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CEE in ‘exciting’ position for green hydrogen transition – interview with the Messer Group

Messer will be present at the 2nd Budapest Hydrogen Summit, to be held on 4 April.

Ahead of the upcoming Budapest Hydrogen Summit, we sat down with two senior executives from the German industrial gases company, the Messer Group: Tim Evison, Senior Vice President for Clean Hydrogen and Sustainability and Zsolt Bohner, Managing Director at Messer Hungarogáz.

Kicking off our discussion, we ask Mr Evison about Messer’s main projects in the context of Europe’s green hydrogen ambitions.

“Hydrogen can be used in very many sectors as an energy carrier, but it is not our objective to become an energy company. Rather we are focused on serving industrial companies and fleet operators who need high supply reliability and service. This is our niche – one we serve well already with on-site gas production equipment and applications technology, especially in Hungary,” he says.

In order to provide clean hydrogen to our customers we have joined with technology partners such as Siemens Energy and the Schmidt Kranz Group of companies, both of whom are producing advanced PEM electrolysers. As an energy-intensive company, we have considerable experience in energy purchasing and efficient but flexible operations. Our customers know that we will work hard to understand their needs precisely and so design an optimal supply scheme for them including storage and backup services. That’s why we – and they – are successful.

Turning to Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), Mr Evison says that the company is “well positioned” in the region’s industrial gases which “translates into an exciting opportunity with clean hydrogen in particular.”

Today we are already working with major companies in Eastern Europe and Hungary to support their decarbonisation projects.

Since the start of the war in Ukraine, interest in hydrogen, biogas and other renewable energy sources has skyrocketed among European policymakers – the EU’s REPowerEU strategy and the European Hydrogen Bank being emblematic of this. We asked the senior executives whether the recent energy paradigm shift in Europe has changed Messer’s overall business strategy.

Mr Tim Evison. Photo: courtesy of Messer Group.

Mr Evison points out that Messer saw the “business potential” for renewable hydrogen long before it was a commercial proposition. “Over recent decades our teams have gained considerable experience in hydrogen refuelling, working with partners in Europe and the US to complete over 4.5 million refuelling operations. Today we stand ready to install, support and supply hydrogen infrastructure to meet our customers’ needs for reliability, safety and cost-effectiveness,” he adds.

In terms of the company’s response to global events such as the war in Ukraine and climate change, the Senior Vice President for Clean Hydrogen and Sustainability said that Messer and Toyota Tsusho are now offering a one-stop shop to enable cities to deploy larger fleets of hydrogen buses more quickly.

Messer’s place in a new Europe

Discussing the opportunities and challenges associated with the new security, energy and political landscape in Europe, Zsolt Bohner says that Europe and Hungary are taking the energy and environmental requirements of the transition “seriously.”

“It is expected that with the growth of the green hydrogen market and the wider deployment of green hydrogen manufacturing equipment, the hydrogen economy equipment will also become cheaper and thus more affordable in the longer term. EU funds may also be available for this if we replace fossil fuels,” the Managing Director of Messer Hungarogáz adds.

Hydrogen-based mobility may become competitive soonest for the transport tasks – local bus traffic, regular high-volume material handling – in larger industrial areas (Hydrogen Valleys). This is particularly true in areas where the surplus electricity from renewable sources that cannot be absorbed by the grid is utilised with directly and locally produced hydrogen.

“Further, the hydrogen produced for blending into the natural gas network, which is already in the preparatory stage, for example, pilot projects that are being built, should not be overlooked either,” he continues. “There is a great energy potential in hydrogen production and its possible use locally not only for mobility but also for fertiliser production.”

Looking further into Messer’s presence in Hungary, we ask Mr Bohner whether there are any regulatory/legislative barriers facing Messer Hungarogáz today. “The so-called White Paper supporting Hungary’s National Hydrogen Strategy separately addresses the legislative issues. As far as hydrogen mobility is concerned, clarifying the issue of excise duty on hydrogen used directly as a fuel will be one of the most important legislative tasks, not only in Hungary of course. The current official positions are still controversial and treat the hydrogen used in explosive engines separately from hydrogen used in fuel cells, for example,” he says.

Mr Zsolt Bohner. Photo: courtesy of Messer Group.

According to him, the situation where a green hydrogen plant does not have its own renewable energy source on site but has to obtain some or all of it from external sources, is also not solved. In other words, when the electricity produced by several decentralised “green energy” producers for the grid becomes the fuel for consumers also producing “green hydrogen” elsewhere in space and time. It is already a step forward that the EU has taken a position on the issue of electricity used for hydrogen production, stating that the amount used for hydrogen production should be equal to the amount of electricity from renewable sources that is fed into the system.

So, if we build an electrolysis plant next to a solar farm as a direct user, it is clear that up to the amount of the “green electricity” used, the hydrogen produced is also considered “green” and can therefore receive, for example, tax credits, subsidies or higher prices. But if the two types of production are spatially and even temporally separated, there is no legislation on how the accounting should be done. Both the legal framework and the incentive and support system must be put in place.

“A solution should be found to the fact that at present both the electricity producer and the remote user pay a grid usage fee, which is not objectionable as a procedure in itself, but in the case of renewable energy production and use, some kind of discount should be provided, so that this essentially environmental and economic policy intention is also supported from the economic point of view,” Mr Bohner adds.

Messer’s future role in hydrogen mobility

In January, Messer provided green hydrogen for the JIVE-2 Hydrogen Bus Road Show pilot project which included a stop in Paks, Hungary, something that Mr Bohner considers a significant step forward to be able to present functioning systems that are already in place, that are tangible, visible and measurable.

“As an industrial gas producer, Messer can cover almost the entire vertical range, so from hydrogen production to compression, transport and storage, to the turnkey delivery of filling stations, we can help build and provide the infrastructure,” he says.

Paired with Toyota’s Caetano fuel cell buses, the roadshow showcased Messer’s hydrogen expertise, with the support of the EU’s Clean Hydrogen Partnership and funding from the JIVE-2 project. The visit to Paks was a great success: Paks itself and other Hungarian cities are keen to build on the experience gained so far and shift to zero-emission bus transport.

“Together with the Toyota Group – in particular with CaetanoBus being part of Toyota Motors, as well as Toyota Tsusho and Toyota Financial Services – we can make the transition to hydrogen public transport as easy as possible for bus operators: it is a real one-stop shop solution,” the Managing Director of Messer Hungarogáz adds.

Wrapping up the discussion on hydrogen mobility, Mr Bohner says that the company could also be “directly and almost immediately” in the transport of high-pressure hydrogen by road and the provision of hydrogen storage facilities. “But we are also involved in providing training on the handling of hydrogen – as a medium with special properties – as well as in the training of hydrogen engineers, as we have decades of industrial experience in this field,” he concludes.

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