For those of us who have been involved in the hydrogen sector for decades – 20 years in my case – it is the moment that we have all been awaiting: hydrogen is now regarded as central to Europe’s decarbonisation strategy and its use in the European energy sector and industry. The good news is that hydrogen will certainly help to reach climate change targets and potentially climate neutrality in Europe by 2050.
Hydrogen comes in many colours, but green hydrogen, or renewable hydrogen produced from water electrolysers powered by renewable energy sources, at large scale has been identified as a necessary measure to reduce significantly and even eliminate greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Industrial-scale blue hydrogen will still be mainly produced through natural gas steam reforming (e.g. from SMR – steam methane reforming) during this important transition period .
So, what is the role of Norway in the hydrogen sphere?
Although the Norwegian hydrogen strategy published in June 2020  was not “aggressive” enough, it clearly highlights great opportunities for the Norwegian industry in this growing and prosperous market as well as the country’s potential in the domestic and export markets with value creation along the entire hydrogen value chain.
Norway´s energy strategy is structured around five closely interrelated themes addressing:
- Energy security of supply security
- A fully integrated energy market
- Energy efficiency
- Decarbonising the economy
- Research, innovation and competitiveness.
The current focus is on hydrogen, offshore wind technologies and the maritime sector as the three main priority areas for energy sector integration.
The Nordic power exchange, Nord Pool, was established at an early stage where considerable experiences have been achieved concerning the electricity market. Combining the large storage capacity of the Norwegian hydropower with variable renewable energy, like wind and solar, can provide an improved flexibility in the electricity market. The oil & gas industry in Norway has the ambition to cut emissions from oil and gas production. Very recently, the Mongstad site (one of the Norway’s largest industrial areas) has been chosen as the preferred location for what is the country’s first liquid hydrogen production plant for the maritime industry .
As the industry and market currently indicate, Norway is very well placed to be one of the major world exporters of hydrogen and in particular of blue hydrogen produced from natural gas (SMR process with CCS – Carbon Capture and Storage) and green hydrogen produced from water electrolysers powered by renewable energy systems (RES) . Norway has strong natural gas resources, technological capabilities and R&D (universities and research organisations e.g. the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Narvik University College, University of Agder, University of Bergen, University of Oslo, Vestfold University College, CMR Prototech, IFE, Norwegian Defence Research Establishment, SINTEF etc) within these fields and has long-term experience in carbon capture sequestration (CCS), which will be an important part of the EC’s hydrogen strategy . As an example, since the 1990’s, hydrogen R&D activities at NTNU have been growing, and in January 2019, NTNU formally established and implemented NTNU Team Hydrogen, in line with NTNU’s motto Knowledge for a better world. NTNU Team Hydrogen is the largest hydrogen R&D cluster in Scandinavia consisting of world experts on hydrogen energy that work within the hydrogen R&D value chain.
The country can also benefit in the short term of blue hydrogen, and slowly transition to green hydrogen in the longer term to spread the risk. Norway has several initiatives for the production (from hydro power, wind power, natural gas with CCS, solar power sites etc) and use of hydrogen with the objective of creating value and green jobs, using energy resources, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, and exporting energy and technology [4,5]. As an example, the 2050 market for exporting hydrogen from Norway could amount to €20bn in annual revenue and provide more than 25,000 jobs .
Norway has very long experience with green hydrogen, nearly a century! To name but a few examples: in 1927, the first electrolyser (>100 MW) was installed at Norsk Hydro in Notodden, for the generation of pure hydrogen dedicated to fertiliser production; in 1940, the world’s largest water electrolysis plant was built in Rjukan with a total capacity of more than 30,000 Nm3/hour of hydrogen from hydropower; and in 1953, a large scale electrolyser powered by hydro-electricity was installed in Glomfjord for the production of ammonia .
Norway is also home to leaders in renewable energy and electrolyser companies, e.g. Statkraft, Europe´s largest generator of hydropower, wind power and solar power; Nel Hydrogen, electrolyser manufacturer, now increasing its production capacity in Norway; and Hexagon Composites and Umoe Advanced Composites, solution companies for hydrogen storage and transport, to name but a few.
According to Nel Hydrogen, the current global electrolyser market is estimated at circa 0.1GW/year, which is very small when compared to the solar PV market at 130GW/year. The global total addressable market is estimated at ca. 4,000GW .
