Making hydrogen cheaper

The European Union is laying up a new legal framework for green hydrogen with the expectation that by 2030, electrolyzers will be widely used and connected to sources of renewable energy.

Although “hydrogen connected to renewable sources is highly expensive,” the “primary difficulty” to achieving this goal “is economic,” but the Valencian Community has “huge potential” for its implementation. According to Razvan Valentn Stoica, head of Hydrogen at the Technological Institute of Energy (ITE), who works at the technological center on “Road4Hydrogen,” one of the initiatives used to “lower prices” of this conversion, strategic industries like ceramics can immediately benefit.

As hydrogen is not new, despite what it may seem like, the first step is to strive to make the hydrogen that we presently consume more environmentally friendly. In Spain, 500,000 tons of hydrogen were consumed each year in 2019. It is a raw material, an energy vector, not a source of energy, that is extensively utilized in industry, but “until now it was being obtained readily and, above importantly, economically, from a reformed natural gas, with [lower CO2 emissions] that must be achieved,” the expert emphasized.

In this regard, green hydrogen will be regarded as coming from electrolyzers associated with the production of renewable energy sources or from fossil fuels if it emits 70% fewer greenhouse gases over the course of its lifetime than fossil natural gas, according to delegated acts recently published by the European Commission.

Investments will go along with the new EU regulations. The investment of 5,200 million euros by Spain and other nations has received clearance from the European Commission. A new request for proposals will be issued by the government for 150 million to support innovative initiatives and another 150 million for the value chain, of which 100 million will go toward massive electrolyzers. Moreover, 250 million euros in subsidies to boost green hydrogen in the Perte ERHA has been tentatively granted.

The ITE expert notes that “Europe is funding it today more than ever” and that “enough money has been put on the table,” but that it is “to some extent not equivalent to what it costs” to change the facilities. “European assistance is crucial, but it must be backed by industrial or commercial investment on a level with or even more,” he said.

According to Stoica, “they are trying to make hydrogen valleys in different parts of the geography and the Valencian Community is working on this, in the famous Renewable Hydrogen Strategy of the Valencian Community in which the ITE has participated.” Stoica also mentions that the Community will be the first renewable hydrogen corridor in the European Union, the so-called H2Med.

The ITE’s work

“Green hydrogen is produced using renewable resources and has no emissions at all. The ITE focuses on obtaining it through electrolyzers, which split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen when an electric current is applied to the water. In the end, you have two elements: hydrogen, which is more valuable, and oxygen, an interesting raw material. We are experts in both alkaline technologies, which is the most developed and widely used today, and PEM technology, which consists of producing green hydrogen using PEM electrolyzers and using it in PEM fuel cells. The hydrogen production pilot plant that ITE owns uses these technologies.

The “Road2Hydrogen” project, funded by Ivace, attempts to accurately make this connection of electrolyzers to the production of renewable energy, with a focus on addressing the economic obstacle. The creation and characterization of components, modeling, and digitization of processes are its key focuses, according to the ITE director, whose mission is to contribute to the advancement of production and consumption technologies.

By “developing and characterizing membranes, which would be the heart of the electrolyzer or fuel cell type PEM,” it hopes to do away with pricey precious metals. It also hopes to “address the challenge of how to couple hydrogen to renewables” by using “digital twins” of physical plants, which allow for foresight and prediction of production facility needs.

I have a real computer and a computer program that will respond to “inputs” exactly the same manner when I use digital twins. The ITE specialist continues, “Since I know how much output I’ll need tomorrow and how much energy I’ll have, I can plan ahead and economically optimize my production.

The undertaking began in July 2022, and it will be finished in June of this year. Digital models are already running, components have been constructed and tested, and their behavior is being assessed. The ITE pilot plant is being sensorized and digitalized so that a regular computer may remotely analyze its activity.

Transportation, ceramics, or chemical industries

In order to make it possible for the industrial fabric to connect its electrolyzers to a renewable source, ITE experts are working with Valencian transport businesses, component development, and, most importantly, renewable energy generation. As a result, within the project’s structure, business needs are defined, and solutions are suggested.

As he explains that a hydrogen project depends on the availability of water, and there is no drought in the Community, the availability of wind or solar energy, of which “we can be proud,” and “most importantly, consumers,” Stoica has highlighted the “potential” of the Community for the deployment of hydrogen. He concludes, “If there are no consumers, there are no producers.

In this regard, he emphasized that the Valencian Community has a “wide and varied” industrial fabric, including chemical industries that are already utilizing hydrogen and “will make it green,” the ceramics industry, which has “a lot of potentials” and in which hydrogen can replace gas as a combustion element, and a Port of Valencia reference in the Mediterranean. Everyone is already making progress on this hydrogen-based decarbonization, he said.

“What is certain is that hydrogen is here to stay in the Valencian Community, and there are some really fascinating projects under work. It simply needs to be adopted by more industries over time, he said.

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