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    EU Industry Takes Steps to Boost Hydrogen Use


Companies are preparing for the transition from natural gas only to a gas-hydrogen mix.

by: Joseph Murphy

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EU Industry Takes Steps to Boost Hydrogen Use

EU authorities are looking at hydrogen more seriously than ever before, as shown by the European Commission (EC)'s recent publication of a long-term strategy for developing the element as an energy source. At the same time, European companies are investing in new projects to prepare for the transition from using natural gas only to a gas-hydrogen mix as a fuel.

Norwegian engineering consultancy DNV GL said on July 21 it had set up a consortium to develop burner technology to transition from gas to hydrogen in energy-intensive industries, in order to reduce carbon emissions. The initiative was also launched by Dutch glass manufacturer Celsian and involves over another 30 project partners.

"Existing burner and burner control technology to decarbonise industrial production processes are not yet market-ready," Sander Gersen, project leader at DNV GL - Oil & Gas, said. "Our programme aims to have new burner concepts available within two years." On combustion, hydrogen and oxygen combine to form water vapour which could affect some processes.

A first field demonstration of the burner technology is due to take place in Nedmag in Veendam, where magnesium salt is processed using high-temperature processes. Preparations for this test have already begun. By the end of 2020, an oil stove at the plant will be run on hydrogen, supplied from Gasunie's nearby Hystock production plant in Zuidwending.

The planned burner will be able to handle any mix of natural gas and hydrogen, unlike traditional burners which can only use 100% gas.  This will make it suitable for gradual changes in the gas-hydrogen mix over the coming years.

The Netherlands wants to position itself at the forefront of a potential hydrogen revolution, capitalising on its extensive gas infrastructure that can be converted for hydrogen.

The EC's strategy calls for the development of 40 GW of electrolysers capable of producing 10mn mt/yr of renewable hydrogen over the next decade, while also setting out demand and supply-side incentives to help a robust market for hydrogen develop. Some 11 European gas grid operators have also presented a plan for adapting gas infrastructure to transport hydrogen at an affordable cost.

One of the contributors to this plan, Italian gas grid operator Snam, in partnership with the US' Baker Hughes, has just completed testing the world's first hybrid hydrogen-blend turbine for gas networks. The NovaLT turbine will be installed at a compressor station and used to transport hydrogen through Italy's gas system.

Meanwhile, Germany's Uniper has signed an agreement to work with General Electric (GE) to decarbonise its gas-fired power plants and gas storage facilities, they said on July 21. This collaboration will involve an assessment of potential upgrades and research and development programmes, including increasing the use of hydrogen in GE's gas turbines and compressors. Uniper wants to make its generation business climate neutral by 2035.

"From now on, our investments will focus primarily on the further decarbonisation of the gas assets which could include post combustion carbon capture, utilisation and sequestration (CCUS) as well as blue or green hydrogen," its CEO Andreas Schierenbeck said. "And here, clean hydrogen will – as far as it is possible and sensible – replace the fossil components of the gas plants."

If Uniper's gas storage facilities are repurposed largely for hydrogen, "we will be closer to a solution to the core problem of the European energy transformation: the lack of storage capacity for fluctuating renewable energies on an industrial scale," he said. German infrastructure operator VNG has already been testing the suitability of salt caverns as storage sites for hydrogen. Depleted gas fields may be used for carbon sequestration but are too porous for storing the smaller hydrogen molecule.