As part of the H2Mare project funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), cruh21 is collaborating in a group of partners from research and industry to establish the basic principles enabling green hydrogen, ammonia, methanol, methane and synthesised fuels to be produced from the open sea. This pilot project is a model for the technological success of the offshore hydrogen industry.
What has to be taken into account when planning, building and operating electrolysers on the open sea, and how do these measures harmonise with safety and environmental concerns? How can power-to-X (PtX) products best be used? What is the best way to provide autonomous offshore island systems with energy? And in what ways can public acceptance for these kinds of projects be raised?
The group project ‘TransferWind’, in cooperation with other partners affiliated to H2Mare, aims to provide answers to these overarching questions arising from H2Mare. In all, 16 partners from industry and research – including cruh21 – have joined forces in the TransferWind group. Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the H2Mare pilot project consists of three further groups besides TransferWind. All the groups in the pilot project are researching different aspects of the autonomous production of green hydrogen and other PtX products on the open sea. The cruh21 consultancy firm is providing smooth stakeholder management to ensure professional exchange of ideas between the relevant groups and with other stakeholders from science, industry, politics and administration.
The basic idea of the H2Mare project is this: producing hydrogen on the open sea has considerable advantages over making it on land. The production of green hydrogen requires large quantities of electricity from renewable sources. Assessed on a year-round basis, offshore wind energy plants produce more electricity, with greater constancy, than their counterparts on land. This also reduces the costs of hydrogen production. Moreover, offshore wind energy plants are not connected to the electricity grid but operate in island mode, which also contributes to lower hydrogen production costs. Additionally, the sea offers more surface area for the plants than the mainland. The groups aim to use these advantages, and couple the electrolysers directly to the wind energy plants on the sea.
In addition to this, the plants can be used to produce secondary products of hydrogen, such as green ammonia, green methanol and synthetic fuels. To produce these hydrogen derivatives, carbon dioxide and nitrogen must be extracted from the air or the sea as additives. Another H2Mare group is researching how to implement this efficiently.
In spring 2021, the BMBF triggered the start of the three hydrogen pilot projects TransHyDE, H2Giga and H2Mare with funds amounting to around EUR 700 million. The ultimate aim of this funding initiative – which is better endowed by the Ministry than any energy transition initiative to date – is that the green hydrogen industry should achieve its technological breakthrough.
Model project for planning, construction, operation and application
To enable the greatest possible synergies to be created in the entire pilot project, TransferWind is taking care of the knowledge exchange between the various groups and important public stakeholders, in order to raise public acceptance for the project.
The group is also investigating superordinate aspects of offshore plants, such as construction, planning and authorisation regulation. Additionally, TransferWind is developing standardised tests for the components and materials used, which have to withstand the harsh conditions at sea. Recommended actions for environmentally compatible and safe operation of the offshore plants are also being prepared, so that operation and production can proceed as far as possible in harmony with the marine environment.
Additionally, in the sphere of applications, potential uses in the shipping industry for green ammonia and methanol produced offshore are being explored. Furthermore, the partners aim to gain fundamental knowledge about energy supply using autonomous offshore island systems. A large-scale project controlling mechanism ensures the smooth running of the project across all groups.
Knowledge exchange, networking and open questions
For cruh21, biochemist Dr Stefan Wahlefeld is heading up the project and coordinating knowledge exchange.
He considers his principal responsibilities to be networking and detecting regulatory obstacles.
‘Our company is working to ensure the exchange of ideas across the whole pilot project. Here, one of the key challenges at present has turned out to be regulatory issues. In this start-up phase of the hydrogen industry, several legal questions, standards, etc. are still in progress. Here cruh21 wants to use its network to bring as many stakeholders in the pilot project as possible round a table, in order to work out solutions as quickly as possible and avoid duplication of effort.’
An example of only one of the many questions that remain unanswered at present is the procedure for disposing of the brine produced by seawater electrolysis, which is still unclear. In all H2Mare projects, technical, legal, economic and ecological aspects all play a role. Wahlefeld uses the brine as a example to illustrate this.
‘At present, the legal position stipulates that nothing should be discharged from a platform into the sea. Therefore it is forbidden to discharge the brine, which is produced after the seawater has been prepared for electrolysis by desalination plants, back into the sea. However, transporting the brine away would be totally unviable economically for a functioning offshore operation. In the sea, however, the brine would rapidly thin out.’
The project groups intend to find answers to many of these unclear questions within the coming years. These will form the basis for the launch of the hydrogen industry.
By Benita Stalmann, Junior Consultant Communications