© RaskerArt

It’s a combination of messages that led to this week’s most-read topic. And all had to do with the possible role that hydrogen can play in the energy transition. All the more reason to dive into this discussion of beliefs.

First of all, it was the Eindhoven alderman Rik Thijs who expressed his doubts: “I do not close my eyes to the developments of hydrogen, but do not yet see this as a large-scale solution for our neighborhoods in the coming years”. Then there was the news that a German scientist proposes a solution for the problem that hydrogen affects metals. And finally, there was more good news: a consortium in the Dutch provinces of Friesland and Groningen is going to use hydrogen as a buffer against the overloading of the grid.

All this must also be seen against the background of the ongoing debate about whether hydrogen can ever really provide a solution to the energy problem. Our columnist Jan Wouters summed it up nicely by pointing out the limits of the debate, at least in the mobility sector: for passenger transport or short transport distances, hydrogen will probably not be able to compete with the battery car any time soon, but “hydrogen as an energy carrier has great advantages in transport, navigation, or aircraft, where a lot of energy has to be carried.”

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Hydrozine

DENS, the Helmond former winner of an IO Gerard & Anton Award, comes with an interesting development. DENS has developed an aggregate that uses ‘hydrozine’, which contains 53 grams of hydrogen per liter. This enables it to safely store large quantities of hydrogen. In the aggregate, hydrogen is generated from the hydrozine and converted directly into clean electrical energy in a fuel cell. “This smart and safe way of storing and transporting hydrogen removes the thresholds of pressurized hydrogen and offers user-friendliness equal to that of a conventional aggregate’, says CEO Max Aerts of DENS.

DENS has been looking for the right battery and electronics partner for a long time because few companies can supply the certified technology that DENS was looking for. This week that partner was found: Urban Mobility Systems (UMS), an expert in the field of electrification solutions for industrial vehicles and inner-city passenger and freight transport. Aerts: “By integrating our aggregate with the battery system of UMS, the whole becomes an efficient hybrid system, as a result of which fuel is never consumed unnecessarily, as is often the case with diesel-based generators.

Hydrogen instead of natural gas?

So will the future of hydrogen be lying in derived products, such as hydrozine? Not necessarily, says researcher Marcel Weeda of TNO. His study ‘Hydrogen as an option for climate-neutral heat supply in existing buildings’ shows that even the worries of alderman Rik Thijs may eventually not be necessary. Within many sub-areas, TNO is doing research into the possible applications of hydrogen in the energy transition. Weeda and his team specifically focused on hydrogen as an alternative to natural gas in existing built environments: exactly the problem for which Rik Thijs is looking for a solution.

But before the alderman starts cheering too soon: large-scale deployment of hydrogen is not to be expected in the short term. Climate-neutral (‘green’) hydrogen is hardly available yet and there is little experience with its use for heating houses and buildings. According to Weeda, the focus in the coming years should, therefore, be on a limited number of pilot and demo projects to gain knowledge and experience about the maximum safe and efficient use of hydrogen in the existing built environment.

© TNO

The advantage of hydrogen as a gaseous energy carrier is that it can be a fairly direct substitute for natural gas and can make use of the current gas infrastructure, says Weeda. “Research shows that the gas grid is suitable for hydrogen.” Further research will then have to show on a case-by-case basis whether this is indeed the case.

According to TNO, there are various ways in which hydrogen can play a role in meeting heat demand in existing buildings. “It can be supplied at individual house level where it can be used in a high-efficiency boiler suitable for hydrogen, or in a hybrid heat pump.” In time, it will also be possible to use it in small combined heat and power installations. In addition, hydrogen can also be used via collective heat systems.

Limited costs

The costs of retrofitting hydrogen from the gas grid and in the dwelling are expected to be limited. “In addition to limited additional costs for a hydrogen-powered HE boiler, there will be costs per home for checking and, if necessary, modifying internal piping, and costs for hydrogen sensors.” Weeda expects that it “won’t be thousands of euros per dwelling”. The costs of adapting the gas grid, including replacing gas meters, also appear to be limited and are estimated by TNO at a few hundred euros per household.

Rik Thijs and his almost 400 fellow aldermen in the Netherlands, will therefore just have to wait until sufficient green hydrogen becomes available. In the meantime, TNO advocates pilots and – even more important – energy efficiency. “Even if there is a clear role for hydrogen in the realization of 100% natural gas-free neighborhoods, it remains important to reduce the demand for heat as much as possible by means of insulation, and to use electricity directly for heating as much as possible, preferably by means of a heat pump.”

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Author profile picture Bart Brouwers is co-founder and co-owner of Media52 BV, the publisher of innovationorigins.com.