The road to green hydrogen


Developments around green hydrogen are gaining momentum. Our Hydrohub Innovation Program focuses on developing knowledge and technology for the production of green hydrogen on a large scale since 2017. The program provides for a large-scale electrolysis testing facility, investigates the upscaling of production facilities, and develops an integrated model for building hydrogen chains and establishing a tool for supporting investment decisions.

This way, the transition to green hydrogen can take shape. Andreas ten Cate, Program Director System Integration at ISPT and spiritual father of the program shares his vision.

Shared insights bring partners together

Andreas ten Cate, program director System Integration

More knowledge and innovation

Green hydrogen plays a key role in the energy transition. “ISPT has anticipated this since 2014,” says Ten Cate. “That’s when our Power-to-Products and Power-to-Ammonia projects started the preliminary work for the Hydrohub Innovation Program. In 2017, this saw the light to fulfill the desire of our industry partners to develop more knowledge and innovations around the production and upscaling of sustainable hydrogen.

The outcome of this start-up is shaped in the three pillars of the Hydrohub Innovation Program; technology development for electrolysis and production of green hydrogen, upscaling production to industrial scale and the dynamics of chain formation of hydrogen from production to use.”

Testing and optimizing in an open innovation centre

One of the projects in the Hydrohub Innovation Program is the Hydrohub MegaWatt Test Center. This open innovation test center in Groningen will open its doors in mid 2022, and provides a much-needed facility for technology development. Companies can perform practical tests at scale in real electrolyzers. For technology suppliers this is an essential step to the market with their new products. For end users, it is very important to understand where opportunities and limitations of electrolysis lie in industrial applications.

Ten Cate: “If you want to build more efficient electrolysis systems, modelling and testing at single-cell level is not enough. Practical tests remain essential. It turns out that there is a need for such a test facility. Construction is still underway, but there are already requests from companies from all over the world to test their stacks, components such as electrodes, power electronics or peripherals.”

Optimize building electrolysers: the new HyScaling project

Dutch customers will certainly be present in the Hydrohub MegaWatt Test Centre, including the organizations represented in the consortium of the new HyScaling project. The mission of the Hyscaling project is making better electrolyzer systems  and making electrolyzer systems in a better way. “The Hyscaling consortium is a very diverse group of organizations”, explains Ten Cate. “It ranges from start-ups and established SMEs to multinationals, especially specialized in producing innovative materials, systems and factories. These parties will explore and test together with which ingredients you can manufacture better, more efficient electrolyzer systems. In the HyScaling project these will eventually be tested at scale in full stacks in the Hydrohub MegaWatt Test Centre.”

Optimal organization of the production chain

HyScaling must also optimally organize the production chain. “In addition to a more efficient process, we are also looking at upscaling the production routes”, says Ten Cate. “For example, with a party like VDL and with the Fraunhofer Institute and TNO, we are investigating how modern manufacturing technology can lead to large-scale production and cost reduction.” By bringing together a variety of high-tech manufacturing companies, efficiency gains, stability gains and smart production should lead to a cost reduction of at least twenty-five to thirty percent.

Ten Cate: “Shared insights bring partners together, knowledge exchange accelerates innovation. HyScaling makes both the investment and operational costs much more attractive to the customers of their electrolyzers, whether they are companies dynamic or stable.”  The intention is that stable, efficient electrolyzers produced in the Netherlands will find their way to customers all over the world, but certainly also in the Netherlands itself.

Scientific challenges for the process engineer

The Hydrohub GigaWatt Scale Electrolyser project combines scientific state-of-the-art expertise with current business insights and advanced process engineering. Ten Cate: “As a process engineer you learn how to make a conceptual process design. In such a design, you explore how to construct a complete factory by selecting and scaling all the unit operations and technologies you need to arrive at a factory design that, when built, could produce your desired product, in this case hydrogen of course. From this design you can make a cost estimate of the hardware, the capex, and determine the productivity and operational costs, the opex – that together tell you at which cost your factory can produce hydrogen. Once you have gone through all the stages of the design, you understand what choices and trade-offs you have actually made for a first design. This gives you the understanding of where you can improve your design. In the next step you review and optimize the design using all the knowledge you have gained in the process to see if you come to an advanced design with improved economics.”

