Hydrogen can play an important role in the transition to a sustainable energy supply. At present, grey hydrogen is mainly produced by burning natural gas and blue hydrogen when CO2 is captured in that process. But when it comes to green hydrogen, which is produced entirely from the sun and wind, there are still technological barriers to be overcome. TNO works on innovations for the production, transport and storage of hydrogen and applications such as fuel cells and gas turbines in order to accelerate the energy transition.
Our country can even play a pioneering role in the development of components for the new generation of electrolysers. These devices use electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. When that electricity is generated by the sun or wind, it is CO2-free, green hydrogen. The current generation of electrolysers still does not provide enough power to play an important role in the energy transition, and it is hardly profitable. Together with companies in the manufacturing industry, TNO is working on electrolysers with a significantly higher power output, a longer life span and lower costs. In addition, together with partners at home and abroad, we have started to design the green hydrogen power plant of the future, which will be able to produce considerably more sustainable hydrogen at a third of its current cost.
The Netherlands can become an important supplier of components to electrolyser manufacturers, and by working with these companies on robust, reliable and cheaper parts, our country can acquire a key position in this global growth market. Cooperation between research institutes, manufacturers and end users is necessary in order to build and scale up pilot plants.
The current grey hydrogen is now produced and used in industry to serve mainly as a raw material for ammonia and fertiliser, among other things. In the future, green hydrogen as a fuel can be an alternative to natural gas in production processes and to high-temperature heat in industry. The use of hydrogen as a fuel for vehicles is still limited. For longer distances and heavier transport, safe, compact tanks are needed to store hydrogen in a truck, an inland and seagoing vessel and possibly even an aircraft. TNO is investigating which materials are suitable for storing hydrogen at extremely low temperatures or at high pressure in a liquid state.
Offshore wind farms are increasingly producing more electricity than the current electricity grid can handle. Converting electricity into hydrogen and transporting hydrogen through part of the existing gas grid is an alternative to upgrading the electricity grid. The natural gas pipelines can be made suitable for hydrogen with relatively minor interventions. Thanks to this unique infrastructure, the Netherlands is well prepared for this.
An advantage of hydrogen is that it can be transported and stored relatively cheaply on a large scale. Storage is possible, for example, in underground salt caverns. TNO is also investigating the opportunities and challenges for storage in depleted gas fields. Underground storage of hydrogen is very suitable for bridging longer periods (days to months) in which there is a difference between supply and demand for electricity or heat. The Netherlands, for example, has a strong difference in the demand for heat in summer and winter. The supply of electricity from the sun and wind is also highly dependent on the weather and the seasons. With hydrogen as an energy carrier, periods of surpluses and shortages of energy from wind or sun can be compensated so that the energy system remains in balance.
Technically, wherever natural gas is currently used, it can be replaced by green hydrogen gas. But economically and socially, this is certainly not the best option in all cases. For example, for the built environment it is often more efficient to use sustainable soil heat or a heat pump, or a combination of the two. It is important to assess this at system level.
Hydrogen is therefore more than a technological issue. It affects not only our energy system, but also has economic, legal and other social implications, with many different interests having to be considered. TNO combines in-depth knowledge of technologies, markets, revenue models and legislation to help parties make the right choices. Our active involvement in numerous projects at home and abroad provides us with a comprehensive overview of all the issues relating to hydrogen.