Hydrogen Energy - Production & Storage by Lucas Bertrand, ITM Power
31TH May 2021
In this blog post we continue to learn more about Hydrogen as an energy vector source but more specifically in terms of its production and storage requirements. To empower us with the right knowledge and fundamentals on this subject around Hydrogen, we spoke with Lucas BERTRAND who currently leads the Business Development activities across France, Benelux, Iberia and Italy for ITM Power – a leading manufacturer of Hydrogen Energy Systems for Energy Storage and Clean Fuel production.
Lucas Bertrand is ESSEC MBA graduated and has 30 years of Business Development expertise in renewable energy & portable power. He has worked in the hydrogen business for 13 years with ITM Power recently and with Areva Renewable prior to that. Formerly, for close to 11 years he was overseeing the OEM Business across Europe at Duracell.
To begin with, it is important to understand the basic concepts associated with Hydrogen. Being one of the lightest and most abundant elements in the universe, hydrogen’s natural form on earth is typically found in combination with other elements (in water –H2O, natural gas (CH4), or other fossil compositions (CH-XX). Keeping aside today’s conventional methods for Hydrogen production, we will specifically focus on Electrolysis – a mature technology that consists in generating the molecules of hydrogen through an electrochemical reaction using electric current. In particular, water electrolysis has gained momentum over the last decade as the ideal way to produce hydrogen via a clean process: When using renewable electricity, the splitting of water molecules (H2O) generates oxygen (O2) and clean & green hydrogen (H2) with zero carbon footprint, compared to the heavy carbon footprint of conventional fossil production methods. This technology can be used to participate in the Energy Transition and decarbonize industry, transport, and heating networks.
According to Lucas, the emergence of water electrolysis is ramping up in various market sectors: Mobility, Industry and also the storage of renewable energy. This is primarily driven by the following factors – (i) the need to store growing intermittent renewable energies, (ii) EU regulations (2021-2030 plans) now need to be transposed into national policies (RED II on E-fuels, and ETS IV on CO2 emission reduction targets), and (iii) the decreasing cost of renewable electricity.
One of the fundamental issues surrounding the production of decarbonized hydrogen is its storage. Hydrogen is difficult to store due to its very low volumetric energy density (2700 times less energy dense than gasoline). Any micro leak can dissipate stored hydrogen very quickly. We asked Lucas to give his inputs on the typical steps currently being considered to improve the storage of hydrogen. He states, “Compression and Liquefaction are the most common ways to reduce Hydrogen footprint. Compressed or liquid hydrogen can be stored today in large tanks made of steel (Type I & II) or composite (Type IV), the latter being light enough to be used on board vehicle for instance. Today, improved compression technologies with better efficiency are deployed: this is the case for instance of ionic compression, a technology developed by Linde Gas, the worldwide #1 leader in industrial gas, with an electrical consumption reduction by minimum 30% vs conventional diaphragm compressors.
There is some development on Hydride based storage in a solid form, but clearly, it is still in low TRL maturity at present. Of course, compression, and to a greater extent liquefaction (~30% energy loss) require a significant amount of energy. This needs to be taken into account when we calculate the “well to wheel” levelized cost of Hydrogen. This is why it is essential to get a cheap electricity to produce electrolytic hydrogen.
The current move towards large scale hydrogen production, combined with the necessity to transport it from sunny or windy regions – where it is produced-, towards the geographical regions where it will be consumed, requires large transport and storing infrastructure: this can be done through on the one hand, large pipeline networks that exist today but will widely expand across all Europe (eg.BackBone H2 project), and on the other hand, Salt Caverns that can store millions tons of hydrogen for long periods”.
Lucas further speaks about the future trends & current standards of storage options. Particularly for on board storage in the mobility sector, composite vessels type III and type IV are currently being developed in increased sizes (from 40 liter to 100 liter+) – these of course are lighter and the costs are effectively going down as well. On the automotive side of things, in particular for heavy mobility (bus, trucks), increased pressure for Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles (FCEV) tanks from 350 bar to 700 bar allows to embark more hydrogen for more kilometres driven. He also states that development of high pressure logistic tube trailers, to transport gas by road, should come in handy in the future as well (from 200 bar to 300-350 bar). Mobile containerized solutions up to 500 bar are currently in development, which could enable to transport larger quantities of H2 on a single trip, but also could possibly eliminate several stages of compression at the refuelling station site.
Hydrogen Mobility started with passenger cars. Most car OEMs announced hydrogen car introduction in their product line (with the exception of Volkswagen and Mercedes) but this segment will remain small for quite a while, compared to the Heavy Duty Vehicles (HDV) like trucks or buses. Indeed, the Fuel cell passenger car market will take time to become a mass market, unless local incentive policies boost the car prices to become more affordable. Quoting Lucas, “we are in a ‘chicken and egg’ situation where car OEMs blame the infrastructure providers not to be widely enough developed, whereas the Refuelling station operators are discouraged to invest in an infrastructure that is barely used, by lack of vehicle. This is the situation in Germany where about 100 Refuelling stations have been deployed thanks to large subsidy programs, for less than 1000 Fuel Cell cars on the road. Whereas buses or trucks consume more hydrogen, hence an infrastructure can reach a break even with less vehicles: A 1ton/day Hydrogen Refuelling station would refuel 25 buses; it would require a minimum of 250 passenger cars to get amortized. I envision thus the passenger car market to stay quite a niche, at least for now, whereas heavy duty vehicles projects are growing in number: “1000-bus” project in France for public transport (by 2022), Trucks for logistics (by 2023), followed by Trains (by 2025), and eventually boats and airplanes – not necessarily using direct hydrogen, but combining renewable hydrogen with CO2 to generate bio kerosene (by 2030).”
