electrolyser, says Sunfire, is its ability to directly use steam or waste heat from industrial processes. With an efficiency of over 80%, “it is the most efficient process on the market for converting electricity into hydrogen”, according to Sunfire.

Total Carbon Neutrality Ventures, the venture capital arm of Total SA, has been a minority equity shareholder in Sunfire since 2014.

Plans for nuclear generated hydrogen in the USA and UK

The US Department of Energy is funding hydrogen projects involving three nuclear utilities and the Idaho National Laboratory, with the aim of helping to improve “the long-term economic competitiveness of the nuclear power industry.”

Bruce Hallbert, director of DOE’s Light Water Reactor Sustainability Program, based at INL, said the projects “will enable the production of commodities such as hydrogen in addition to electricity from commercial nuclear power plants” and will “also accelerate the transition to a national hydrogen economy by contributing to the use of hydrogen as a storage medium for production of electricity, as a zero-emitting transportation fuel, or as a replacement for industrial processes that currently use carbon- emitting sources in hydrogen production.”

The utility participants are: FirstEnergy Solutions of Akron, Ohio; Minneapolis-based Xcel Energy, which owns and operates two nuclear plants in Minnesota (Monticello and Prairie Island); and Phoenix-based Arizona Public Service, which operates the 4.2 GWe three unit Palo Verde PWR facility.

The two-year project, led by FirstEnergy Solutions, will initially demonstrate and deploy a 1-3 MWe low-temperature electrolysis unit for production of commercial quantities of hydrogen, to be located initially at FirstEnergy Solution’s Davis-Besse nuclear power plant, near Toledo, Ohio, with installation planned for 2020.

Hydrogen from Davis-Besse may initially be used to supply public transportation fleets in Ohio, in new direct iron reduction plants being constructed to produce steel products, or for other commercial products now under investigation. The project will demonstrate how hydrogen from commercial nuclear operations can be used to produce “green” products and commodities in significant quantities for domestic use and for export to international markets where green and low-carbon attributes are incentivised.

Raymond Lieb, senior vice president of fleet engineering for FirstEnergy Solutions said the company looked forward to “exploring the economic viability of H2 generation at a nuclear power plant, and demonstrating the compatibility and synergy of the two technologies.”

The potential commercial benefits of hydrogen will be of particular interest to FirstEnergy Solutions, which, even though it had access to around 550 million dollars in cash, in March 2018 filed voluntary petitions under Chapter 11 of the Federal Bankruptcy Code, with the aim of orderly financial restructuring.

Xcel Energy will participate in the demonstration project to help determine if hydrogen production can enhance what the company describes as its growing carbon-free footprint. Redirecting nuclear energy from electricity to hydrogen production could help balance the electrical grid with the increasing amount of wind and solar energy on the system, Xcel says. The company has also been testing flexible operations at its nuclear plants, but hydrogen could create an entirely new value stream, it believes. Xcel Energy plans to reduce carbon emissions by 80% in the Upper Midwest by 2030 (relative to 2005 levels) and is pursuing a vision to provide electricity from 100% carbon-free sources by 2050.

Hydrogen from Arizona Public Service’s Palo Verde plant could be used as a form of energy storage for subsequent use in reverse- operable electrolysis or peaking gas turbines during times of the day when photovoltaic solar energy sources are unavailable and reserve capacity levels in the US southwest are low, and could also be used to support a burgeoning hydrogen transportation fuel market, says APS, with experience from the pilot “expected to offer insights into methods for flexible transitions between electricity and hydrogen generation missions in solar-dominated electricity markets—and demonstrate how hydrogen may be used as energy storage to provide electricity during operating periods when solar is not available.”

“This project allows us to explore a new form of energy storage while continuing to provide customers what they want – clean, affordable and reliable electricity,” said Bob Bement, APS executive vice president and chief nuclear officer. “For more than 30 years, Palo Verde has been the largest single clean-air energy source in the country. This pilot combines advanced technology with existing infrastructure to integrate carbon-free nuclear power with the desert southwest’s abundant solar energy. It is an exciting opportunity to advance a clean energy future for Arizona and beyond.”

Meanwhile in the UK, EDF Energy R&D is leading a project called Hydrogen to Heysham (H2H), which is looking at generating bulk low carbon, low cost, hydrogen via electrolysis from the Heysham AGR units.

A consortium of industrial and academic partners, led by EDF Energy, is looking to design a hydrogen gas generation plant at Heysham, with the gas being used as a zero-carbon transport or heating fuel.

The consortium brings together teams from EDF Energy R&D, the Heysham nuclear power stations, Lancaster University, Atkins, European Institute for Energy Research (EIFER) and EDF Group’s Hydrogen subsidiary Hynamics.

The project is funded under the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s £20 million Hydrogen Supply programme and runs in two phases: a feasibility study completed in September 2019; and (subject to selection by the UK government) a pilot demonstration, starting in 2020 and running for two years.

The feasibility assessed the technical and commercial viability of building a demonstration plant at Heysham and then the potential for replicating bulk hydrogen generation from low carbon electricity across the UK.

Heysham was selected for the demonstration as the site has strong links with the local community and businesses. There are also significant opportunities to use the hydrogen locally, replacing fossil fuel, helping the region deliver on its local climate change strategy, encouraging new industry and improved air quality.

UK Climate Change Minister Lord Duncan said: “Using the power of hydrogen could help cut emissions, create jobs and make industrial processes cleaner and greener, benefitting the whole economy as we work towards net zero by 2050. This innovative project from EDF Energy R&D will help our efforts to roll out hydrogen at scale by the 2030s – a crucial step towards th the end of the UK’s contribution to global warming.”

Davis-Besse, planning to be the first site to produce commercial quantities of hydrogen using nuclear energy (photo: Bill Rayburn, Davis-Besse NPS)
Surface facilities at Bad Lauchsta¨dt
Sunfire electrolyser

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