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The hydrogen story of Hungary

This opinion editorial was co-authored by Tamás Mérő, Head of Reservoir Team, Hungarian Gas Storage.

Hydrogen is the lightest element. Hydrogen is a clean fuel. Hydrogen is a trending topic in our energy world, a subject of debate and an issue at the same time. It raises a lot of questions such as green or other colours, pure or blended, large or small scale, etc.

Hydrogen is a trending topic as a pathfinder solution for the 2050’s decarbonisation target, but the question is still open about the optimal share of green hydrogen in the energy mix. We believe that the first step is to identify the pros and cons through R&D pilot projects and find a solvent demand.

The EU Hydrogen Strategy has set the strategic objective to install 6 gigawatts (GW) of green hydrogen electrolyser in the EU and produce up to 1 million tons of green hydrogen by 2024. The ambitious plan is to have 40 GW of green hydrogen electrolysers and produce up to 10 million tons of green hydrogen in the EU by 2030. Following the EU hydrogen strategy, many EU Member countries compiled their national hydrogen strategy in 2021.

National hydrogen strategies recognise the industrial and mobility sectors as the two main demand markets where a significant role is envisaged for hydrogen over the next three decades. But how to get there? This is still the subject of debate, hence there is no silver bullet way.

The convenience of blending depends on local conditions – industrial and population density, geography, type of energy infrastructure. However, its indisputable advantage lies in using the already existing infrastructure. This leads us to the issue of quality, security and heat of combustion. Hungary is making good progress in the spread of hydrogen-based technologies through investments into hydrogen-related R&D pilot projects.

The Aquamarine project of Hungarian Gas Storage (HGS) is one of these pilot projects and already offers answers for the above issues.

During the short timeline (applied research programs must be completed within 24 months) six R&D programs are managed in close cooperation with Hungarian universities. These programs are focusing on investigating the suitability of the existing natural gas infrastructure for hydrogen blended natural gas and the aim of the 6th program (LOHC storage) is to develop pure hydrogen storage for transportation and mobility sectors. The results of the first milestone are more impressive than expected: the technical feasibility of the blended system was verified. The results of hydrodynamic modelling indicate unexpected segregation and mitigation after mixing into the system during continuous operation.

Hydrogen can cause three typical physical-chemical property effects in steels: hydrogen-induced cracking, chemical reactions with hydrate formation and stress corrosion. To understand these reactions, investigation chambers (hydrogenation vessels) and equipment were developed. This own-developed technical solution is in the patent application. The overall aim is to prove that the elements of the existing natural gas infrastructure comply with the applicable technical and safety standards when using blends.

HGS will develop a hydrogen production system in the existing natural gas infrastructure (plant in the plant concept) therefore wide research support is vital to our technical planning. Clear and comprehensive solutions are required due to the novelty of the project.

Implementation still raises challenges, the biggest of which is to manage and improve public awareness. Technical and regulatory innovations are going hand in hand while a public awareness campaign can promote the use of blends and pure hydrogen in the existing infrastructure. The Aquamarine project handles the process with a step-by-step plan: local mining authority, disaster protection, environmental protection, transmission system operator, distribution operators, local government and the public have been already involved by the project team.

Meanwhile, HGS has launched its second hydrogen project in October 2021. This project is carried out in collaboration with eight underground gas storage operators in an international consortium. The goal is to examine the hydrogen-caused reactions in the porous reservoir, which is invisible to the eyes. Eight different Working Groups were formed to develop measurements of microbiological activities, geochemical reactions, flow behaviour and durability and integrity of well and rock materials under underground gas storage conditions.

In conclusion, Aquamarine is definitely the first swallow in Hungary and significantly contributes to the spread of hydrogen technologies in the CEE region.

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