In this way, the process technologist walks through generations of designs and the ideas become sharper and sharper. Ten Cate: “In the GigaWatt Scale Electrolyser project, we have elevated this process to a true art. We are in the middle of the second iteration battle now. After the basic design, we investigated improvements and innovations on at least thirty points. At the moment we are capturing all the choices, so that we can re-examine the elaboration and then the economy.” It is expected that there will be a large reduction in costs compared to the design of the first generation. “Especially the enthusiasm and commitment of our partners in this project are very special”, says Ten Cate. “With real team spirit, we generate the results together. The innovation in ISPT context is really at the heart of the energy transition.”

Connecting the dots

The Hydrohub HyChain project moves the questions to the next scale. Ten Cate: “In this part of the Hydrohub Innovation Program, we look at how hydrogen can grow to the scale at which it sustainably supplies industry with raw materials and energy. From the production of green electricity to the use of hydrogen in processes – existing or new – many links have to be connected.” The Netherlands will soon make hydrogen in many places in large electrolysis plants that run on green electricity. It is introduced in local networks connected to a national network – Gasunie’s backbone. From there, factories take it away for use in their processes.

The right amount of hydrogen at the right time

In the meantime, an owner of a factory will only opt for hydrogen if there is good reason for doing so. It should be available in the amount that the process requires, at the time the process needs it. Ten Cate: “If production moves with the wind, availability may vary. That requires storage. All elements in the chain add costs that ultimately determine the price. A chain is in fact a series of connected business cases.” For many links, there are multiple ways to shape those cases. Ten Cate gives an example: “Storage locally can outweigh storage far away. Local production will have to compete with import routes. And alternatives such as direct use of green electricity or CCS also outweigh the use of hydrogen.”

The energy transition requires careful coordination, direction and integral social considerations

Andreas ten Cate, program director System Integration

Developing these chains according to the scale on which the industry operates takes time. “All these elements – choices in technology, solution routes, alternatives and influence of factors such as subsidies and taxes on, for example, CO2 influence the choices”, says Ten Cate. “The HyChain project systematically maps these options and accurately describes them in a techno-economic way. An example of this is cost reductions when technology is more widely accepted. Ten Cate: “With all this information, we set up models. These provide insight into the conditions under which hydrogen can become attractive lowest costs. They also show through which routes chains are created.” These insights are important for all players – industry, grid operators, future producers, the wind sector, and the public sector, such as port companies and provinces locally as well as the national government. These are all represented in the HyChain project. Ten Cate: “The energy transition requires careful coordination, direction and integral social considerations.”

From microtechnology to national policy

“It is important that a data-based level playing field is created in order to be able to make trade-offs on the right basis”, concludes Ten Cate. “This makes investment decisions possible for companies. And that gives the insight needed to distribute the costs and benefits of investments across the value chain. The models that we make for this together with QuoMare give a balanced grip on trade-offs. They enable the step towards data-driven policy.” ISPT covers the entire process for the transition to green hydrogen. Ten Cate: “It runs from the molecular balance on membrane surfaces and tiny holes in metal sheets to a national balancing framework to arrive at the right policy in the right place. Plus everything that matters at the intermediate levels. Let that shift come; projects are planned at all levels to make green hydrogen a success.” 

The Hydrohub Innovation Program

The Hydrohub Innovation Program comprises all ISPT activities in sustainable hydrogen production. It is a mission-oriented program for developing largescale, electrolysis-based production of sustainable and low-cost hydrogen, as a driver for circular industrial chains. The program is managed by the ISPT cluster System Integration and currently revolves around four main projects: