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Romania might become one of Europe’s biggest hydrogen hubs: investments of over 1,6 bn euros are in early stages of development

Hydrogen has a good chance of emerging into one of Romania’s major industries, experts say, projects with a value of over 1,6 billion euros being analysed by the country’s top energy and industrial companies. Besides green hydrogen, blue (based on gas) and pink (based on nuclear) hydrogen have a solid chance of development given the big local production and future nuclear energy projects.

“The hydrogen hub is a complex of energy and chemical installations including hydrogen production and consumption”, says Dumitru Coman, Chief Technical Officer (CTO) at Chimcomplex, the biggest Romanian exporter of chemical products.

Chimcomplex, the company that currently operates the assets of Oltchim (Vâlcea) and Borzești, is owned by Ștefan Vuza, one of the biggest Romanian entrepreneurs. Mr Vuza recently said that his intention is to develop a hydrogen hub around its portfolio in a move to decarbonise his industrial core processes.

Dumitru Coman
Dumitru Coman, Chief Technical Officer at Chimcomplex. Courtesy of Chimcomplex.

“Chimcomplex currently operates two brine electrolysis units with a total annual hydrogen production of 5,400 tonnes/year,” Mr Coman tells CEENERGYNEWS. “At the same time for the future development, Chimcomplex is interested in putting into operation other electrolysis units (of brine and/or water) producing hydrogen. In all variants of electrolysis, hydrogen is produced from water and by using renewable energy (photovoltaic) we will ensure green hydrogen. The new electrolysis capacities (2×20 megawatts) will provide approximately 2×3,000 t/year of hydrogen.”

According to the data provided by Chimcomplex, the electricity used in the electrolysis process will come from renewable sources, since the project also includes over 2×10 MW photovoltaic parks, as well as high-efficiency cogeneration sources, partially decarbonated.

“Chimcomplex develops the concept of Hydrogen Chemistry and Energy which involves the main use of hydrogen for technological processes,” he continues. “Today we have chemical processes in operation in which we use Hydrogen from Electrolysis and CO2 captured to produce oxo alcohols (octanol for plasticisers).”

Mr Coman also says that certain investments are already in execution, with a planned delivery between 2021-2023.

“Others are in preparation as part of Green Deal projects with potential funding from European Funds (with commissioning date 2024-2026),” he adds.

European funds and good legislative support could mean that in the years to come the hydrogen hub Chimcomplex envisages might reach a level of investment of 900 million euros.

“The value of the projects in the first stage is from 80-90 million euros and can reach over 900 million euros for the entire Hydrogen Hub project”, Mr Coman says.

And this is not the only project that might transform Romania into one of the biggest hydrogen hubs in Europe.

Hidroelectrica, the state-owned green power producer, has some plans of its own concerning hydrogen. The company is involved in the GREEN HYDROGEN @ BLUE DANUBE consortium, a 5,85 billion euros investment in 9 countries along the Danube, led by Austria’s Verbund.

“With an electrolysis capacity of around 1.5 gigawatts (GW), over 80,000 tons of green hydrogen per year are to be produced in South-East Europe at competitive prices from around 2 GW of renewable energy and will be imported to Austria and Germany by our Liquid Organic Hydrogen Carrier (LOHC) technology. Conventional inland waterway vessels, which otherwise load fossil liquid fuels, are very well suited for the main logistic routes on the river Danube”, according to Hydrogenious LOHC Technologies, Verbund’s partner in this project.

The 1.5 GW electrolysis capacity might reach an investment of 775 million euros, according to the data from Hydrogen Europe, a Brussels headquartered organisation, representing the European hydrogen and fuel cell sector, with more than 260 member companies and 27 National Associations.

“For Romania, the only hydrogen production project that has been publicly announced is the Blue Danube project,” says Hydrogen Europe. “The project is led by Austrian utility Verbund and plans to produce green hydrogen in Romania using renewable electricity.”