The current development in Europe of Green hydrogen is ambitious and is now supported by public investment programs: While hydrogen share in European energy production is minimum today, Brussels has set the goal of increasing hydrogen to 12 or 14% of the energy mix by 2050, with a staged approach ramping from 6GW electrolyser capacity in 2024 to 40GW by 2030. Associated investment would be between 180 and 470 billion euros by 2050. “In France, The French Economy Recovery Plan includes an ambitious hydrogen plan with a 7-billion€ state investment dedicated to green Hydrogen, mainly through water electrolysis, with targets to deploy 6GW electrolysis”, said Lucas.
Moving on to the business side of things, we requested Lucas to elaborate on the market and business opportunities in the storage of hydrogen and understand which industry sectors are currently struggling on this front. Lucas clearly outlines that “Hydrogen Mobility is one important & growing segment, like stationary home use power-to-power applications, by transforming electricity into hydrogen (electrolyser) and then back to power (using a fuel cell) or by injecting green hydrogen in natural gas networks for heat building. But these 2 market segments will remain quite small in the short term, compared to the potential of hydrogen as feedstock in industrial processes, or Hydrogen as a renewable energy storage vector. For long storage options, Hydrogen will definitely be economically the most viable option for large-scale storage solutions. However, projects will need to move to larger scale as it is today, to reach 100 MW, or even GW scale. ”Hydrogen as a renewable energy storage vector is key as it supports renewable energies penetration in the Energy mix. Renewable energies are by essence intermittent, difficult to predict. Therefore, having more than 30% renewable energy in the Energy mix, makes it complex for the power grid to easily integrate such unpredictable power sources. Lucas states, “Large concentration of Renewable Energy sources (RES) countries like Denmark (36% via Wind energy) are also the largest CO2 emitters, as they need to complement their mix with coal or gas-power plants to mitigate RES shortfall. An alternative to this is to deploy large-scale Electrolysis plants to operate during off-peak periods when excess wind power is there and being able to stop during peak-power consumption times. Today’s large-scale electrolysis project opportunities in the North of Europe are announced but are still in the nascent stages, looking for grant funding schemes to secure investment for further development.”
On the other hand, the Industrial sector will be a large contributor to the deployment of Green Hydrogen. The industrial sector has long been a preserved sector for gas companies, selling their Hydrogen generated at cheap cost, but with a heavy carbon footprint (11kg CO2 emission per kg of H2 generated) – using steam methane reformers (SMR). Refineries, Steel, Ammonia for fertilizers, are some of the segments that typically used SMRs on site to produce large quantities of Hydrogen. Therefore, given the need to decarbonise transports industry and heating networks, SMRs are to be replaced with electrolysers. Lucas highlights some recent examples in this space – “First large scale industrial demonstrators are in process of being deployed: (i) Refinery: Shell Wesseling Refinery (Germany) has deployed a 10 MW PEM electrolyser by ITM Power in 2020 and planning a 100MW extension; (ii) Chemicals: Linde Gas will install in Leuna Petro Chemical Complex (Germany) a 24MW PEM Electrolyser (ITM Power) in 2022. Additionally, Nouryon (Akzo Nobel) is designing a 20MW Electrolyser project in Delftzijl (Netherlands), (iii) Steel: ArcelorMittal is looking at producing green steel using green Hydrogen via electrolysis.”
To wrap up this insightful discussion with Lucas, we closely looked into Hydrogen making its in-roads into the transportation industry. We enquired about the significant changes needed in the transportation sector (railways, trucks, buses, shipping, aircrafts) in order to adopt hydrogen energy systems. According to Lucas, it will be “a combination of (i) increasing green electricity use, (i) larger scale fleet projects (transport), (iii) gigafactory industrialization- manufacturability, and (iv) subsidies schemes”. He clearly outlines that hydrogen would get faster deployment if we were to stop subsidizing conventional fossil fuels (Diesel), to enforce heavier taxes on CO2 emission in the transportation sector, i.e. constraints on polluting users and incentivize decarbonized transport. Massive grant funding schemes for hydrogen projects, both at EU and National levels, have been announced to support both the emergence of zero carbon technologies, and industrialisation of Green Hydrogen manufacturing capacities, i.e. giga factories to address 100 MW+ electrolysers, – like the 1000MW factory ITM Power recently opened last December 2020, and that other electrolyser providers will be deploying in a few years’ time-.
Given the latest developments of SNCF Voyageurs ordering the first hydrogen trains in France, we asked Lucas for his inputs on what is currently holding back this transition to Hydrogen trains across the broader European railways. Lucas comments, “Hydrogen Fuel Cell trains are foreseeable on railway lines which aren’t electrified yet. It becomes a valuable decarbonized alternative to diesel trains, and cheaper than electric powered trains, as the cost of an electrification line is ~1M€+/km. But one train is “only” consuming 200 to 400 kg of hydrogen per day (approx). Therefore, there is a need for several fuel cell powered trains to enable an economically viable project. There is also a need to deploy a large infrastructure network along the train lines. The solution is to include trains hydrogen refuelling infrastructure in a full regional hydrogen ecosystem, mutualizing it together with other mobility or industrial requirements of Hydrogen.”
We would like to thank Lucas Bertrand for his precious time and guidance on this matter around Hydrogen production and storage systems. We hope you found these inputs useful as well.