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Hydrogen is unique as it is such a pure product. It leaves no residues, no carbon dioxide, no carbon atoms. This is one of the reasons why hydrogen is playing a key role in the transition to a climate-neutral Sweden.
Sweden’s national goal is to achieve a climate-neutral society by 2045. Two milestones in reaching this goal are a fossil-independent transport sector by 2030 and fossil-free power generation by 2040. Hydrogen, in its capacity as an energy carrier, will play an important role in all these objectives.
Hydrogen is the lightest element. As a gas, it is odourless, colourless and highly flammable. Pure hydrogen is rarely found in nature, but is usually bound to other elements instead, such as oxygen to form water, H2O. Through the process of electrolysis, water can be split into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity.
It is difficult to store energy that is produced with renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Storage can take place using batteries for a short period of time, whereas hydrogen allows longer-term storage. Converting the hydrogen back into electricity requires the use of a fuel cell. A chemical reaction produces electricity, water vapour and heat.
– “We are increasingly moving towards weather-dependent energy systems, which means that efficient storage is necessary – and hydrogen can provide this. The gas is also becoming an important energy carrier in basic industrial processes,” says Markus Norström, Business and Innovation Area Manager in the Energy area at RISE.
The challenge lies in the fact that hydrogen requires caution when being handled. Because it is very energy-rich, it can also be dangerous. But it can be handled, with training and regulations.
The more energy we can get into the system, the cheaper it will be
Markus Norström points out that hydrogen is a resource that is common to many different industries.
– “This makes it possible to identify new collaborations and constellations in relation to the gas. In this respect, RISE can help establish new contacts and suggest collaborations,” he says.
Hydrogen that is produced in a large industry can be utilised in several different ways. Some can be stored, with the remainder being used in industries in the vicinity or transferred to heating plants in nearby communities. Finally, it is possible to sell the oxygen that is left over following the production of the hydrogen.
– “When investing in renewable energy such as solar panels and wind turbines, it is the initial investment that costs money. After that, the energy is free and, thanks to hydrogen technology, it can be stored. The more energy we can get into the system, the cheaper it will be. In this way, renewable energy systems and hydrogen need each other,” says Stefan Ivarsson, Unit Manager within the Renewable Energy from Wind and Sea area at RISE.
– “The fact that hydrogen can be stored makes it possible for an industry to become a player in the energy market, which makes it extremely interesting from a commercial perspective as well,” he adds.
Both Stefan Ivarsson and Markus Norström state that hydrogen is very hot right now, both at an EU level and in Sweden. Above all, a great deal is happening in the steel industry, although more and more industries are showing an interest. Hydrogen is also extremely practical in the case of long-distance, heavy transport, both on the road and on that part of the railway that is not electrified.
We are a broad research institute working across all sectors, and we consequently have a broad perspective
Sweden is rapidly becoming electrified. Most of the solutions that can lead to a sustainable transport sector and sustainable basic industry require good access to electricity.
– “The big challenge for society is where we are going to get all the electricity from. According to some scenarios, it will be necessary to double production levels within 20 years. This is an enormous challenge, especially as the electricity has to be sustainable,” says Markus Norström.
– “In the past, discussions have mainly focused on the need to expand the networks. But this isn’t enough. We also have to expand energy production, and it has to be expanded in many locations, such as in Skåne and the Stockholm area,” says Stefan Ivarsson.
RISE is aware that the energy issue is a concern for those who want to invest at the moment. Investors are completely dependent on the availability of energy at a competitive price when the time comes to launch the business.
– “The government is in the process of developing an electrification strategy. Together with various other stakeholders, RISE is promoting the idea of developing something we call Energiklivet (the Energy Step), which will ensure that the energy system actually keeps up and supports ever faster electrification. The aim is to generate confidence that electricity will be available in future and will be sustainable. Energiklivet covers energy in general, not just hydrogen,” says Markus Norström.
To achieve successful electrification, it is necessary, for example, to have system integration of heating, electricity and hydrogen, the proactive expansion of the systems, upskilling and reskilling, as well as a developed electricity market. The idea is that Energiklivet will become an arena for close collaboration between the state, authorities, regions, municipalities, energy suppliers, energy consumers and research.
RISE has been working on the hydrogen issue for a long time, and has built up wide-ranging expertise in this area.
– “We are a broad research institute working across all sectors, and we consequently have a broad perspective. We also have stakeholders right across the country and collaborate with the regional clusters that have been formed in relation to hydrogen,” explains Stefan Ivarsson.
RISE has also developed testbeds focusing on hydrogen, where testing is carried out on electrolysers and electrolysis processes, for example. RISE also has material-related testbeds, where materials are tested in respect of use in pipelines and storage tanks.
– “We also possess the expertise to simulate hydrogen systems in a computer environment, which enables us to build up a lot of knowledge in this way as well,” says Stefan Ivarsson.