Italy’s National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development, ENEA, is developing a ‘hydrogen valley' in the province of Rome–an energy community based on a hydrogen ecosystem covering an area of about 100 hectares, including the production of hydrogen from photovoltaics, experiments on innovative electrolyzers, construction of a 1km pipeline for transporting pure hydrogen and a second pipeline for a blend of hydrogen and methane, but also the integration of end-use technologies such as fuel cells.
“The aim is to launch an ecosystem for the hydrogen economy that aims to be an important reference point on a national scale for research, innovation, and technology transfer, but, above all, hydrogen-related industrial sectors,” Giorgio Graditi, director of the department of energy technologies and renewable sources at ENEA, told pv magazine, adding that part of the hydrogen will be produced by a photovoltaic system linked to an electrolyzer of around 200 kW.
The hydrogen valley is part of the ‘Mission Innovation' strategy, an initiative through which 24 member states and the European Commission are committed to doubling public research funding. The funds come directly from member states.
In the €14 million hydrogen valley, ENEA will install a commercial alkaline or polymer electrolyzer, and research advanced electrolyzers.
“We are working on advanced solutions to increase the conversion efficiency of electrolyzers and the hours of operation, which are critical aspects on which we need to intervene,” said Graditi, mentioning well-established alkaline and polymer electrolysis but also the need to push the technology frontier, embracing technologies such as AEM–electrolyzers with an anion-exchange membrane–or high-temperature electrolyzers.
Graditi explained that, while today's electrolyzers reach around 200 MW of capacity, electrolyzers of at least 1 GW should be available by 2025. That would imply a reduction in installation costs of between €400-600 per kilowatt and electricity consumption of 50 kWh/kg for electrolyzers operating at low temperatures.
The project will use Italian funds under the Mission Innovation initiative. “Italy has significant expertise in the sector,” Graditi affirmed. “Just think of SOLIDpower, in fuel cells, and Denora and Nuvera for electrolyzers. Italy can play a key role in this game, counting on a ready-made industrial chain and research centers of international importance, where a clear political direction will be key, able to enhance green technologies according to the principle of technological neutrality and within a coordinated and integrated national action.”
According to Graditi, the investments could also have repercussions on the production of photovoltaic panels in Italy. “A hydrogen economy could help increase the production in the EU area of photovoltaic modules required to generate renewable energy to power electrolyzers,” he also stated. “Therefore, also in Italy, we could see a revival of PV module production chains and the enhancement of those already existing.”
Common European interest
ENEA is the technical and scientific advisor to the Italian Ministry of Economic Development for the IPCEI on hydrogen (important project of common European interest). It has identified the interest of 150 Italian companies ready to collaborate. At the national level, it is working on evaluating the projects proposed by these companies to create a national production chain within the European context.
Italy is also speaking with other European countries, mainly Germany, France, the Netherlands, Denmark, Portugal, and Spain. “It's about cooperation and a common vision for a European hydrogen economy,” Graditi said. At this time, meetings are taking place at the European level with the commission's Department of Growth, Germany, and France to define the next steps for the hydrogen IPCEI. The question now is whether to prioritize the readiest technologies or those more consistent with the European framework. Germany is likely to be the “lead country”; it should lead the definition of the overall European document for the IPCEI.
Green or blue hydrogen?
On 8 July, 2020, the European Commission launched the European Hydrogen Strategy with a twofold objective: on the one hand, to promote and extend the use of hydrogen as a replacement for fossil fuels, and, on the other, to decarbonize production, giving priority to green hydrogen, but also considering other low-carbon production processes. The IPCEI and the hydrogen valleys around Europe meet the objectives of the European strategy. The color of hydrogen will also depend on other, ongoing discussions, such as taxonomy, the set of rules that defines which investments are green and which are not.
“Ours is a technology-neutral approach because we have to consider that all transition processes have to be gradual,” Graditi emphasized. “Green hydrogen is undoubtedly the goal but mature technologies [that are] already part of national manufacturing chains must be exploited and used for this transition. This is the case for blue hydrogen. There are various national interests in this, such as those of Eni, Saipem, and Snam.”
According to Graditi, the competitiveness of green hydrogen will only be achieved when the price will fall below €2 per kilogram. He added that reaching these levels will depend on private investment as well as European investment through the IPCEI on hydrogen and other instruments such as the recovery fund. “The ideal five-year period is 2025-2030 to achieve this challenging objective.”
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