Green hydrogen is seen as a crucial part of the energy revolution. Green hydrogen is already being used in a number of German oil refineries. In northern Germany, there is a unique pioneering effort.
It all began with a gust of wind. To be more specific, Schleswig-underused Holstein’s wind energy. “We’ve always been troubled by the fact that wind turbines are turned off simply because the energy can’t be used right now.” In the new edition of the NDR Info Podcast “Mission Climate – Solutions to the Crisis,” Sandra Niebler explains how the concept for the West Coast 100 initiative came about. The West Coast 100 project is coordinated by the engineer. “We suggested, ‘Let’s take this wind energy and convert it into something else, like hydrogen, which can be stored.'”
When the industry adopts green hydrogen as a fuel
And it was the start of the whole affair. One of Europe’s largest industrial hydrogen projects will be erected on the site of an oil refinery at Hemmingstedt near Heide in the coming years. It will be investigated in a so-called real laboratory how green hydrogen may be created on a massive scale.
The refinery has a lot of hydrogen experience
The fact that an oil refinery is at the vanguard of the energy transformation initiative is startling at first. Raffinerie Heide GmbH, on the other hand, has been utilizing hydrogen for a long time – not environmentally benign green hydrogen, but natural gas-produced hydrogen. “We at Raffinerie Heide don’t want to be overwhelmed by the energy transition; instead, we want to contribute and use our expertise,” says Raffinerie Heide’s Niebler. It makes no difference whether crude oil is processed or synthetic fuels are created there.
A starting step toward climate change mitigation
The refinery plans to manufacture green hydrogen on its grounds using wind energy in the near future. This necessitates the use of electrolysis technologies. “Unfortunately, I am unable to demonstrate electrolysis at this time,” Niebler explains. “However, I expect to be able to achieve it in a year or two – or at the very least construct the facility.” In this approach, the northern German refinery might – at least largely – replace its climate-damaging gray hydrogen. That would be the first step toward addressing climate change.
It all begins with modest sums
Even if the project in Heide is huge, the refinery’s hydrogen demand will initially be far higher than the quantity of green hydrogen that can be generated with the pilot plant. “At initially, it will only be a little amount,” engineer Niebler concedes. “However, that is a significant volume.” This is the first volume that will be fully integrated into an existing industrial process. As a result, it’s a critical step.”
CO2 emissions are reduced by one million tons
The most essential purpose of the West Coast 100 project is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, which are harmful to the environment. At the end of the year, one million tons of CO2 should be avoided. This is about equivalent to the amount of carbon dioxide produced by around 85,000 persons in Germany last year.
Raffinerie Heide has long been mocked in the industry for its commitment to environmental conservation. However, with the conflict against Ukraine, there has been a shift in attitude. The organization is presently experiencing a surge in inquiries. Many people now want to hear from the industry about how the transition away from fossil fuels may go smoothly.
Everything appears to be straightforward in theory
It is critical that someone begins. That is the refinery’s point of view. The creation of green hydrogen is technically not an issue in principle, but in fact, it is. Not only would the green hydrogen be useful, but the data gathered during the first several years will be as well. “The electrolysis may theoretically be cranked up and down by the wind or the sun,” says project coordinator Niebler. “However, no one has ever done it this way in practice.” There will be more than just a tank linked to the plant now; there will be a full refinery that cannot simply be turned on and off.”
What method will be used to fill the subsurface hydrogen storage?
The problem is that the refinery relies on hydrogen being accessible at all times. Even when there is no breeze or it is dark. As a result, the project incorporates a cavern. This is a storage facility where green hydrogen will be kept underground. “Of course,” Niebler replies, “it was also estimated in principle.” “However, you must put that to the test in practice: how do I fill the cavern?” What’s the best way to empty it? This is all info that is required in order to be able to develop bigger structures later.”
For Germany and Europe, this is a massive undertaking
The first system will have a 30-megawatt output, and after a five-year test phase, it will be complemented with a 700-megawatt system. To put things in perspective, consider the following: The world’s largest green hydrogen generation facility, located in Spain, has begun operations with a capacity of 20 megawatts. As a result, the project in Heide would outperform this value from the outset. In 2030, the Heide facilities might provide several percent of Germany’s total hydrogen demand.
Is importing hydrogen from another country a cost-effective option?
The initiative in Heide is vital, according to hydrogen specialist Sylvia Schattauer. She is the acting director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Wind Energy Systems, and she advises the federal government as a member of the National Hydrogen Council. Is it reasonable to rely on home green hydrogen generation for the energy transition? Is it necessary to import it from another country? “Even if you move to places where renewable energy is more affordable, I still need the right technological equipment to make hydrogen,” Schattauer explains. “And then there’s the matter of transporting the hydrogen once it’s been produced.” That also implies that imported hydrogen isn’t cheap. Because the cost of power is significant, it is not the only consideration.
It would also be beneficial to play a technologically pioneering role. Schattauer believes that selling hydrogen technology to other countries might be a lucrative business option in the future. Nonetheless, Germany will be forced to purchase bigger amounts of green hydrogen. The demands of the industry will be too enormous.
There’s also a cement factory involved
The refinery at Heide isn’t the only important component of the West Coast 100 plan. There is also a cement industry on the premises. The idea is to set up a second form of production in Heide, in addition to the electrolyzer that creates hydrogen: the refinery intends to manufacture synthetic, climate-friendly fuels, such as for ships and airplanes. And she’ll need two things to do it: green hydrogen and carbon dioxide from her own manufacturing. The refinery takes CO2 from the cement factory Holcim in Lägerdorf, which is roughly a half-hour drive from Heide. A pipeline network connects the two enterprises already.
The cement mill removes CO2 from the atmosphere, which is harmful to the environment
With the initiative, the cement manufacturer might drastically cut its CO2 emissions. According to Arne Stecher of Holcim, such trades are extremely rare. “Previously, a cement factory would never communicate with a refinery because there was no market or customer technology overlap. However, there is now a synergy in this new design of green, sustainable value chains.”
The cement industry needs oxygen in order to produce CO2 that is as clean as possible. And that should come from the refinery in Heide as a waste product. During the creation of green hydrogen, a large amount of oxygen will be emitted.
“Not a drop of crude oil will come in for the next 30 or 40 years.”
In Heide, the future will soon begin. Sandra Niebler is well aware that it is also a farewell to a decades-old manufacturing process in installments. “Not a drop of crude oil will flow in here at the Heide refinery in 30 or 40 years.” Then I won’t have to keep a furnace going. That implies we won’t be releasing any more CO2. However, it is a long journey to get there.”
The German State of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) has awarded the H2LORICA project, a joint development project of Rheinmetall AG of Düsseldorf and the Institute for Textile Technology of RWTH Aachen University, a grant of €4.7 million (roughly $5 million USD) to further develop technology for manufacturing innovative pressure tanks for hydrogen. Rheinmetall Invent GmbH, the subsidiary in charge of H2 technology research and development, will receive the development award.
The H2LORICA project, which will last three years and cost around €7.3 million ($7.8 million USD), will strive to build a hydrogen pressure tank system, especially a Type IV pressure tank (700 bar), which has been proved to have various benefits. The project’s objectives include increasing hydrogen storage capacity, improving cycle stability, and extending the life of the system. According to the grant release, work will also focus on enhancing fire prevention, lowering refueling time, and improved thermal control. Not only will innovative manufacturing technology improve quality, but it will also reduce production times by 80 percent to 90 percent.
H2LORICA is part of the NRW’s “hydrogen plan,” which was released at the end of 2020 and aims for 11,000 trucks, 3,800 buses, and 1,000 garbage collection vehicles to be fuel cell-powered by 2030. According to the NRW, hydrogen tank solutions for mobile applications must be available, efficient, safe, and affordable in order to reach this goal.
“We have formulated very ambitious goals for a climate-friendly hydrogen economy and the roll-out of hydrogen-based engines, especially for heavy transport vehicles,” said Andreas Pinkwart, NRW’s Minister for Economics, Innovation, Digitization, and Energy, when presenting the consortium with the project’s formal grant notice on June 9, 2022. “I’m delighted that, due to our progress Innovation development initiative, we can help project partners Rheinmetall Invent and the RWTH Aachen Institute for Textile Technology in their efforts to build the hydrogen tank systems we’ll need in the future.”
Rheinmetall AG’s chairman of the executive board, Armin Papperger, stated that the company’s goal is to “decisively define how hydrogen technology is employed.” “We are thankful to the state government for their material and financial support of our technical endeavors, and we are eager to contribute to making NRW a major participant in the world of H2 technology,” he said.
Experts estimate the worldwide market potential of the hydrogen business to be over €100 billion by the end of the decade, according to the award announcement.
Energy supplies in the future Plans for hydrogen in the lignite mining industry
The energy transition should be accelerated with the aid of hydrogen. Many regions, particularly in coal-producing areas, want to join the bandwagon. Are the expectations satisfied, though? Consider the case of Brandenburg.
It is an “essential aspect of the energy transition,” according to the federal government. Even people who do not discuss hydrogen in any other way are compelled to use the phrases hope, possibility, and future. The Ukraine crisis and its aftermath are fueling the hydrogen discussion right now. Because hydrogen might be a step closer to more independence from (Russian) natural gas.
However, “green” hydrogen is required to transform the energy source in a sustainable manner. This means that the power utilized in the electrolysis process to make hydrogen must be CO2-neutral; only then is hydrogen considered “green.” However, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy are still used to create the majority of hydrogen.
In the Uckermark, pioneering work is being done
Jörg Müller was one of the first persons to notice the “wonder gas” 10 years ago. He rides a hydrogen automobile through Brandenburg’s flat countryside. Since 2011, his business Enertrag has operated the world’s first hybrid power plant in the Uckermark, which creates hydrogen from surplus wind energy.
Excess electricity can be temporarily stored in the power plant and released when it is needed again. Enertrag will also build a dense hydrogen filling station network in the area. Jörg Müller is a hydrogen pioneer, and many people desire to follow in his footsteps.
Lusatia will get a new power plant
The coal-dominated Lausitz energy sector in southern Brandenburg will become a hydrogen zone. By 2025, a new hydrogen power station will be developed near the Black Pump open-cast lignite mine. A project worth 50 million euros.
The size of the first reference plant is expected to be roughly 2000 square meters. “We can foresee developing 10 to fifty of these power plants,” says Michael Raschemann, Managing Director of Energiequelle GmbH. Additional hydrogen power plants might be as large as 4000 square meters. This is something that can be accomplished in the next 10 years.
Lignite opencast mining in Lusatia demonstrates the region’s continued reliance on fossil fuels.
Since 2019, Lusatia has been one of nine German “HyStarter areas” that have been financed by the Federal Ministry of Transport to create a hydrogen concept and build a network of actors. Lusatia’s stated objective is to continue to be an energy-producing region in the future.
Cottbus is interested in hydrogen buses
In the future, public transportation in and around Cottbus will also run on hydrogen. At the end of 2022, the first hydrogen filling station is expected to open. The “Cottbusverkehr” transportation business should have placed the first two hydrogen buses into operation by then. Nine hydrogen buses will operate in Cottbus and the surrounding area by 2026. “The aim is absolutely obvious,” says Ralf Thalmann, Managing Director of Cottbusverkehr, “that one day we will be driving exclusively on hydrogen.”
This is one of several smaller pilot projects like it. The first emission-free canal push boat, the “Elektra,” was inaugurated in Berlin in mid-May, for example. It took two years to construct it. The long-term testing of energy-efficient and emission-free freight transportation has begun.
The economic administrations of Berlin and Brandenburg are currently funding an online platform that aims to bring together as many hydrogen producers and customers as possible in order to package initiatives like these and strengthen synergies. “Our marketplace is similar to a cross between a partner exchange and eBay classified advertisements,” says Oliver Arnhold, Managing Director of Localiser RLI GmbH, the project’s implementer.
youthful talent and skill
Young scientists will be educated in Brandenburg as well. Together with the Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing, the Brandenburg Technical University of Cottbus-Senftenberg (BTU) has established the “Trustworthy Hydrogen” graduate school (BAM). Young academics will be instructed in hydrogen development and establishment here.
The graduate college, which is the first of its type in Germany, aims to prepare future managers in business, research, and government to actively contribute to the development and expansion of Germany’s hydrogen economy.