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Starting signal for design of gigawatt electrolysis plant

21 Mar 2019

There is still a lot to be done to supply Dutch industry with sustainable hydrogen, an important step in the energy transition. Sustainable hydrogen can be produced by the electrolysis of water, using electricity generated from the wind and the sun. To get this happening on an industrial level the scale must be increased a thousand-fold. TNO is working with partners in the project 'Gigawatt Electrolysis Plant' to make this happen.

For more information contact Yvonne van Delft

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In the project, a consortium of companies, universities and knowledge institutes is paving the way for the design of an industrial-scale electrolysis plant. On a scale that is measured by gigawatts (GW). By 2030, wind farms in the Netherlands and the North Sea will produce several dozen GW of sustainable electricity. On the other hand, current industrial plants for the production of hydrogen from natural gas have a capacity comparable to a GW-sized electrolysis plant.

A factor 1000 upscaling is essential

Hydrogen production is currently about 800,000 tonnes per year, mainly used in the production of ammonia and fertiliser as well as in the refining and chemical sectors. In order to supply the Netherlands with CO2-free hydrogen in the future, more GW-sized electrolysis plants will be needed. In addition to producing sustainable hydrogen for industry, they can also contribute to a future flexible energy infrastructure in which hydrogen acts as an energy carrier.

Thousand times bigger

The challenge is enormous. At present, the industrial installations for the electrolysis of water, the so-called electrolysers, are no larger than a few megawatts. In a factory with a capacity of a gigawatt, a hundred to a thousand such electrolysers would be installed. The partners in the Gigawatt Elektrolyser project will together explore what is needed to build such an electrolysis installation in the Netherlands between 2025 and2030.

The project is being coordinated by the Institute for Sustainable Process Technology (ISPT), with support from by TKI Energy & Industry, and partners include Nouryon, Shell, Yara, OCI Nitrogen, Gasunie, DOW Chemical, Ørsted, Frames, TNO, Utrecht University and Imperial College London.
Technical design

The partners will identify the technological bottlenecks in scaling up large numbers of electrolysis cells (so-called 'stacks') in an integrated factory. It is important that the plant operates dynamically because of the dependence on variations in the supply of electricity. In the event that there is an decrease or increase in wind, the factory will have to be able to make the necessary adjustments.

Another important aspect of the gigawatt plant is the production of heat and oxygen as valuable by-products of the electrolysis of water. In the technical design of the factory it is important that these products are easy to dispose of and deliver. TNO will investigate the extent to which the current electrolysers can be improved and how costs can be reduced up to component level. The developed models will be validated in the Faraday laboratory in Petten. This project is part of the Voltachem programme.

Competitive alternative

The ultimate goal is optimal design at minimal cost. With the current state of technology and market prices, the investment for a GW electrolysis plant would amount to about EUR 1 billion. The partners in the project aim to reduce this amount by a factor of three to four. A plant of some 350 million euros is a competitive alternative to conventional ‘fossil’ hydrogen technology.

An important part of the project is to find out how scaling up electrolysis technology can help reduce the costs of installations and components. In this respect, attention will also be paid to learning effects in manufacturing, such as the substantial cost reduction achieved in the generation of wind and solar energy.

Climate agreement

The ambition of the Gigawatt Electrolyser project goes beyond drafting a conceptual design. The next step is to test how an industrial GW electrolysis plant can be integrated into the industrial environment and how the choice of location influences the cost price of the plant. In the next project phase, which is now under development, case studies will therefore be carried out in collaboration with industry, focusing on the industrial regions around Vlissingen-Terneuzen-Ghent, Rotterdam, Amsterdam, Delfzijl and Geleen. The project fits in with the ambitions and objectives as expressed in the draft climate agreement of these regions. Important partners in this next phase of the project include Deltalinqs, Port of Rotterdam, Groningen Seaports, North Sea Port, Port of Amsterdam, the provinces of Groningen and North and South Holland, Stedin, Smart Delta Resources, USG/Chemelot and Tata Steel.

The project is expected to stimulate innovation in the field of electrolysis technology, thus creating opportunities for Dutch manufacturing in the production of electrolyser modules and components.

For more information contact Yvonne van Delft

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