More than 100 German companies have teamed up and aim to invest more than 10 billion euros.
Both scientists and policymakers predict that in the future, hydrogen will support an economy that is more environmentally friendly. The Federal Government created a national hydrogen plan in 2020 in order to achieve this. It depends on the color theory. Despite the fact that hydrogen is a colorless gas at all times, the government wishes to promote green hydrogen. The one that uses electricity generated from renewable sources is known by this designation.
Germany has formed partnerships to ensure a sufficient supply of green hydrogen. The raw materials are anticipated to come from numerous African nations, including Namibia, Congo, South Africa, and Angola, as well as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. These nations have the benefit of providing ample space for renewable energy sources like solar panels and wind turbines, as well as access to (sea) water. In fact, only these two raw ingredients are required to produce green hydrogen.
However, you don’t need to travel very far to find optimal circumstances. Urs Wahl claims, “What Saudi Arabia has with oil, we have in the North Sea,” referring to ideal circumstances and virtually limitless resources. He serves as the AquaVentus network’s spokesperson. In order to manufacture green hydrogen in the North Sea and transmit it by pipeline to the coast, more than 100 German enterprises have teamed up.
In a technical sense, this utilizes a process known as “wind-to-hydrogen.” Offshore wind turbines are placed in the water for this purpose, and a desalination plant for seawater and an electrolyzer are attached to them. It may divide the water into its hydrogen and oxygen components using the electricity generated by the wind turbine. Only oxygen is created as exhaust gas, and it is simple to discharge this gas into the surrounding air. Additionally, a collection pipeline that quickly sends the hydrogen to the coast is attached to the wind turbines. There, the energy it contains can be put to use. Hydrogen is now more environmentally friendly than ever, proclaims Wahl.
The steel and chemical industries would be the first to use hydrogen from the North Sea. Electricity would be considered too complicated and expensive to operate blast furnaces. The high temperatures, which are still mostly produced using natural gas, can also be kept in a climate-friendly manner with hydrogen. For instance, in order to produce its own green hydrogen, Salzgitter AG developed its own wind farm with seven turbines for its plants in the Lower Saxony city of the same name as early as 2020.
The North Sea would have considerably greater potential. By 2035, AquaVentus hopes to have roughly ten gigawatts of power installed. This exceeds the total number of offshore wind turbines in Germany as of right now. This would require about 700 plants, which could then produce almost a million tons of green hydrogen annually. There wouldn’t be any extra electricity generated by the wind turbines because it would all go straight toward making hydrogen. Germany will require even more hydrogen in the future than one million tonnes, scientists predict, but wind turbines from the North Sea might significantly help. According to projections made by the German government, the steel sector in Germany is anticipated to have a demand for 2050.2 million tonnes of hydrogen by year 2. The whole European steel industry could already be transformed into an environmentally friendly raw material with 5.5 million tonnes.
By 2025, a prototype will be built off of Helgoland
In the North Sea, wind-to-hydrogen would also offer the following two benefits: First, the so-called “duck’s beak” is where the wind farms will most likely be built. This is a beak-shaped portion of Germany’s Exclusive Economic Zone. About 300 kilometers separate it from the coast. Since the cost of the cabling across such a distance is too high, wind turbines for the production of power would not be profitable here. Hydrogen pipelines, however, are simpler to construct. This brings us to the second benefit: The production in the duck’s beak would be able to provide itself with electricity, so no additional capacity would be required—a capacity that is really intended for Germany’s general power supply.
But all of this is still quite distant. In order to research and share ideas on diverse technologies, the AquaVentus network—which also includes energy behemoths like RWE and mechanical engineering firms like Siemens Energy—was established in 2020. The technology itself is well-known and commonplace, but it also has to be optimized. Wahl stresses price when he adds, “We obviously have to be competitive with other technologies. The North Sea’s green hydrogen will ultimately be sold exclusively on the basis of price and not any sentimental affinity to its native region.
Members of AquaVentus are developing the best infrastructure because of this. Do all wind turbines need their own electrolyzer? Is it more efficient to combine the power from multiple wind turbines into a single producing machine? Wahl asserts that “the technology must be built now.” The manufacture of electrolyzers that adhere to the principle is also included in this. Most previous devices were made in lower sizes.
Near Helgoland, a prototype is now being constructed. Starting in 2025, hydrogen will be produced in this tower and piped to the island. The project is appropriately named AquaPrimus. The island will consume 2500 tons of hydrogen annually for district heating and boat transportation. Earlier attempts to bring hydrogen to Hamburg have been temporarily shelved. A significant supporter of the initiatives and one of AquaVentus’ founders, Helgoland’s mayor Jörg Singer, the position next to the excursion island is no accident.
China makes the most investments globally
For wind-to-hydrogen, the North Sea is perfect for two reasons: First of all, the expert refers to water depths of little more than 60 meters as being extremely shallow in several locations. Furthermore, it is really windy here. This enables the installation of wind turbines over a huge region at a great distance from the mainland. Wahl believes that the other German coastline location is unsuitable, despite the fact that the German Baltic Sea has similar wind-to-hydrogen concerns. He claims that the creation of electricity rather than hydrogen is considerably more appropriate for the Baltic Sea.
As an alternative to AquaVentus, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark are considering launching a project with a collection pipeline via the Baltic Sea. In addition, other North Sea-adjacent nations like the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, and Great Britain are also taking it into consideration. With the exception of the latter, the EU and the federal government of Germany both support the related programs. In the end, according to Wahl, a network of pipes in the two Norwegian seas might be built, allowing for the simple import and export of hydrogen as needed.
Additionally, the concept of converting wind energy into hydrogen is gaining popularity everywhere. On its east and west coasts as well as in the Gulf of Mexico, the USA is increasingly testing it. The same holds true for Canada, Japan, and Taiwan in Asia. But as is so frequently the case, China is far ahead quantitatively. The southern Chinese town of Chaozhou alone chose in October to put up 2027.43 gigawatts worth of wind turbines off its shore, which is three to five times more what Germany has done so far in the ocean. The majority of this is used for the production of electricity, although the Chinese government has given provinces and municipalities instructions to take coastal hydrogen production more seriously. According to Wahl, “They invest more in technology alone than all other nations combined.”
Nevertheless, he believes there is a significant probability that Germany will emerge as a leader in wind-to-hydrogen technology. This is another objective of the AquaVentus project. The ideal scenario would be for Germany to develop and construct every component, including pipelines, electrolyzers, and wind turbines. What else might stop this? According to Wahl, “the old administration always found offshore wind power to be prohibitively expensive. However, a new political wind has been blowing for a year.” But in politics, as in the sea, the wind may still change direction frequently until 2035.