Using an offshore oil platform to produce clean, green hydrogen energy? It’s possible. Hydrogen energy has recently taken the spotlight for its potential to transform renewable energy globally, both by making use of excess wind energy and pre-existing energy infrastructure to produce it. Learn more about the new and exciting possibilities here.

Hydrogen, the odorless, colorless gas that makes up part of a water molecule, is gradually becoming recognized as both a clean and convenient burning fuel. With the ability to be stored as either a liquid or a compressed gas, its versatility is also notable, with uses for everything from the production of plastics and fertilizers to powering cars’ internal combustion engines.

How is hydrogen produced, why does the way it’s produced matter, and what potential does the gas hold to change the renewable industry as we know it?

Hydrogen Production: The way it's produced matters, a lot

Hydrogen (H2) requires energy to be produced, and fossil fuels are the most common fuels used for this. These fossil fuels are used to generate the steam required for the reaction with natural gas to produce hydrogen (while creating a lot of CO2 in the process).

Wind energy, however, has proven to be both a more sustainable and efficient alternative, and its use is growing as part of the overall energy transition. 

While production via natural gas (“grey hydrogen”) emits significant amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, production via wind energy does not, deeming it worthy of the name “green hydrogen.” 

While most hydrogen is currently grey, green hydrogen opens up an entire world of possibilities for decarbonization, especially in industries where other renewable sources have yet to make a substantial impact (such as transportation). 

To create green hydrogen, electrolysers split water into oxygen and hydrogen via renewable energy. The hydrogen can then be used to create industrial products or as an energy source for the transportation industry.

Electrolyser H2 Production schematic

Green hydrogen and power generation: taking advantage of surplus wind power

Green hydrogen has another unique and powerful benefit — it enables renewable sources like wind energy to store electricity for later use. 

How does it work? When wind energy is overproduced, its supply sources must be slowed down — not ideal because energy supply equipment works best and most reliably when creating a steady flow of energy. 

Creating hydrogen from wind energy is not only clean, but surplus wind energy can now be used to create hydrogen instead of sitting dormant or causing a slow-down to supply sources. When energy demand drops (at night, on weekends, summertime and holidays, for example), the power generated can be used to produce H2 and store it when demand increases. With this, wind energy can be stored in large amounts for longer periods of time.

Because of this, energy systems can become more flexible, evening out supply and demand of power by preventing generating too much or not enough power. 

Green hydrogen production also creates opportunities to utilize pre-existing infrastructure in new and innovative ways. We’ll look at this next.

PosHYdon schematic

Using Oil Rigs to Create Green Hydrogen: The PosHYdon Project

In Europe, many innovative projects are experimenting with new and inventive ways to create green hydrogen. 

In the Netherlands, for example, a pilot project is underway to create green hydrogen on an offshore oil platform in the North Sea — a first in renewable energy. The pilot was initiated to gain experience with hydrogen production on an offshore location and test the idea that existing offshore infrastructure can be used in new, sustainable ways. 

The pilot, called "PosHYdon", will integrate three offshore energy components: 

  1. Offshore wind
  2. Offshore natural gas
  3. Offshore hydrogen gas

How does it work? The platform still functions as an oil and natural gas producer, with production energy generated from an onshore wind farm. A hydrogen electrolyzer has been installed to the platform, and while it’s currently powered via green electricity from land (converting seawater to hydrogen), it will ideally utilize this same offshore wind energy in the future. To prepare for this, power fluctuations will be simulated to study how the electrolyzer operates with fluctuating levels of energy. 

By using a pre-existing offshore oil platform as a location to install a megawatt electrolyser for hydrogen creation, the pilot is a striking example of how pre-existing infrastructure can be utilized for more sustainable initiatives — creating new opportunities for offshore platforms worldwide to follow suit and effectively change the way we use energy. 

Photo source: Gasunie

Building New Hydrogen Infrastructure: Gasunie’s H2 Network

Another example of a company utilizing pre-existing infrastructure for green hydrogen is Gasunie. By building a national hydrogen network in the Netherlands, their goal is to connect hydrogen supply with its demand via five industrial clusters — all linked to each other, to other countries and to hydrogen storage facilities. 

Once complete, it will create a flexible energy source that can be transported easily and cheaply — playing an important role in integrating various energy systems into one. Its direct linkage to hydrogen storage facilities will also balance the supply of wind or solar-produced electricity with market demand. 

Perhaps most impressively, existing infrastructure will account for 85% of the network, making hydrogen transmission affordable, easily integrated and rapidly available.

With Green Hydrogen, the possibilities are endless 

Green hydrogen is an extremely promising renewable energy source, and as such, we won’t stop hearing about it any time soon. With the innovative opportunities it creates, there’s no doubt that it will play a key role in the world’s transition to sustainable energy sources. 

Research & content contributions: Albert van der Wiel, Senior Planner, Brunel Netherlands Engineering

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