In the case of Equinor (previously known as Statoil), the oil & gas company has concrete plans for hydrogen production for replacing natural gas power plants, replacing natural gas in heating (UK) and producing liquid hydrogen for the maritime sector (NO).
As it stands, Norway produces circa 225,000 tonnes of hydrogen, which it is used for example, for the production of ammonia used in the fertiliser production (70,000 tonnes per year, Yara) and the production of methanol (112,500 tonnes per year, Equinor/ConocoPhillips) .
In the transport sector, Norway’s National Transport Plan aims for zero emission targets with a strong drive to decarbonise the passenger vehicles (both cars and buses), heavy-duty vehicles (trucks) and car and high-speed passenger ferries. As an example, the Norwegian wholesaler ASKO has hydrogen fuel cell trucks (Scania).
There are many other opportunities for hydrogen in Norway, for example, in the use of hydrogen for metal production (titanium), and in gas turbines. Some on-going projects are being run for the maritime, offshore, agriculture and fish farming sectors, for example, the SHIPFC project (the use of green ammonia in shipping – 2MW pilot demonstration Viking Energy), zero-emission Small Ships project (ESNA: H2 PEM crew transport vessel), FreeCO2ast project (H2 PEM fuel cell system for the Havila Coastal Route), the Pilot-e project (liquid hydrogen to decarbonise the Norwegian maritime transport), the Agri-e project (20kW biogas test unit for agriculture use). In 2017, under the HYBRIDship project, the Norwegian shipbuilder Fiskerstrand and other leading Norwegian industrial partners were awarded R&D funding to develop and design a hydrogen fuel cell powered ferry, through the PILOT-E scheme for real-world testing . Last year, the Norwegian ferry operator Norled announced plans to in develop hydrogen-powered car ferries (powered by liquid hydrogen and compressed hydrogen).
Wind energy and hydrogen
The Haeolus project funded by the EU FCH-JU (€7m, 70% public support, 2018-2022), has the main objective to produce 1,000kg of hydrogen per day from 2.5MW electrolyser (Hydrogenics) installed in the remote village of Berlevåg, Finnmark powered by wind energy, directly connected (to avoid grid tariff) to Raggovidda wind park (45MW) – see graphic [14,15]. Due to remoteness and the low population density of the area, the power grid is quite weak, and Raggovidda wind park could not be built up to its full concession (200MW), even if its capacity factor is very high (close to 50%). This is actually common for the best onshore wind resources worldwide, as large villages are rarely settled in stormy areas. Hydrogen is therefore sought as a solution to export wind energy without the installation of long-range and large-capacity power lines.
The estimated full potential of the Varanger peninsula, where Berlevåg is located, is up to 400 tonnes of hydrogen per day, far outstripping local demand. Still, the availability of significant amounts of hydrogen in the near future has attracted the interest of the local authorities, who are eager to exploit this opportunity for economic development. As the main economic activity in the area is fishing, a project for the design of a hydrogen-fuelled coastal fishing boat has recently kicked off. The “chicken and egg” problem for the Haeolus project translates into the need to operate a large electrolyser and guarantee supply of hydrogen long enough for the demand side to develop. To maintain the financial viability of operating a multi-MW hydrogen plant for months or years, a core industrial customer is currently being identified to absorb a constant amount of hydrogen during the initial period. Providing grid services to the grid operator (primary, secondary, tertiary reserves) by modulating hydrogen production is also a feasible method to maintain profitability of the plant at part load, especially in the presence of large amounts of intermittent wind power.
Cover graphic showing hydrogen distribution in the commune of Troms og Finnmark, which is the northernmost and easternmost county in Norway. By area, it is Norway’s largest county, and one of the least populated of all Norwegian counties. © Arc Giraff, Norway.
Acknowledgement – Federico Zenith, Haeolus project leader, Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of Energy and Process Engineering, NTNU, Norway.
About the author
Bruno G. Pollet is the NTNU Team Hydrogen Leader; Full Professor of Renewable Energy at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (Norway); Extraordinary Professor of Hydrogen Energy at the University of the Western Cape (South Africa); and Visiting Professor at HySAFER, Ulster University (UK).
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