Dr. ir. René Peters
- Offshore Energy
In addition to Neptune, the participants in the project are TNO, NexStep, EBN and operators NAM, TAQA Energy and Total.
Hydrogen is an alternative to the use of natural gas in industrial processes, which currently produce a large amount of CO2 emissions. In the long run, hydrogen will also be used as a fuel for heavy transport by road, water and possibly even air. On top of this, hydrogen can be stored as an energy carrier to prevent overloading of the electricity grid at peak times. Offshore wind generates electricity that can be converted to hydrogen via the electrolysis of seawater and transported via existing gas pipelines. Transporting these hydrogen gas molecules is much cheaper than transporting electrons via heavy electricity cables from wind farms on the North Sea to land.
As the construction of offshore wind farms continues at a sustained pace and they move further and further away from the coast, it’s important to investigate the most robust and inexpensive ways to get the electricity generated there to land. In the long run, offshore wind should be our main source of sustainable energy, even greater than onshore wind, solar, geothermal and biomass.
There are more birds to kill with one stone: the North Sea is home to many platforms that have reached the end of their lifespan and need to be demolished, and there are also numerous gas pipelines. These can now have a second life before being permanently disposed of.
If the pilot succeeds, there will be many winners. TenneT can bring wind-generated electricity from the sea to land without investing in expensive cables and other electricity infrastructure. Hydrogen can be transported via the existing pipelines. The owners of the platforms have the prospect of a new business case now that gas production at sea is ending in many places. Manufacturers of electrolysers – devices that split water into water and oxygen, but which are currently used exclusively on land – will develop a new generation to be used at sea.
In this pilot, TNO is working closely with both the platform operators and the manufacturers. The conditions for producing sustainable hydrogen at sea are very different to those on land: long distances, salt water, strong winds, more wear and tear, higher installation costs and more expensive maintenance. On the other hand, major cost advantages can be expected in the transport and storage of wind energy on a large scale. It will be of interest to both parties to innovatively transform these disadvantages into a profitable activity. TNO provides knowledge on sensors and data communication to allow the installations to operate remotely and without staff on process technology, offshore operations, measurement technology, safety and energy systems. Nowhere else in the world have these complex issues been tested in practice in a coordinated manner. This project can also serve as a springboard for energy islands at sea where hydrogen production is also planned.
The pilot plant, which will be built on the Neptune platform in 2020 and should be operational in 2021, will have a capacity of one megawatt. This might seem small, but if the methodology and technology devised by TNO work, nothing will stand in the way of scaling it up. Plus, the environmental benefits are huge: each sustainably-produced kilogram of hydrogen saves ten kilograms of CO2 when compared to the hydrogen produced from natural gas.