Image credit: Siemens Energy

Dina Darshini discusses how gas-based technology developers are embracing the potential of hydrogen.

As the energy sector transitions to a more carbon-neutral and flexible system of interconnected distributed energy solutions, what role will gas play in the future?

This article was originally published in Power Engineering International Issue 2-2021.

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Indeed, will it have a role? Do technology developers who have built their entire or a significant portion of their generating product portfolio around gas need to weigh their future options carefully, lest they encounter lack of market demand and stranded asset prospects.

Already examples abound of industry players taking steps to hedge against such a reality.

Siemens Energy has announced its roadmap to strengthen the hydrogen capability across its gas turbine models (ranging from 4MW to 500+MW) to at least 20% by 2020, and 100% by 2030.

Like many other gas turbine OEMs, the company has placed its bets on hydrogen as a lifeline for gas-based power generation assets as the world shifts away from fossil fuels and stricter emission regulations come into force.

Wärtsilä, a major reciprocating engine player, is allocating R&D efforts into developing the combustion process in its gas engines to enable them to burn 100% hydrogen fuel, as well as explore other renewable fuels. Wärtsilä engines are already capable of combusting 100% synthetic carbon-neutral methane and methanol.

In 2013, MAN Energy Solutions commissioned a methanation reactor to produce syngas for a power-to-gas plant on a 6MW scale for Audi AG, a car manufacturer. Since then, MAN has offered turnkey offerings around power-to-X technologies.

MAN has also recently acquired H-TEC Systems, an electrolysis technology company, and aims to cover all processing steps of the hydrogen economy under the umbrella of MAN Energy Solutions.

INNIO, a provider of established Jenbacher and Waukesha reciprocating engines, is a new entity – carved out of GE with the purchase of GE’s distributed power business by Advent International.

INNIO has developed a new 1MW engine which can run with a mix of natural gas and hydrogen, up to 100% hydrogen. The engine has now passed all tests to be commercialised, with its first pilot installation in Hamburg commissioned in 2020.

Cummins, a major player in power, has recently acquired a fuel cell and hydrogen production technologies provider Hydrogenics Corporation.

In the short term, we expect hydrogen in various forms to still play a part in establishing large-scale hydrogen production and demonstrate the decarbonisation of several sectors.

Cummins has outlined its plans to generate electrolyser revenues of at least $400 million in 2025. Investments have also been poured into developing hydrogenready products. For example, Cummins received $3 million in funding in 2020 from the US Department of Energy for R&D in their C&I scale fuel cells.

Why hydrogen? And what type?

Operational small or mid-sized power plants running on high hydrogen content gaseous fuels is not uncommon. These include coke oven gas, byproduct gases from chemical processes, or renewable sources like wood gasification in syngas.

But it is a specific type of hydrogen that has got industry talking: green hydrogen. ‘Clean’ hydrogen is labelled either blue or green depending on the process used to produce it; green H2 is produced by electrolysis of water using renewable electricity, while blue H2 is natural gas derived and relies on the coupling of steam methane reforming (SMR) and carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Diversifying vs. betting entirely on hydrogen. Different industry players will have different strategies.
We provide four examples above, but there will be many other future routes market players could

There’s also grey H2 which is similar to blue H2, but the CO2 is not captured and is instead released into the atmosphere.

While green H2 represents a means to decouple hydrogen and natural gas, it cannot yet be produced at sufficient scale for widespread use.

Hence, in the short term, we expect hydrogen in various forms to still play a part in establishing large-scale hydrogen production and demonstrate the decarbonisation of several sectors. In the mid- to long-term, green H2 is needed to meet climate goals.

One of the arguments for hydrogen-based flexible power generation assets is based around the recognition that intermittent renewables play a key part in the energy system – and this will increase, as will battery storage.

However, to de-risk situations where a long-term storage solution is needed during prolonged low wind and solar weather conditions, a seasonal and large gas storage solution is useful once the smaller battery storage is fully drained.

There are several notable case studies of hydrogen-based power generation. HYFLEXPOWER in France is the world’s first industrial-scale integrated Power-to-X-to-Power hydrogen gas turbine demonstrator.

Consortium members include Engie Solutions, Siemens, Centrax, Arttic, German Aerospace Center (DLR) and four European universities.

The aim is to demonstrate that green H2 can be produced and stored from renewable electricity and then added (with up to 100%) to the natural gas currently used within the 12MW CHP plant at the Smurfit Kappa site. During periods of high demand, this stored green H2 will then be used to generate electrical energy to be fed into the grid.

INNIO’s 1MW hydrogen CHP project in Hamburg includes the hydrogen-ready Jenbacher engine system. The heat generated will be fed into HanseWerk AG’s local heating network, while electricity will be used for recharging electric vehicles at the site when required. The intention was to bring the CHP plant online for natural gas operation in 2020; hydrogen-powered generation would then commence in 2021.

Power-to-X-to-Power in Hassfurt, Germany (1.25 MWe) sees Stadtwerke Hassfurt, a German local utility, partnering with 2G, a CHP developer, to use hydrogen converted from wind power with an electrolyser to fuel a CHP plant.

In the plant, the hydrogen is then converted back to electricity or heat with efficiencies of over 85% as needed. The electricity from the CHP plant is fed into the city’s electricity grid. The unit began operation in July 2019.

Australia is home to hydrogen fuel cell projects. In central Queensland, there are now several hydrogen energy projects in the pipeline. The Australian company Northern Oil was set to build the first hydrogen fuel cell of its kind in Queensland at its pilot biofuels refinery in Gladstone in 2019. The state government has also been in talks with Japanese experts about building a solar-to-hydrogen plant in central Queensland that would export hydrogen gas out of Gladstone’s port. Northern Oil will use hydrogen to generate electricity, but in a novel way – turning waste products such as old tyres and weeds into a renewable version of a traditional fossil fuel. It needs hydrogen to do this, and until now it has been buying it on the open market, but that is expensive.

At Vattenfall’s Magnum power plant in Groningen in the Netherlands, Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems is working to turn the owner’s ‘Carbon-Free Gas Power’ project into a reality, starting with operationalising one of the three gas turbines to combust only hydrogen by 2024.

The hydrogen needed will be produced by reforming Norwegian natural gas, and the resulting CO2 from that process will be captured and stored in natural caverns.

The largest industrial hydrogen fuel cell power plant in the world – and the first to use only hydrogen recycled from petrochemical manufacturing – has just become operational at the Daesan Industrial Complex in Seosan, South Korea.

The 50MW plant contains 114 fuel cells. This is against a policy backdrop of the South Korean Government’s roadmap to revitalise the hydrogen economy within car and fuel cell sectors.

So, be it gas turbine or engine or fuel cells, there are many demonstrators and projects underway. And we only expect more to come.

Dina Darshini is Principal Analyst at research and consulting firm Delta-EE.