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Push toward hydrogen-based economy continues in Finland

Green hydrogen is a versatile fuel and an energy carrier that enables the long-haul transfer and long-term storage of renewable energy.

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Efforts to produce and utilise more renewable hydrogen are underway in various parts of the country.

Neste in November announced it has received 88 million euros in funding for a project to utilise electrolysis and carbon capture and storage solutions to decarbonise its refinery in Porvoo, Southern Finland. The project is expected to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by over four million tonnes in the first 10 years of operation, representing a key step in the effort to make the refinery the most sustainable in Europe by 2030.

The funding is part of an investment of over 1.1 billion euros made in seven large-scale decarbonisation projects by the EU Innovation Fund.

“We are proud to have been selected as one of the seven granted projects out of more than 300 applicants in one of the world’s largest funding programmes for the demonstration of innovative low-carbon technologies,” commented Peter Vanacker, CEO at Neste.

The Espoo-headquartered oil and gas industry giant has also announced a plan to put together a network of leading technology suppliers and research institutes to establish a foundation for a hub for green hydrogen and carbon dioxide utilisation in Europe.

Neste has received a significant boost for its effort to decarbonise its refinery in Porvoo, Southern Finland. Image: Neste

Green or renewable hydrogen is widely perceived as a means to reduce the dependence of industry and transport on fossil fuels. It is not only a versatile fuel that offers a clean alternative to oil and gas in domains such as domestic and commercial heating, agriculture and heavy industry, and air, road and water transport, but also a great energy carrier that enables the long-haul transfer and long-term storage of renewable energy.

The fuel is typically produced by breaking down water into hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis, a process that can be emissions free depending on the electricity used.

Only about five per cent of hydrogen worldwide, however, is currently produced with renewable fuels, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). Carbon dioxide emissions from hydrogen production consequently amount to roughly 830 million tonnes globally, including 70–100 million tonnes in the EU.

Hydrogen fuel is produced by breaking down water into hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis. Image: Neste

The ability to produce vast amounts of clean and affordable energy is precisely what provides a competitive advantage for Finland, believes Mikko Heikkilä, director of strategic grid planning at Fingrid.

“A strong electricity transmission grid enables the creation of a hydrogen-based economy and utilisation of the growth potential of Finland,” he stated.

Fingrid and Gasgrid Finland announced earlier this month they are launching a research and development project with a consortium of businesses and research institutions as continuation of their joint effort to explore the possibilities of a hydrogen-based economy and the role of the energy infrastructure as its facilitator.

The objective is to identify measures for facilitating hydrogen-based economy from the viewpoint of energy markets and systems.

Sara Kärki, head of division at Gasgrid Finland, underscored that it is important to create an energy system that is as cost-efficient as possible from a society-wide viewpoint for integrating the hydrogen grid.

“Wide-ranging collaboration with businesses and research institutes promotes the creation of a competitive and functioning market and distribution platform for diverse gases in Finland,” she said.

The consortium has been granted a budget of over 10 million euros by Business Finland.

Alternative production methods are also required as it is uncertain whether solar, wind and other forms of renewable energy will suffice to meet the expected surge in demand in the near future, according to Laura Rahikka, CEO of Hycamite.

The Kokkola, Central Ostrobothnia-based startup reported at the start of this autumn that it has set up a facility to pilot and research its method of producing hydrogen without greenhouse gas emissions.

The facility utilises electrically heated fixed- and fluidised-bed reactors to break down methane molecules in biogas and natural gas into hydrogen and pure solid carbon, a material used in the production of electric vehicle batteries, for example. The hydrogen and unreacted methane are separated from the resultant gas stream in a pressure-swing absorption unit, with the methane then circulated back into the reactor and the solid carbon cooled down and packed for clients.

The method is based on applied chemistry research conducted at the University of Oulu.

“Our production will enable companies to switch to using pure hydrogen in the next few years because the hydrogen produced by wind and solar power will not be enough on the market to meet the growing demand for a long time to come,” said Rahikka.

Next year, Hycamite is planning to break ground on an industrial pilot plant for sustainable hydrogen production in Finland. Image: Hycamite

Hycamite is next year also set to break ground on an industrial pilot plant in Kokkola.

Plans to construct a renewable hydrogen production facility are afoot also in Southwest Finland. Green H2UB, a special-purpose company founded by Turku-based Elomatic, and Turun Seudun Energiantuotanto (TSE) in September put pen to paper on a letter of intent to determine the feasibility of building a green hydrogen plant on the premises of TSE in Naantali.

The facility tackles one of the main downsides of green hydrogen – about a third of the electricity used in the production being lost as heat – by feeding the heat into the nearby district heating network, thus improving the energy efficiency of hydrogen.

“A hydrogen economy is a significant part of a future energy system where the production of clean heat and electricity, together with transport fuel production, form a seamless whole. Centralising these production facilities will benefit everyone,” envisionedMaija Henell, chief executive at TSE.

Green H2UB and Turun Seudun Energiantuotanto (TSE) have agreed to look into the possibility of building a hydrogen production facility on the site of a combined heat and electricity plant in Naantali, Southwest Finland. Image: Elomatic

The project is part of the activities of Green Industry Park, a company set up to create a bio- and circular economy hub on former oil refinery sites in Naantali and Raisio. The project could be completed at the earliest in 2023.

“I am glad that the first bio- and circular economy project in the area can be launched already before the land area itself is handed over from the refinery,” said Panu Routila, board chairperson at Green Industry Park.

“It will become a significant part of the new ecosystem that will be developed in the area.”

Helena Sarén, head of smart energy at Business Finland, believes partnerships, be it between governments, businesses or research organisations, are critical for seizing the opportunities of hydrogen.

“Seizing the opportunities of hydrogen is a global task and will require minds from around the world to work together,” she said. “Finland is committed to bringing innovation, technology and businesses together to create business opportunities and achieve our goal of maintaining and securing a viable planet for future generations.”

By: Aleksi Teivainen