I will begin part two of the PCHET 2020 Hydrogen Conference summary with legalities. We had an interesting debate hosted by Michał Sznycer (MGS Law), which led to some curious conclusions. To me, the most important one is that we should refrain from creating a special “hydrogen law” in favour of taking the currently effective laws and having them amended. And we have the fact that – ever since hydrogen became popular – more and more organisations and associations are wanting to become the hydrogen leader.
Please note that the Hydrogen Technology Cluster is (and will continue to be) the only Polish national organisation, which is a member of Hydrogen Europe in scope of Hydrogen Europe's Pillars. In 2019, the Hydrogen Technology Cluster developed a complete roadmap of legislative changes, the implementation of which will turn hydrogen into a fully-fledged alternative fuel in Poland. There will be NO HYDROGEN MARKET without these changes. Right now, the Ministry of Climate is starting everything from the beginning, which (unfortunately) leads to a waste of time. Perhaps it would be better to take advantage of the solutions already in place? This question was directed to the representative of the Ministry of Climate near the end of the debate. We will see what happens.
The discussion concerning hydrogen in public space was the first of its kind in Poland. Maciej Dębski skilfully moderated the discussion on hydrogen, its awareness, and safety matters. Both the discussion and the comments made throughout the entire conference confirm what I wrote in the first part of the summary – we are in need hydrogen and hydrogen technology education and awareness. We are already promoting hydrogen among students – during the conference, we presented the winners of our hydrogen contest, the students from Słupsk, who designed the model of a hydrogen-powered ship – but we are focusing mainly on developing programmes for purposes of hydrogen education for elementary and high school students, because this is their future. By the way, this may be our contribution to the development of hydrogen in Europe – there are no such initiatives at present time and everyone (see people involved in the matter of hydrogen in EU) is preaching that they are necessary. I encourage cooperation in this area as well.
The second day of the conference was concluded with the topic of good practices in Europe. In my opinion, this part and the part about technology during the first day were the most important contributions of our conference to building hydrogen awareness. Unfortunately, we were also shown the huge gap between European and Polish approaches to innovative projects. What we are missing is momentum and consideration of the future. All of the discussed projects have something important in common – bold decisions. By the way, I noticed that boldness pays off in both hydrogen and offshore wind. Those willing to take part in such projects with a well-planned operating strategy are successful – they are able to obtain funding for their projects without a problem. When it comes to hydrogen, we should focus on the approach to hydrogen presented in Groningen, Netherlands, and the approach to offshore wind in the Port of Ostend. I really want to write something about our approach to offshore wind energy, but I think that something will come up soon.
But back to the conference – I will say it again: when I say offshore wind, I’m supposed to mean hydrogen. And vice versa. (This must come to pass in Poland!) The hydrogen project in the Port of Emden is one of the projects being carried out in Western Europe. The aforementioned Port of Ostend initiated a project, which will see construction of a 17 MW hydrogen power plant. This will all happen within the next four years.
Over the past four years, I have been trying to get Polish ports to analyse a different business model in scope of powering their ports and terminals with consideration of the hazards and new opportunities. And what do I hear? It can’t be done, why fix something that’s not broken. Pretty soon we will have “green” tractor trailers driving off the “green” ships. Are we ready to handle them or will they have to go to other ports? We need a strong impulse, which will change the way we think. Hydrogen is a great excuse to start changing the way we think and our approach to strategic decisions – hydrogen is currently very popular (someone signs something in Poland every day) and hydrogen products are granted the highest funds in scope of projects financed by the EU. THIS IS THE TIME OF HYDROGEN.
A few reflections from the #PCHET 2020 Hydrogen Conference.
It’s no longer just a possibility, it’s now inevitable. Europe has decided that hydrogen will serve as the main element of European economy in the context of storing and processing electricity. When we discuss offshore wind, we are supposed to be talking about hydrogen. And vice versa. “Green” hydrogen is supposed to lead the transformations.
The objectives set by the European Union, i.e. raising the installed power in offshore wind farms from the current 22 GW to 111 GW in 2030 (5 times as much) and 450 GW in 2050 (5 times as much once again) (source: WindEurope, 11 September 2020) have created a situation where the EU is currently establishing challenges in scope of hydrogen production – 1 million tonnes of “green” hydrogen in 2024 (in just 3 years) and 10 million tonnes of “green” hydrogen in 2030 (this is how much “grey” hydrogen is currently being consumed by all European countries).
