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Hydrogen Power

Europe’s hydrogen rocket has yet to take off

Green hydrogen advocates say regulatory changes are need for projects to succeed

by Alex Scott
November 11, 2021

A photo of Nouryon's site in the Netherlands.
Credit: Nouryon
Nouryon and partners are building a sustainable hydrogen plant at this site in Delfzjil, the Netherlands. More than 100 major sustainable hydrogen projects are being planned in Europe by 2040.

Big changes to European Union regulations and policies are required if the large-scale production of sustainable hydrogen across Europe is to be realized. That’s the sobering conclusion of a new report published by industry group Hydrogen Europe.

Regulatory hurdles will have to be removed and greater financial support will have to be offered if the EU is to meet its goal of increasing green hydrogen production to 1 million metric tons (t) per year—6 times as much as current production—by 2024, the report states.

Green hydrogen is produced by using renewable energy to split water in electrolyzers. To produce its target 1 million t per year, the EU’s goal is to build electrolyzer capacity up to at least 6 GW.

According to the report, Europe’s water electrolysis capacity is currently 135 MW, up from 90 MW in 2019. And the size of electrolyzers being built in Europe is increasing. The largest electrolyzer built in 2019 had a capacity of about 7 MW. This year, a 10 MW unit was installed in the region.

But some EU regulations relating to sustainable hydrogen are a source of frustration for the industry, said Hydrogen Europe CEO Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, speaking on a webcast to launch the report. For example, for hydrogen to be officially recognized in the EU as being green, the electrolyzer facility operator must show every 15 minutes that the energy being used is renewable, Chatzimarkakis said. “This doesn’t seem like a rational approach,” he said.

More than 100 big projects for making low-carbon hydrogen have been announced in Europe. Companies developing them include major firms such as Evonik Industries, Ineos, Shell, and TotalEnergies. But according to Norway-based Nel Hydrogen, one of the world’s largest producers of electrolyzers, money pledged for the projects has yet to flow to makers of key equipment.

“Yes, there have been lots of announcements, but we don’t see it yet in our order books,” Thorsten Herbert, Nel’s director of market development and public affairs, said during the webcast. Politicians in Brussels are unaware that electrolysis is the core technology, Herbert added.

Despite the slow growth of sustainable hydrogen production in Europe, new applications are emerging. Last year, Sweden’s Hybrit started a pilot plant making fossil fuel–free steel with green hydrogen. Alstom began testing its hydrogen-fueled trains across France, Poland, and Sweden this year and plans to introduce them commercially in Germany in 2022.

“We are still right at the beginning,” Chatzimarkakis said. “Hydrogen has become something like a political commodity already. Now it needs to become a commodity in commerce.”



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