According to the European Commission, renewable green hydrogen can be produced in electrolysers by splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen using renewable electricity. Renewable hydrogen can in turn be used to produce industrial products, such as green fertilisers and green steel. It can also be used in the mobility sector, especially in heavy-duty and long-distance transport applications. 

“It is also compatible with an electricity sector that is increasingly dominated by renewable power generation, providing long-term and large-scale storage, and flexibility to the energy system”, the Commission says.

According to a map designed by Hydrogen Europe, Romania ranks as the fourth European country given its hydrogen potential, after the Netherlands, Spain and Germany.

“The map that you refer to has been produced based on Hydrogen Europe database of planned hydrogen projects,” Hydrogen Europe tells CEENERGYNEWS. “These figures consider projects at various stages of maturity, from concept to construction stage, planned to be operational by 2030. These figures are monitored by Hydrogen Europe and valid as of December 2020. They are constantly changing as more projects are developed and announced. Assumptions have been made regarding electrolyser costs, electrolyser capacity factor, renewable capacity factors, renewable investment costs. As the publication states, the investment associated with each project only pertains to the electrolyser in each project and does not take into account any other associated project costs.”

Courtesy of Hydrogen Europe.

According to the organisation, the future development of the hydrogen economy entails its production mostly using electricity via electrolysis, transportation through new pipeline infrastructure or repurposed natural gas pipelines and end-uses in mobility, various industries and as energy storage.

“Some countries might be active across the whole hydrogen value chain (production, transmission, consumption), while others might only focus on producing hydrogen or retooling their industries to consume green or low-carbon hydrogen in their industries,” continues Hydrogen Europe. “Different countries will also host different parts of the technological value chain, producing or specialising in the production of the equipment necessary to the Hydrogen economy.”

This is not the first time hydrogen enjoys the spotlight, but today the resource is seen as a major instrument for the EU to reach its 2030 climate goals.

“Hydrogen projects are eligible for EU Funding at different levels and by different instruments,” states Hydrogen Europe. “Research, innovation and demonstration may receive funding through Horizon Europe, first scale industrial demonstration is funded through the Innovation and Modernisation Fund, while large scale commercial and industrial roll-out could be funded through the recovery and resilience fund and the Just Transition Fund.”

According to the European Commission data, hydrogen accounts for less than 2 per cent of Europe’s present energy consumption and is primarily used to produce chemical products, such as plastics and fertilisers. Ninety-six per cent of this hydrogen production is produced through natural gas, emitting significant amounts of CO2 emissions in the process.  

Hydrogen can however also be produced from renewable energy. This so-called renewable hydrogen (also called green hydrogen) is expected to play a key role in the decarbonisation of sectors

Specialists say that besides the green hydrogen, Romania must wisely play its cards for blue hydrogen and pink hydrogen.

Blue hydrogen is produced by the reforming of methane into hydrogen plus CO2, the latter being captured and stored in special purposed units. Pink hydrogen, on the other hand, is made via electrolysis, but using nuclear energy as its source of power. Here, again, Romania might play a big role given its plans to build two new nuclear reactors at the Cernavoda Power Plant.

“Romania has a unique opportunity for its vast gas resources, but the steps must be done quickly because its window of opportunity is narrowing”, said Catalin Stancu, associated senior expert at Horvath&Partners consultancy firm.

According to Mr Stancu, Romania has everything it needs for developing a local blue hydrogen industry, from consistent local gas production, with a good perspective to grow due to the Black Sea exploration and production projects, a solid infrastructure and good local know-how.

According to the EU Hydrogen Strategy, from now to 2024, the Commission will support the installation of at least 6 GW of renewable hydrogen electrolysers in the EU and the production of up to 1 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen.

From 2025 to 2030, hydrogen needs to become an intrinsic part of the integrated energy system, according to the strategy, with at least 40 GW of renewable hydrogen electrolysers and the production of up to 10 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen in the EU.

The total investment in hydrogen might be between 180 and 470 billion euros by 2050.

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