Bart Biebuyck, Executive Director of Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), hailed the ambition of the recently released European Union’s (EU) recent Hydrogen Strategy in the first of a three-part series of webinars from H2 View and powered by gasworld TV.

Hosted by H2 View Managing Editor Rob Cockerill, ‘Hydrogen: Driven, not diminished’ part 1 focused on why a clean and green economic recovery is crucial for the world, post-coronavirus (Covid-19).

The launch of the EU’s hydrogen strategy and the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance to deliver on it earlier this month was a key moment in the history of green energy transition, according to Biebuyck of the FCH JU, a public private partnership supporting research, technological development and demonstration activities in fuel cell and hydrogen energy technologies in Europe.

The European Commission recently unveiled a strategy to scale up renewable hydrogen projects across polluting sectors, and to push for clean fuels and energy efficiency to meet the EU’s net-zero emissions goal by 2050.

The EU’s priority is to develop renewable hydrogen, produced using mainly wind and solar energy, with hydrogen electrolysers installations of at least 6 gigawatts of renewable would be set up in the EU from 2020 to 2024.

From 2025 to 2030, hydrogen needs to become an intrinsic part of the EU’s integrated energy system, with at least 40 gigawatts of renewable hydrogen electrolysers and the production of up to ten million tonnes of renewable hydrogen in the EU, according to the EU Hydrogen Strategy.

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“It was fantastic news, we had been working hard on that, it [EU Hydrogen Strategy] was the cherry on the cake because we had worked since 2008 on research agendas for the EU and finally after 12 years of research and demonstrations it’s good to see it bear fruit and the ready to commercialise and bring it to bigger scales,” Biebuyck said.

Picking out some of the points from the EU Hydrogen Strategy Biebuyck said, “The idea is that we create more hydrogen valleys. It’s clear we need to look at hydrogen valleys at ports, industrial hubs. You will see in the coming years we will need to work a lot on hubs, ports. We will also need to think about cross-border logistical infrastructure, the national gas pipelines, to see how we can connect northern, southern, eastern and western Europe through these pipelines. Europe has the ambition to be the first continent to be carbon neutral, to do that we have to scale up after 2030. The infrastructure network really will have to be all over Europe.” 

During the three phases outlined in the Hydrogen Strategy, the Commission expects investments amounting to €180bn to €470bn in renewable hydrogen by 2050. In the first phases of the strategy, investments towards electrolysers worth €24bn to €42bn will be required, as well as another €220bn to €340bn of investments for the necessary solar and wind power generation. 

“We need to invest now in the future of our children because we will use their money in a way,” Biebuyck said.

“We need to make sure we do it right for them. We will have cohesion policies and an innovation fund. We are talking big numbers. If we want to realise the ambition we have to invest between €220bn to €340bn in renewable electricity productions, just on electricity.

“When we look into renewable hydrogen we have to expect between €24bn to €43bn billion. For the hydrogen transport, distribution and storage and refuelling stations, we expect an investment of around €65bn and for heavy duty transport around €30bn and steel €8bn. These are all big numbers and the way these investments will happen will be made by the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance. It will have six working groups on different teams. These will be made up of CEOs and together they will try to make it happen. We hope to meet the first time after the summer. By the end of 2020, an investment agenda to support the kick-off of hydrogen production and application is to be developed alongside a robust pipeline of projects.”

Biebuyck was happy and surprised by the amount of ambition shown by the EU Hydrogen Strategy.

“From my perspective it [EU Hydrogen Strategy] had everything it needed to have. Now we will need to put budgets to these initiatives,” Biebuyck said.

“I was very surprised to see such ambition. To build 40 gigawatts of renewable hydrogen electrolysers by 2030 is pretty challenging. I have been in the field a long time, we are now building in the megawatt scale… I know how difficult it is to build a 20 megawatt electrolyser… 40 gigawatts by 2030 will be a huge challenge, I was surprised the commission was so ambitious. Now it will be about implementing these things.” 

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Golden moment

Australia-based Claire Johnson, Managing Director at Hydrolytics, believes the hydrogen sector is at a pivotal moment in its evolution.

“These past few months has given us some time to reflect on our world and how we want to live in the world and inevitably there’s a conversation around energy and government and policy makers are now presented with a choice: do we continue to invest in traditional energy sectors or do we look at new emerging energy to kick start economies,” Johnson said. 

“The EU has been very ambitious in taking a leadership role. Internationally we are looking at Europe as taking the lead in this conversation and I hope my country Australia can really start to learn some lessons from that pathway.”

Johnson says national governments are now considering hydrogen energy more than they ever have done.

“My experience with hydrogen started when I was working at Toyota, it was quite difficult to talk to governments about hydrogen at the time, I was in government relations then, so I’ve seen a transformation from a difficult time back then to today where there is groundswell and momentum,” Johnson said.

“This could be the pivotal moment that hydrogen moves from being the fuel of the future to an implementation stage. Our government in Australia is prioritising hydrogen as part of its coronavirus response. Hydrogen has been prioritsed as part of Covid-19 responses. So this could be a golden moment that hydrogen has always needed just to make that transition. It’s a very exciting moment for hydrogen and despite the hardships we are going through this could be a transformative moment going forward.”

Johnson added, “One of the biggest issues for the hydrogen sector to date has been a lack of government support. This moment in time we are seeing governments step up to the plate which will enable that enable that supply of hydrogen in volume and create the market that will stimulate the demand for hydrogen.” 

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Opportunities, challenges

Martina Wettin explained some of the challenges and opportunities for Nilsson Energy, a fast-growing integrator of complete on-site, off-grid, emission free renewable energy systems, including large scale storage of energy in hydrogen.

Wettin, Market and PR Director/Founding Partner of Sweden-based, said, “Having that possibility of building new containers of scaling up and down has been interesting to work on and we see that as a big opportunity going forwards, to add local decentralised hydrogen production. We are not doing that with any grid or competition, but we are adding. Being mobile, scaleable and flexible has been important.”

Wettin says wind power will play a bigger role in the future.

“Other opportunities we will see if wind power which really plays into this field and is moving very fast,” Wettin said.

“So far we have only used solar but wind is there now. The already-established power companies want to work with us to build the completed infrastructure solutions. I feel very positive and optimistic.”

As for the challenges, Wettin said, “Some of the challenges we have seen have been an unimaginable amount of red tape that we had to push through. All of 2019 we more or less had to stop operation, sit down and breakdown a lot of thresholds and work closely with the bodies and agencies.”