What did they know and when did they know it? That’s what we want to know! Barely two months ago, the US Department of Energy formed a new offshore wind collaboration with the Netherlands that dovetails with the exploding green hydrogen trend, and now all of a sudden Equinor and RWE are all over the idea like white on rice. The two companies have hooked up with Shell and other global stakeholders on the new NortH2 project aiming at gigawatt-scale hydrogen production for decarbonizing northern Europe.
What Is This NortH2 Green Hydrogen Project Of Which You Speak?
If NortH2 is news to you, join the club. It didn’t pop up on the CleanTechnica radar before zero days ago, either.
NortH2 actually jumped into the media spotlight last February, when Reuters reported that Shell teamed up with the leading Netherlands gas company Gasunie to build a “a massive green hydrogen plant in the northern Netherlands in the next decade,” to be located in the province of Groningen.
That project dovetails with Shell’s recent forays into the offshore wind market, including the new CrossWind utility-scale research project in the Netherlands that includes floating solar panels and hydrogen production.
For those of you new to the green hydrogen topic, you can “split” hydrogen gas from water with electricity, which in the case of NortH2 will be provided by wind power. Electrolysis is a lot cleaner than the current method of choice, which involves extracting hydrogen from fossil sources, mainly natural gas.
CleanTechnica first dipped into the power-to-gas field back in 2015. Activity has ramped up considerably since then, due to the falling cost of renewable energy and electrolysis systems, too.
Hydrogen is both a fuel and a transportable energy storage medium as well as a ubiquitous industrial molecule. The idea behind NortH2 is to take advantage of the existing fossil gas infrastructure to ship hydrogen from the Netherlands all across northern Europe.
Cargo ship, railway, and truck transportation are also options.
If all goes according to plan, NortH2 could accelerate global decarbonization by making green hydrogen available in areas where other renewable resources are inadequate or uneconomical. That includes agriculture, which could benefit from a green source for ammonia fertilizer.
The Netherlands itself is a good example. According to Reuters, the country weighs in at the number 5 slot for highest per capita CO2 emissions in the EU, and renewables only account for 7% of energy consumption.
Equinor & RWE Jump On The Green Hydrogen Bandwagon
That brings us up to the new arrivals on the NortH2 scene. In announcing the decision to join NortH2, Equinor CEO Anders Opedal explained how green hydrogen production can juice his company’s offshore wind business.
“Hydrogen will be key to decarbonization and net zero efforts for the energy market, especially in otherwise hard to abate sectors which cannot be served by electricity,” he said.
That’s as much of a warning shot as it is an endorsement for the NortH2 project. Demand for hydrogen is growing as hydrogen fuel cell manufacturers push into new territory including heavy duty trucks, locomotives, aircraft, ferry boats, and cargo ships. Green hydrogen will have to accelerate lickety-split before all that activity gins up the market for fossil-sourced hydrogen.
“As a new partner, RWE will contribute its broad expertise to create a powerful infrastructure for green hydrogen in Northern Netherlands. We are the world’s second biggest operator of offshore wind farms and have experience in the field of electrolysers, making us the ideal partner for NortH2,” said RWE Generation CEO Robert Miesen.
How Big Is This Thing Anyways?
The partners certainly don’t intend to let any grass grow under their feet. They aim to complete a feasibility study sometime soon and begin work on project development in 2021, with an eye on reaching a capacity of 1 gigawatt (GW) for electrolysis in 2027.
Other milestones cited by Equinor include 4 GW by 2030, jumping up to 10 or more GW by 2040. That roadmap provides for 0.4 million tonnes of green hydrogen in 2030 and 1 million tonnes by 2040, which is expected to abate anywhere from 8 to 10 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.
The partners expect to provide green hydrogen for the industrial clusters dotting Germany as well as the Netherlands. That includes a substantial market in the heavy duty vehicle manufacturing supply chain.
The Timing Is Right For An American-Style Green Hydrogen Revolution
The US has hardly been asleep at the wheel during all this activity. Aside from the new Netherlands offshore wind collaboration, the US Department of Energy has been steering its ongoing hydrogen and fuel cell R&D programs farther over to the green side in recent years.
The availability of offshore wind and the transportability of hydrogen are already coming together in the state of Maine, which anticipates overcoming electricity transmission bottlenecks by investing in power-to-gas. New floating wind turbine technology is also in the mix.
The state of Louisiana is in an even better position to make a splash in the sparkling green hydrogen economy of the future. Louisiana is one of five states ringing the Gulf of Mexico, and it has just launched a new partnership with the US Department of the Interior to exploit its offshore wind resources.
Louisiana is a top US oil and gas producer, but it is also on the front lines of sea level rise and extreme weather. State policy makers have long resisted renewables, but current Governor John Bel Edwards is looking to make a quick pivot into renewables by leveraging the skill set and supply chain of Louisiana’s home grown marine energy firms, some of which already have already shifted their attention to offshore wind power.
The state’s position as host of the largest-tonnage seaport in the western hemisphere also gives it an edge on the green hydrogen export market.
That’s just for starters. Louisiana is also host to CF Industries, one of the world’s leading ammonia producers, which is already looking to reduce its carbon footprint by bringing green hydrogen into the ammonia supply chain.
Meanwhile, Mitsubishi is already selling utilities on its new gas turbine, which is designed to transition from a fossil gas/hydrogen mix to 100% green hydrogen as supplies become available.
Just a few days ago, our friends over at CNBC took a dive into all the activity around sustainable hydrogen under the headline “Green hydrogen is gaining traction, but still has massive hurdles to overcome.” That’s pretty accurate as far as the market for hydrogen fuel cell cars goes, but other leading sectors of the global economy are already primed to make the switch.
Aside from leveraging the global wind energy market for green hydrogen production, researchers are also taking a look at tidal power, concentrating solar power, and photoelectrochemical devices, among other renewable sources.
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Image: Green hydrogen infographic courtesy of Equinor.