Hydrogen aims to replace oil and gas in the local energy supply | Technology
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The northern region of the Netherlands used to be one of the main gas-producing regions. In the province of Groningen, one of the largest deposits in the world was discovered and, for decades, the extraction contributed to the enrichment of the country. However, times change.
According to Jochem Durenkamp, manager of hydrogen projects at the New Energy Coalition, “gas production is coming to an end”. “That would lead to the loss of many jobs in the north if it were not for the fact that hydrogen has turned out to be the perfect substitute.”
Northern regions are looking for alternatives in the face of declining gas extraction and related jobs. In addition, the ground movements caused by gas extraction cause minor earthquakes, of which 72 were recorded in just the year 2021. These earthquakes have significant economic repercussions, especially when they damage homes in the area. Since 1991, a total of €1.2 billion has been paid in compensation for earthquake damage.
The northern region of the Netherlands aims to become one of the so-called “hydrogen valleys”. The HEAVENN project, coordinated by the New Energy Coalition, is the means to achieve this. The region will use European funds to develop the necessary infrastructure to introduce green hydrogen to supply locally produced energy.
The European Union has set itself the ultimate goal of building 100 hydrogen valleys. There are currently 23 in Europe, in various stages of development, a figure that is expected to double by 2025. Dozens of projects have already been launched throughout Europe and in more than 20 countries worldwide, in the context of a clean energy investment trend that evolves rapidly and moves billions. In this link you can see a map of the hydrogen valleys.
The strategy is to boost regional economies, while at the same time combating the main cause of climate change: the burning of fossil fuels. Ultimately, the emergence of new regions will lead to the creation of a large-scale network of economies based on hydrogen and a clean and secure energy supply.
The northern region of the Netherlands has all the qualities to make the most of the opportunities that hydrogen offers. Being located near offshore wind farms in the North Sea, it has a direct connection to the renewable energy needed to make green hydrogen. In addition to that, the region’s previous gas exploitation has created a set of knowledge and skills that can be easily transferred to the production, distribution, storage and consumption of hydrogen in the local economy.
The fundamental idea of hydrogen valleys is to create a self-sustaining hydrogen ecosystem from start to finish. In the case of the HEAVENN project, the first step is to identify the places where it is possible to carry out the electrolysis process to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen by means of electricity.
A hydrogen valley is a medium-sized area where homes, vehicles and industry consume clean, locally produced hydrogen. The goal is to start a hydrogen-based economy on a community scale. Later, the hydrogen valley regions will merge to create larger economic hydrogen fueling zones.
When that electricity is obtained from renewable sources, such as offshore wind power in the case of the HEAVENN project, hydrogen is considered a green energy source. This zero-emission energy vector, which is usually stored as a gas, is used as a fuel in everyday applications such as transport, heating and industry.
HEAVENN, for example, invests in hydrogen-based mobility projects that foresee the creation of a series of hydrogen refueling points for all types of hydrogen-powered vehicles, from passenger cars to trucks and buses. The hydrogen will also be used to power a data center and provide heating to residential neighborhoods.
Building energy ecosystems is not easy. “The project has thirty partners,” Durenkamp noted. “It is very difficult to coordinate their work, but building this ecosystem is essential for the hydrogen sector.”
In addition to the partners, the local community is another important actor. “It is essential that the inhabitants of the area are consulted,” Durenkamp said. “In the landscape where energy used to be extracted underground, there are now wind turbines, solar panels and large electrolysis facilities. Everything that is done in the project is done together with those people who live in the area.”
clean energy islands
Another region that is harnessing the potential of hydrogen is the Spanish island of Mallorca, which calls itself the “island of hydrogen.”
“The idea for the project was born when CEMEX, a cement manufacturing company, announced that it was going to close its plant in Mallorca,” says María Jaén Caparrós, coordinator of hydrogen innovation at Enagás, manager of the national network’s transmission network. of gas from Spain. “We want to reindustrialize the island and decarbonize the Balearic Islands region using hydrogen.”
The project, known as GREEN HYSLAND, will create an ecosystem of hydrogen users and producers throughout the Mediterranean island. This achievement would mean a significant reduction in costly energy imports and eliminate harmful emissions.
A central part of the project is an electrolysis plant that produces hydrogen with energy obtained from two recently built solar power plants. That hydrogen is then used for multiple uses at the local level. An example is that of the public transport company of the city of Palma de Mallorca, which is introducing hydrogen-powered buses into its fleet. Another example is the supply of energy to the ferry port, which is so essential for the island, or even to hotels. However, community energy needs the support of the community.
“It is essential that you have the support of society,” said Jaén Caparrós. “Hydrogen is a novelty for the Balearic Islands. The project will not only promote a reindustrialization based on renewable energies, but will also generate knowledge, research and innovation. The Balearic Islands must try to take advantage of this magnificent opportunity to diversify the production model and thus create new, stable and quality jobs”.
GREEN HYSLAND’s second goal, which is related to the first, is to reduce emissions from the use of natural gas. To this end, according to Jaén Caparrós, the project contemplates the introduction of hydrogen into the gas network, given that both energy sources are compatible. “A pipeline will be built to transport the hydrogen to the point of entry and that will serve to decarbonize a part of the natural gas network,” he said. The start of this phase is scheduled for the end of 2022.
In this way, hydrogen can be fed into existing gas infrastructure that is used to heat homes, hotels and businesses or to generate electricity. The resulting mixture of gas and green hydrogen has a lower emissions footprint than that generated by the gas alone, which is an important step towards complete decarbonization.
Hydrogen ecosystem models
GREEN HYSLAND has even partnered with entities outside of Europe. “We are 30 partners from 11 countries, including Morocco and Chile”, declared Jaén Caparrós. “These partners also want to implement green hydrogen ecosystems and hydrogen valleys have added value if we can establish connections with other regions inside and outside Europe,” he continued.
“The hydrogen valleys create new jobs, re-industrialize the area and develop new economic activities,” said Jaén Caparrós. “And apart from all this, they reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Therefore, hydrogen is positive for the whole society.”
Once the infrastructure is built and the experimentation phase is over, the lessons learned will need to be applied on a larger scale. Both HEAVENN and GREEN HYSLAND want to share what they are learning. “We want to be a model for other regions anywhere in the world,” concluded Durenkamp. “If this project turns out to be a success, we want to share it.”
The research described in this article has been financed with EU funds. Article originally published in Horizonthe Journal of Research and Innovation of the European Union.
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