Hydrogen currently produced in our country is mainly used as a raw material for the production of fertilisers and the desulphurisation of fuels. Current hydrogen production is now based on natural gas and is associated with high CO2 emissions. Much remains to be done to stimulate the production and use of green hydrogen, derived entirely from solar and wind energy. Electrolysis, splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen, using electricity from wind and sun is the main option.
TNO is working in various ways on optimising the production of green hydrogen and making it cheaper. Electrolysis is a proven technology, but there are still several challenges to deployment on a large scale.
Scale up by a factor of a thousand
The capacity of the electrolysers, which are currently being deployed in subsidised pilots, does not exceed 1 to 10 megawatts. In order to supply our country with CO2-free hydrogen, we have to go to electrolysers at gigawatt level. That means scaling up by a factor of a thousand. Once we have done this, we should use them in sectors that are difficult to make sustainable, such as the steel industry, heavy road traffic, air and shipping; to supply electricity when we have no wind and sun, and to integrate the large amount of wind at sea into our energy system by converting part of it into hydrogen.
Research and pilot plants
In the Gigawatt Elektrolyser project, TNO is working with companies and universities in the Netherlands and abroad on the design of such an installation, which is aimed to be built before 2030.
In Groningen, work is being done on the Hydrohub, an open research centre where thirteen parties, including the Institute for Sustainable Process Technology (ISPT) and TNO, are collaborating to optimise and scale up electrolysis.
In the EU project H2FUTURE, TNO is closely involved in a demonstration project, where a six megawatt PEM electrolysis unit has been installed at an Austrian steel company.
In Petten, TNO has Europe's largest hydrogen research facility, the Faraday laboratory, where technological breakthroughs for upscaling are being worked on. There is close cooperation with the Hydrohub in Groningen and companies in the chain that can have materials and components tested and jointly developed here. They do not have to invest in test facilities themselves. Faraday is an open innovation lab that focuses on optimising electrolysis technologies at low temperature (PEM, alkaline, AEM) and high temperature (SOE).
Costs drastically reduced
The cost of producing green hydrogen is also two to three times higher than grey hydrogen produced from natural gas, so not really competitive. The comparison with current natural gas, without CO2 capture, is no longer relevant in the longer term because it involves huge CO2 emissions.
The electrolysers have to be drastically reduced in price because they are only operational for part of the time, and only on sustainable power. For wind at sea, that's about four thousand hours a year. TNO works with manufacturers and suppliers to develop new components, alternative materials and circular designs to significantly reduce costs and extend lifespan so as to remove the threshold that now stands in the way of large-scale production of sustainable hydrogen.
Work with us
If you are a manufacturer or supplier and want to work with us on new components, alternative materials and circular designs, then get in touch with us.
Interested in working together?
Get in touch with Lennart van der Burg
Electrolysers at sea
Another development is research into electrolysers at sea. There are plans for a demo installation on Neptune Energy's Q13a oil and gas platform off the coast of The Hague to produce green hydrogen from sustainable electricity generated by wind and sun. The challenge here is to build electrolysers that, unlike those on land, can withstand the much more extreme conditions at sea.