Hopes that green hydrogen could help Germany reach its carbon emission goals have been boosted by the news that the Danish multinational power company Ørsted and UK-headquartered BP have agreed to jointly develop a 50MW renewable hydrogen electrolyzer at BP’s Lingen refinery in Emsland in the north west of the country.
Electrolyzers work by using electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, and the one at Lingen will be powered by one of Ørsted’s offshore wind farms. Due to be operational by 2024, it will be designed to generate up to one tonne of renewable hydrogen per hour, or almost 9000 tonnes a year, enough to replace approximately 20% of the refinery’s current fossil-based hydrogen consumption. The project is also intended to support a longer-term ambition to build more than 500MW of renewable hydrogen capacity at the German complex; to produce enough hydrogen to meet all the refinery’s hydrogen demand; and to provide feedstock for future synthetic fuel production.
“Heavy industries such as refineries use large quantities of hydrogen in their manufacturing processes,“ Ørsted executive vice president Martin Neubert said. “They will continue to need hydrogen, but replacing the currently fossil-based hydrogen with hydrogen produced from renewable energy can help these industries dramatically lower their CO2 footprint.”
With most of the world’s major economic powers committed to the virtual elimination of carbon emissions by the midpoint of the century, the race to expand green hydrogen‘s role in this transition is well and truly on. New hydrogen-based initiatives such as the one at Lingen are proliferating and, while most of these projects are not necessarily game changers in their own right, more and more companies, investors, governments and environmentalists coming to believe that they have a critical role in weaning the world off its dependence on fossil fuels and to put a brake on its warming trajectory.
It could also help make a few fortunes on the way; the global hydrogen economy is expected to be worth as much as $11 trillion by 2050 – by the time, in other words, that all those world powered pledge to reach their emission goals.
“Hydrogen can be used as a feedstock, a fuel or an energy carrier and storage, and has many possible applications across industry, transport, power and buildings sectors,” the EU explained in a Q&A note attached to its latest Hydrogen Report. “Most importantly, it does not emit CO2 and does not pollute the air when used. …It can help to decarbonise industrial processes and economic sectors where reducing carbon emissions is both urgent and hard to achieve.”
Brussels may be championing hydrogen as “the missing part of the puzzle to a fully decarbonised economy,” but the motives of some member states – particular those formerly in the Soviet bloc – are political as well as economic. Several of these see green hydrogen as yet another way of reducing their dependence on Russian natural gas as much as of saving the planet.
Regardless of the motivation, Europe’s hydrogen bandwagon is now well and truly rolling, and Germany is helping to drive.it. This June, its Federal Government released Die Nationale Wasserstoffstrategie which went one step further than Brussels by earmarking the largest part of its clean energy stimulus funds to the development of green hydrogen.
Here again, the motivation was economic as well as environmental. The report’s authors recognised that the green hydrogen market may indeed have multi-trillion dollar potential, but this will only be realised if the cost of production can be reduced to levels that make it competitive with conventional fossil fuels. To this end, the federal government is planning to invest €1bn in green hydrogen technologies and large-scale industrial facilities over the next three years.
The report’s prediction that domestic demand for green hydrogen energy will quickly outstrip German industry’s ability to supply will give further ammunition to eastern Europe’s hydrogen lobby. “The Federal Government will work with the North and Baltic See border states to push forward hydrogen production by establishing a reliable regulatory framework for offshore wind energy.” it states. It also aims to systematically develop production sites in partner countries.