Utility VERBUND is building a pilot project at Austria’s biggest power station to research the possibility of using hydrogen as a replacement for natural gas to run the plant’s gas turbines.

The 838 MW Mellach plant opened in 2012 and runs on two natural gas-fired turbines. Now VERBUND will test the partial substitution of natural gas with hydrogen – marking a first for an industrial power plant.VERBUND in landmark project to run gas plant on hydrogen

The pilot project called Hotflex is a collaboration with Graz University of Technology and German cleantech company Sunfire, which develops and manufactures high-temperature electrolyzers and high-temperature fuel cells.

High-temperature electrolysis is a process used to produce hydrogen from water powered by renewable electricity. In Sunfire’s latest technology, high-temperature electrolysis can reactivate not only water but also CO2 and thereby convert exhaust gases directly back into a clean raw material which can take the place of oil or natural gas.

With the Hotflex pilot, excess wind and solar power can be taken from the grid and converted into hydrogen by high-temperature electrolysis. This so-called ‘green’ hydrogen will be mixed with natural gas to drive the two gas turbines.

The hydrogen is to be produced directly at the power plant site by high-temperature electrolysis with a production capacity of 40 Nm³/h.

A special feature of the pilot plant, whose components are manufactured by Sunfire in Dresden, is that it can operate in reverse mode as a fuel cell, enabling the plant to produce electricity and heat from natural gas.

VERBUND will test this fuel cell operating mode primarily as a possibility for self or emergency power supply of its power plant.

The results from the Hotflex project will be analysed by VERBUND’s Thermal Power competence centre in cooperation with Graz University of Technology and Sunfire over a three-year period.

The evolving role of gas in Europe’s energy tranistion will be a key focus of European Utility Week and POWERGEN Europe in Paris later this year. Click here for details.