The green hydrogen craze shows no sign of slowing down on the heels of last year’s pandemic-fueled pause in the global economy. In something of an ironic twist, the plastic supply chain could help rev the renewability trend up a notch or two more. One example is the hydrogen-curious wind turbine manufacturer Siemens Gamesa, which has just signed a contract with the thermoplastics wizard Strohm, aimed at piping green hydrogen from offshore turbines.
An Electrolyzer In Every Wind Turbine
Strohm is new to the CleanTechnica radar, but it entered with a bang. Earlier this week the firm, which bills itself as “the world’s first and leading manufacturer of fully bonded, Thermoplastic Composite Pipe (TCP),” announced a memorandum of understanding with the Renewable Energy branch of Siemens Gamesa.
The idea is to deploy Strom’s flexible TCP for offtaking green H2 from wind turbines and piping it through undersea cables to the shore.
Behind that idea is Siemens’s concept for installing electrolyzers on individual offshore wind turbines, rather than establishing a centralized electrolyzer plant at offshore wind farms. An electrolyzer pushes hydrogen gas out of water with an electrical current, yielding so-called “green” H2, not to be confused with other hydrogen sources that rely on natural gas or coal. Sourcing the electricity through renewable energy is a key factor.
The decentralized approach of housing elelctrolyzers at each turbine makes sense from an efficiency point of view. An extra offshore platform would not have to be constructed to house a large electrolyzer facility with an energy management system that can handle intermittent inputs from multiple wind turbines.
In addition, the decentralized approach enables repair, maintenance, and upgrade work to be rotated among individual electrolyzers, minimizing overall down time.
“As pioneer in the wind industry and leader in offshore wind, Siemens Gamesa has already taken significant steps in shaping the industry and developing the basis for a decentralized offshore solution, that fully integrates an electrolyzer into an offshore wind turbine, with clear benefits and value-add potential such as capex reduction, increase of system efficiency, and increase of wind farm uptime,” Strohm enthuses.
TCP For The Green Hydrogen Offshore Wind Farm Of The Future
The irony kicks in at the part where TCP is made from polymer resin. Until alternatives arise, polymer resin is a byproduct of gas and oil refining, and refining is one of the leading uses for hydrogen in the global economy today (fossil gas is also the leading source of hydrogen today, by the way).
“Nearly all of the hydrogen consumed in the United States is used by industry for refining petroleum, treating metals, producing fertilizer, and processing foods. U.S. petroleum refineries use hydrogen to lower the sulfur content of fuels,” explains the US Department of Energy.
Phooey! For that matter, at least one leading petroleum company, Shell, is eyeballing the use of green hydrogen to cut the carbon footprint of its refinery operations.
In the meantime, Strohm is working the recycled TCP angle as one path toward shaking itself free of the petrochemical supply chain.
That could take a while, though some interesting developments are popping up in the field of chemical-based and bio-based recycling aimed at breaking used plastics into molecular building blocks that can be reassembled to make products that are good as new.
The Green Hydrogen Economy Of The Future
The idea of a “hydrogen society” makes no sense if the leading source of hydrogen continues to be natural gas (and coal, to a lesser extent). Green hydrogen has yet to make its economic case, but as the Strom-Siemens mashup demonstrates the supply chain is becoming capable of rapid scale-up.
In addition, the technology is improving, costs are coming down, and government policy is beginning to provide some extra juice.
A new green H2 market report from the firm Emergen Research paints a pretty picture:
“The global green hydrogen market size was USD 897.5 million in 2020, driven by potential of green hydrogen to seal intermittency of solar and wind, while burning like natural gas and serving as raw material in industrial chemical processes has piqued interest of businesses, governments, and investors.”
Okay, so $897.5 million is a drop in the energy bucket, but it looks pretty good compared to just a couple of years ago, when the market for renewable hydrogen from water was practically nonexistent.
It looks even better considering that Emergen cites large-scale industrial users as the main muscle behind future growth. Manufacturers have begun to focus on decarbonizing their supply chains, and they are leaning on heavy industry and big agriculture to clean up their acts.
“Many industries, including oil & gas, utility, steel, and fertilizers, among others are opting for green hydrogen for harmonizing intermittency of reusable resources,” explains Emergen. “In addition, this type of hydrogen is being used large scale as an energy substitute for decarbonizing industrial, chemical, and transportation sectors.”
Here, let’s have them explain:
“Biomass gasification among the set of X-to-hydrogen-to-X technologies, provides sustainable method for producing hydrogen, which helps the global green hydrogen market to expand. Other important application of green hydrogen includes Combined Heat and Power (CHP) and green propulsion, which would demonstrate the versatility of hydrogen as an energy carrier. Rising demand for CHP among various industries such as food processing, pharmaceutical, manufacturing, paper production, oil and refinery, hospitals, and utility industries is also driving green hydrogen market revenue growth.”
Emergen also talks up the idea of using the existing natural gas distribution pipeline infrastructure to transport green H2 to individual buildings, though that may be a more technologically complicated maneuver than it seems.
More likely to gain traction more quickly is the new field of green ammonia, made with green H2 and nitrogen collected from ambient air. In one interesting twist that evokes Siemens’s decentralized approach, the US Department of Energy is working on a plan for farmers to install wind turbines with electrolyzers, so they can make their own fertilizer.
Hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles and electronic devices also make the Emergen list, though at this point that’s pretty small potatoes compared to industrial usage.
There being no such thing as a free lunch, Emergen notes that “green hydrogen is incredibly challenging and expensive to store and transport” and “is highly flammable in nature with a low volumetric density,” requiring major investment in transportation infrastructure.
Emergen also cites the lack of a skilled workforce as a factor hampering growth. Here in the US, it would certainly help matters if pregnant and potentially pregnant job seekers and workers were considered independent beings with agency rather than earthen vessels to be tended by the wheels of bureaucracy, but that is where we are today.
Global Decarbonization Will Not Happen By Accident
Despite the obstacles, Emergen concludes that “the multiple and economical uses of green hydrogen is driving market revenue growth.”
“The global green hydrogen market size is expected to reach USD 2,565.7 million in 2028 and register a revenue CAGR of 14.1% during the forecast period,” Emergen forecasts.
If that outlook seems overly sunny, it might actually be overly gloomy in consideration of one key market driver not directly addressed in the report, that being public opinion. If street protests and boycotts don’t work, consumers can always exercise their preferences through their wallets, and they are increasingly preferring not to poison their own well with excess carbon and other pollutants associated with the products they buy.
In addition, policymakers and key stakeholders in some nations are already turning up the volume, partly in response to investor activity on the part of producers. Along with Siemens, Emergen cites AIR LIQUIDE, Engie, Royal Dutch Shell PLC, Ballard Power Systems, SGH2 Energy Global LLC, Cummins Inc., Linde, and Guangdong Nation-Synergy Hydrogen Power Technology Co., Ltd. as leading players.
Emergen also includes our friends over at Plug Power in the list, which is interesting because Plug Power started off as a purveyor of fuel cell forklifts back when green H2 was just a twinkle in somebody’s eye. They didn’t seem to be getting much traction until the past year or so, when they jumped on new opportunities as a producer of green H2, and look at them now.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: Offshore wind turbine with electrolyzer for green hydrogen courtesy of Strohm.
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