The first one will not be a problem, because the projects of Shell, BP, Repsol, or OMV (data from April of 2020) indicate that this is feasible. The initial installations of electrolysers powered with “green” energy (not just from wind but from water as well) will be released for use in 2022. With consideration of the range of Green Deal Call projects of 22 September 2020, which cover funding for 100 MW electrolyser battery projects, I am convinced that the 10 million tonnes of “green” hydrogen in 2030 will be achieved as well.
But what is our place in these plans and intentions?
Unfortunately, our hydrogen projects have neither the scale nor the momentum of those submitted by German, Dutch, Portuguese, or Slovenian companies. The planned projects obviously include the ZE PAK project covering the 10 MW electrolyser installation, but will the planned RES be enough to power these electrolysers? And what is the ready market? Still, such projects are worth rooting for.
The remaining projects of our “champions” are based on natural gas – steam reforming with pre-treatment to the parameters of five nines (hydrogen purity class, i.e. 99.999%). Unfortunately, as I look at the activity of EU, I am afraid that production of hydrogen from steam reforming will be closely connected to CCS, the capture and storage of CO2. In this case, the production profitability will become much less attractive. In my opinion, hydrogen from natural gas does not have a long future ahead of it. The same goes for biogas, but this is a different matter, which I will discuss in the future.
As I read the comments of the #PCHET 2020 audience, I realise how much we still have to do in scope of hydrogen awareness – economics, safety, application – and how few of us realise that certain processes are inevitable and that this will be our reality whether we like it or not.
Another important matter – over the past 30 years, we were unable to resolve the matter of coal as the main source of energy in our country. Right now, most people are starting to realise the problem we will be dealing with for many years to come and the ensuing consequences. There are opinions that natural gas will be a transitional fuel. Even though I am a great supporter of natural gas, especially LNG, I’m afraid that it will soon be perceived in the same way as coal is right now, which means that it is not the fuel of the future. We have little time to make the right decisions in scope of renewable energy sources and nuclear energy (their strategic role and share in the energy mix). If we make the wrong ones, the future generations will be cursing us, because their fate will be unenviable. We are currently dealing with a coal problem; their problem may stem from the fact that they have expensive energy from offshore wind farms and expensive “green” hydrogen, which will prevent the Polish economy of the future from being competitive. Unfortunately, this may all come to pass if we don’t make bold decisions with consideration of the future.
Is there a “light in the tunnel”?
I believe that there is. Everyone is currently having a problem with hydrogen in scope of its distribution. Due to the low density of hydrogen, its distribution is very difficult. Hydrogen expansion will not be possible until it is distributed in pipelines on a grand scale. And attention: Ukraine and South African countries have already received offers to manufacture hydrogen for Europe and deliver it in hydrogen pipelines. The fact that Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, the Secretary General Hydrogen Europe, discussed the possibility of Russians transporting hydrogen to Europe through Nord Stream II during our conference was no coincidence. Jorgo talked about hydrogen from pyrolysis. We can always debate whether this makes sense or not, but if someone so influential in matters associated with hydrogen publicly says things like that, I think we should take it seriously.
But where is the “light”? We can see it in dispersed hydrogen production from dispersed renewable energy sources. Me could make this our specialisation, which we could contribute to Europe. But nothing is free, of course. Such a project could be driven by the solutions adopted by the German Hydrogen Organisation, i.e. exemption from charges in scope of transfer of electrical energy used in hydrogen production in electrolysers, or by a different approach to energy balancing and potential regional balancing (e.g. not only in scope of activity of the distribution system operator, but also in scope of the activity of the energy cluster). This is also inevitable, the only question is, when will we finally realise it in Poland? Dispersed hydrogen production is associated with management of local surplus production (storage) of electrical energy – instead of “forcing” energy into the system, we would be manufacturing hydrogen. And an application appears in order to direct the manufactured hydrogen for purposes of transport. Our conference covered a project called HGaas – “Hydrogen is always on the way”. This is a developmental project open for joining. This is not just a paper project, as the work on the first location in Poland is already under way, which was also announced during our conference. To be continued.