The dawn of the (Hydro)generation: from sustainable heating to green garbage trucks
The EU has seen tremendous progress in greening its energy use over the past decade. Guided by the Renewable Energy Directive and the 2020 Climate & Energy package, the share of renewables in gross final energy consumption from the block reached 19% in 2019, nearly touching the 20% binding target expected for 2020. Considering the reduction of costs – dropping 89% for solar and 70% for wind over the last 10 years – and the fact that 2020 brought renewables to the highest place in the podium of Europe’s electricity generation for the first time, the decade shall certainly be remembered for its substantial progress towards the decarbonsiation of the energy sector.
Yet, some energy challenges still need to be addressed, particularly in the sectors of heating and transportation, where massive electrification faces some extra economic barriers in the short-term. In this respect, hydrogen is a key enabling technology for the grid integration challenge as it provides valuable solutions for several independent appliances, from in-land and offshore large transportation to heating as well as for energy storage. Such versatility enables, for instance, renewable-electricity to tackle the barrier of intermittency and holds a strong potential to substantially support energy systems integration. With new district heating networks and H2 devices hitting the streets in North-West Europe and beyond, the EU might be facing the dawn of a new generation in its energy transition, powered by a new set of hydrogen technologies.
"There is great potential for the role of hydrogen within energy transition. Aberdeen City Council is currently exploring options for the use of hydrogen technologies in a number of applications, such as rail and maritime, and industry sectors."
“There is great potential for the role of hydrogen within energy transition. Aberdeen City Council is currently exploring options for the use of hydrogen technologies in a number of applications, such as rail and maritime, and industry sectors. A key priority for the city in 2021 is the development and implementation of Hydrogen for heat technologies”, says Laura Paterson from Aberdeen City Council.
The Scottish city provides an example of smart exploitation of the technology that is pushing hydrogen one step further as it provides organisations with the opportunity to trial new tech, such as heating systems, H2 trucks and cargo bikes vehicles, and to experience their benefits before investing in them. With the support of Interreg North-West Europe and other EU Programmes (such as LIFE and the Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking), Aberdeen City Council (ACC) benefits from access to finance and transnational cooperation, which, together, help to unlock the potential of H2-powered applications, bring new technologies to the market and serve as key enablers of their local strategy.
“Participation in Interreg programmes enables the city to implement key aims and objectives of our local hydrogen strategy. Without financial support of the Interreg programmes, we would struggle to make the capital investment in these technologies due to high initial costs”, continues Laura.
“One of the key benefits of cooperation with other regions is learning from others and particularly seeing what is happening on the ground in other regions. This is an invaluable exchange of information which is facilitated by EU programmes “, added Amy Perry from Aberdeen City Council.
ACC is currently involved in four Interreg NWE projects, including HeatNet NWE, which supported the city to deliver, for instance, a combined heat and power (CHP) district heat network in a deprived area of the city, directly benefiting the local population. Thanks to the project, 15,000 tCO2e are saved per year, 3,000 additional dwellings are supplied by the district heating system and 8M€ in extra funding have been leveraged.
Heatnet NWE is complemented by another initiative named “Hydrogen Waste Collection Vehicles in North West Europe” or simply HECTOR. With seven pilot sites over Scotland, The Netherlands, Germany, France and Belgium, the initiative tackles the mobility aspect of the energy challenge and demonstrates that H2 waste trucks are operationally capable across a range of operating conditions and that the benefits outweigh conventional diesel vehicle. For instance, lifecycle and maintenance costs are considerably lower than existing trucks. In December 2020, HECTOR launched its German hydrogen powered waste disposal vehicle in Duisburg, which was an important milestone on the way towards sustainable waste disposal and a low emission fleet. The new vehicle is estimated to achieve a range of up to 285km, storing a maximum of 16.4kg of hydrogen and will be refueled every two days. On December 2019, HECTOR signed a letter of cooperation with two other European projects that are developing and deploying trucks powered by fuel cells and hydrogen. The projects will cooperate on the creation of awareness for fuel cell vehicles in waste collection through the co-organisation of events and the dissemination of projects materials and outputs.
In Düsseldorf, the H2-Share project’s truck performed well in demonstration at transport company ABC Logistik at the end of 2020. The company concluded in its final evaluation that hydrogen trucks are the future of zero-emission heavy-duty logistics. It was the second of six demonstrations – after the truck first hit the road in Schelluinen (NL) in April 2020 - within this project, dedicated to the development of hydrogen heavy-duty transport and refueling technology. It transported up to 8 tonnes of general cargo (e-commerce products), mainly on motorways and in industrial zones in North-West Europe. The other demo sites from the project are located in the Netherlands, Belgium and eastern France.
“We are convinced that H2-Share is a very important kickstarting project for trucks on hydrogen in Europe. Since half 2020 we are involved in the development of an industrial consortium aiming at 1000 trucks and 25 hydrogen refuelling stations in 2025, with the focus area of the ports of Rotterdam (DE), Antwerp (BE) and Duisburg (DE). This logistic triangle is in the heart North-West-Europe and H2-Share was the right step to start the process of implementing hydrogen technologies in this region, expanding to the rest of Europe”, says Adwin Martens, Lead Partner in H2-Share from WaterStofNet.
"We are convinced that H2-Share is a very important kickstarting project for trucks on hydrogen in Europe"
A similar concept is being rolled-out to H2-Fuelled Water Transport in North-West Europe in the form of the project H2Ships. Here, two pilots are implemented in Amsterdam (NL) and Oostende (BE) to test a hydrogen powered port vessel and refuelling system suitable for open sea operation.
Other valuable applications are the “Fuel Cell Cargo Pedelecs” tested by FCCP, which provide a sustainable alternative to the evolved requirements of last mile delivery in regions and cities.
One step further is GenComm. The project addresses energy sustainability challenges within communities and implements three pilot plants that link renewable generation (solar, wind and biomass) with energy storage and transport. The final goal of the project is, through the combination of sources and forms of demand, to lead NWE’s road to sustainability while granting hydrogen its position as a commercially viable energy medium for the future. In September 2020, GenComm launched a Hydrogen Triple Alliance with two other interreg funded (from the Atlantic Area and Northern Periphery and Arctic) green hydrogen projects that seek to overcome the issue of how to connect stakeholders, end-users, policymakers, and communities interested in hydrogen technologies.
The European Green Deal, presented in December 2019, set the tone at the top for Europe’s intentions to reaching net-zero global warming emissions by 2050. From transport to electricity and heating, hydrogen solutions will play a leading role, specifically to deliver the Green Deal’s expected “smart sector integration” and “climate neutrality” by supporting the supply of clean, affordable and secure energy.
European Territorial Cooperation Programmes such as Interreg North-West Europe recognise the value of hydrogen and are strongly engaged in supporting projects that can contribute to releasing a new generation of technologies powered by sustainable hydrogen. The NWE Programme supports cross-project cooperation through the organisation of a set of activities aimed at maximising project impact and pushing results one step further. For instance, the Programme organised in June 2020 the webinar "Boosting the hydrogen economy through international cooperation” which gathered 352 participants.
With the progress of the process aimed at defining the shape of the future NWE Programme, hydrogen and sustainable energy technologies will certainly have a strong role to play in the decarbonisation of the territory. Although the process is still on-going the dedicated task force has reached a preliminary agreement on five priorities and nine specific objectives for the future NWE Programme to focus on. These include a dedicated priority on “Smart and just energy transition” with SOs covering “Promoting energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions” and “Promoting renewable energy”.