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Vattenfall wants to produce green hydrogen at sea with wind power

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Swedish energy company Vattenfall is launching a trial in which an offshore wind turbine makes green fuel that can then be piped to land.

The pilot turbine is located near Aberdeen, Scotland in the sea. It already produces green electricity for the energy company, but Vattenfall wants to see if it is also possible to produce hydrogen (efficiently).

Schaeffler, one of the largest suppliers of German car parts, is also starting a pilot on the island of Texel to use seawater to produce hydrogen. For this purpose, the company is working with the Dutch start-up Hydron Energy.

Vattenfall’s system is simple: you connect a small electrolyser to the power output of a wind turbine. Such an electrolyser uses the surrounding salt water and the green electricity to make hydrogen and oxygen. You then transport the hydrogen by pipeline to the mainland. There you can either use the hydrogen yourself or convert it into energy using a fuel cell.

Such a system is not very practical, because you lose energy when converting to hydrogen. But: when transporting electricity over long distances, you also lose electricity. Moreover, laying cables in the deep sea is very expensive and can disturb marine life. For wind farms that are located far from the coast, these kinds of ‘hydrogen windmills’ can therefore be useful. Especially if they are located near existing gas pipelines, which can then transport hydrogen instead of natural gas.

It seems certain that wind farms will be located far from the coast in the future. They are necessary to meet the sustainable energy targets. Grid manager Tennet is working on an ambitious plan to build ‘energy islands’ in the North Sea, where wind energy will be used in large hydrogen plants. The hydrogen would then go to the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Norway.

When Vattenfall plans to get started with the hydrogen trial is unknown. Offshorewind.biz reports only that there is a screening report, which contains the details about the project. One of the big hurdles with the project is cost: electrolysers are expensive and green hydrogen is currently too expensive for many applications, so there is relatively little demand.

Schaeffler wants to work with the Dutch start-up Hydron Energy to look at the potential of seawater as a feedstock for electrolysis. To begin with, it is a feasibility study. With electrolysis, you split the seawater into oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen can then be used as a sustainable fuel. Schaeffler expects the demand for its car parts to decline because of the advance of electric cars. Therefore, it is looking for a new market.

What makes this news especially noteworthy is that Schaeffler has no experience with hydrogen, electrolysis equipment or offshore business until now. It is a radical change of direction for the company that until now has mainly supplied components to car makers and industry.

As far as Schaeffler is concerned, this should lead to a major change in the world of green hydrogen. With Hydron Energy, the company has found a way to desalinate seawater efficiently, which could make the cost of green hydrogen at sea cheaper. According to Schaeffler, 2 euros per kilogram of green hydrogen is feasible. After the feasibility study, Schaeffler hopes to start large-scale projects. There is already a Hydron Energy pilot project on Texel, but it does not produce significant quantities of hydrogen.

Nedim Husomanovic

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