The share of renewable energy supply in the European electric power generation mix is expected to grow considerably in the next few years to achieve the new targets and because of the recent geo-political issues, requiring urgent changes towards energy independence and energy security within the EU. However, the ability to match this intermittent supply with demand will become increasingly problematic. As the share of renewable energy exceeds 20-30% of the grid capacity, as already experienced in many countries, grid balancing issues become relevant leading to the curtailment of excess energy.
These issues need to be urgently addressed by developing cheap, long-term, large-scale energy storage solutions. Power-to-Gas (P2G) is the process of converting surplus renewable energy into hydrogen or syngas by rapid response electrolysis or co-electrolysis of water and CO2. Electrolytic hydrogen, if produced at high pressure, as in the present project, can be directly injected into the high-pressure gas distribution network up to defined percentage limits that vary for different locations.
Water electrolysis is becoming an important solution to address the increasing challenges of integrating intermittent renewables. Green hydrogen can provide a solution for the “missing link” between variable renewable power production and grid demand at different times and scales. Electrolysers operate when electricity generation is in excess of demand, or available at very low prices (e.g., during periods of high solar irradiation or wind energy), thereby avoiding or reducing the need to curtail renewable electricity generation.
Green hydrogen can also strongly contribute to grid-balancing service whilst assisting at-scale decarbonisation of key segments, e.g. mobility, gas-grid, and “hard to abate” sectors providing high-grade heat for industry (metallurgy), highly pure feed-stock chemical for CO2 conversion and chemical synthesis processes (ammonia, methanol, hydrogenation reactions etc.).
Using hydrogen for the gas-grid offers several advantages over other decarbonisation solutions for building heating. It avoids any future full direct electrification of heating (requiring an increase of electric power generation that will be essentially used only in winter), it is compatible with existing building stock (compared to heat pumps) and offers fast and convenient implementation of existing infrastructure and regulation for gas heating in EU households.
In respect to the transport sector, fuel cell powertrains offer zero emission technology, fast refuelling compared to battery-based electric vehicles, long driving range, and compact recharging infrastructure. According to the 2050 Neutral Europe and hydrogen vision, beside the strong reduction of CO2 emissions (annual abatement 560 Mt) and strong reduction of energy demand, deployment of the hydrogen roadmap will contribute to a cut in local emissions (>15% reduction NOx), create new markets (820 bn EUR annual revenues) and provide sustainable employment in the EU (5.4 m new jobs).
Introduction to project
The direct production of highly pressurised hydrogen from electrolytic water splitting can save relevant amounts of energy compared to down-stream gas compression. The aim of ADVANCEPEM is to develop a novel polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM) electrolyser which can produce hydrogen at very high pressures thus reducing the energy consumption required for post-compression.
Very pure and high-pressure electrolytic hydrogen can be directly used in various industrial processes such as ammonia synthesis, hydrogenation of oils and other hydrogenation processes in refineries, methanol synthesis and for direct injection into the high-pressure gas grid.
A key goal of ADVANCEPEM is development of a cost-effective technology enabling large-scale application of PEM electrolysers.
Why it moves the sector forward
Proton exchange membrane water electrolysis (PEMWE) fed by renewable energy is becoming increasingly relevant for producing green hydrogen. PEMWE is especially suitable for operation with intermittent loads facilitating grid balancing service when required by differences in energy generation and consumption.
Enhanced PEMWE can support the electricity grid in terms of power quality, frequency and voltage control, peak shaving, load shifting and demand side response. However, a reduction of capital costs favouring large-scale application of PEMWEs is needed along with disruptive innovations in terms of operating conditions.
The direct production of pressurised hydrogen from electrolytic water splitting appears very attractive, enabling the saving of significant amounts of energy from electrochemical compression which is much more efficient than mechanical gas compression. Mechanical compression consumes about 15-20% of the overall energy involved in the transformation cycle from liquid water to hydrogen gas pressurised to 700 bar, needed for refuelling modern fuel cell vehicles.
A large increase of hydrogen pressure from the present 30 bar to 200 bar will reduce energy consumption and cost for post compression in hydrogen refuelling stations (HRS), minimize the space for the overall compressed hydrogen production plants, favour direct injection into the pressurised gas grid and facilitate utilisation in the industry.
A technoeconomic analysis and exploitation plan will be delivered in ADVANCEPEM to bring the developed solutions to the market. Design and cost calculations for a multi-MW system based on the research and developments made in the project will be addressed to estimate CAPEX and OPEX at different scales as a function of increasing annual production volumes and specifically for a multi-MW system, to achieve competitive hydrogen prices in different applications.
A Life cycle assessment will complement these studies and address sustainability and circularity aspects. The exploitation plan will include a technology roadmap, an overview of product-market combinations and a market introduction scheme for the exploitation of the knowhow / results of the project.
To accelerate and address the development of a global hydrogen market by identifying and overcoming key technology barriers to the production, distribution, storage, and use of hydrogen at a wide scale, the hydrogen valleys projects were launched. Experience has been gained on ‘real world’ user patterns and crucial factors for a successful operation have been identified. These focus on reduced capital cost, high pressure operation, reliability, instant availability of hydrogen, the retail price of the hydrogen and safety.
The aim of ADVANCEPEM project is to offer a promising highly efficient and cost-effective alternative to conventional HRS paving the way for larger systems and wide scale deployment. In addition, for the whole hydrogen economy to succeed, a robust business model around the sale of hydrogen to vehicle owners/operators is needed. The ADVANCEPEM project, aims to contribute in achieving hydrogen refuelling costs and help to pave the way towards a self-sustaining hydrogen economy.
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