innovation

Sustainable and affordable energy within reach?

6 January 2020 • 4 min reading time

With the completion of the Hydrohub MegaWatt Test Centre in the course of 2020 on the EnTranCe site of the Hanzehogeschool in Groningen, the Netherlands gains a state-of-the-art research facility for optimising and scaling up electrolysis. That should take the production of green hydrogen to a higher level. Large-scale production of sustainably generated hydrogen is needed to give the industry a low CO2 profile.

Would you like to know more about the Hydrohub Innovation Program?

Please contact Lennart van der Burg.

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The test centre is being built as part of the Hydrohub Innovation Programme, initiated by the Institute for Sustainable Process Technology (ISPT) and a number of industry partners who saw the importance of innovation around hydrogen and wanted to give it concrete form. The cooperation started at the end of 2017 and has since grown to more than thirty participants. The consortium consists of knowledge partners like TNO, academic, technology and applied science universities, port companies, industrial clusters and companies such as Shell, Nouryon and Yara. Along with the public sector (including Gasunie) and provinces (including Groningen) and municipalities.

Open innovation centre

The 'MegaWatt Test Centre' is an open innovation centre. In the first instance, PEM and alkaline technology will be the focus of a test and development programme. In the long run, the test centre will offer suppliers the opportunity to test and optimise their innovative products, such as components for electrolysers, on an industrial scale. The ultimate goal is to use innovation to improve the robustness, flexibility and efficiency of large-scale production of green hydrogen, thereby reducing costs and accelerating the energy transition.

Unique test facility

"It is a unique test facility where knowledge institutes and companies can test their latest inventions on an industrial scale," says Andreas ten Cate, Programme Director for System Integration at the ISPT. "It goes pretty far. Here we can open up and change electrolysers on the inside, add new components and whatever is necessary and useful to improve their performance. There are few places where experts from companies, TNO and universities can go in depth together in this way. This collaboration between science and industry is helping us to make great strides. ”

Opportunity for the manufacturing industry

Two 250 kilowatt electrolysers will be installed in the test centre. According to TNO expert Lennart van der Burg, 250 kW is ideal for testing on a relevant scale. Larger electrolysis systems are not easy to use for research purposes, or consist of a large number of connected 'stacks' that enable a larger total power to be achieved. An example of this is Gasunie’s HyStock electrolyser in Veendam, a PEM system with a capacity of one megawatt.

"In our Faraday lab in Petten we do research with companies, testing at cellular level. This involves the development and testing of new technologies and materials on a small scale. If its operation has been proven in the lab, then the test centre in Groningen is the next step. Here industrial companies and suppliers can test what they have conceived and developed in a very advanced environment. On this scale, you can detect problems fairly quickly and see how the technology behaves in a larger system. We offer facilities that they can never build or pay for themselves. It is therefore also a great opportunity for the Dutch manufacturing industry. ”

Gigawatt scale required

The Climate Agreement stipulates that more than eleven gigawatts of power will be installed in offshore wind turbines by 2030. At the same time, the industry already uses more than 800 kilotons of hydrogen per year. Electrolysis on a gigawatt scale is required to link renewable electricity from wind to hydrogen to make industry more sustainable. This upscaling is being investigated in the Gigawatt electrolysis project of the Hydrohub Innovation Programme. Here work is being done on the concept design of a hydrogen plant with such a capacity.

Andreas ten Cate: "We are doing this with a large number of internationally operating industrial companies, TNO, Utrecht University and Imperial College London. The challenge is to design a factory with about a thousand electrolysers that as a whole can produce flexibly. This is important because solar and wind generation is variable. By making variations in the design, they can be adapted to integrate with the environment in which they will be placed. In this way, we expect to gain insight into the possibilities of achieving cost reduction. In order to make the hydrogen from such a plant price competitive with current fossil sources, we are aiming to reduce costs by at least a factor of three.”

Researching the international hydrogen chain

If all of this is achieved and if sustainable hydrogen is produced on a large scale worldwide in ten to twenty years' time, this will have far-reaching consequences for the energy system and all parties involved. That's why the ISPT and partners are doing research in the HyChain  project to understand how new chains can be created. Looking at questions such as where will green hydrogen be produced on a large scale? From sun and wind in the Sahara, in the Middle East, Australia? How does this relate to our own generation, and what will the entire chain of generation, transport and use look like globally, and what consequences will this have for our ports and our industry?

"For our business community, it is important for the future to know what scenarios they can follow in order to make the right choices. Everything and everyone around the world is working on hydrogen, but there are many uncertainties as well as technological barriers. Together with our partners, we carry out research in order to give government and industry a solid footing through factual knowledge. We now stand with hydrogen, where we stood with windmills twenty years ago. For hydrogen, too, you will see that upscaling and innovation will lead to lower costs, bringing large-scale chains based on green hydrogen closer," says Andreas ten Cate. Lennart van der Burg adds, "At the moment TNO is already being approached by several countries that are exploring the future supply of hydrogen. In the first phase of the HyChain project, we made profiles of eight countries, including Morocco, Norway and China, which may export hydrogen in the future."

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