Hydrogen – Baking Hot

Imagine biting into fresh, warm bread … knowing that its production only used clean hydrogen. This may soon be possible in Tyrol, in western Austria, where Europe´s largest Pressurized Alkaline Electrolyser (PAE) is being built.

Hydrogen is much talked about as fuel and energy storage system for the future; the International Energy Agency calls it ´a fuel, an energy carrier and a building block of all electro fuels´. But most of the H2-production today stems from fossil fuels and would only be close to carbon neutral under a rigid system of carbon capture and storage. But what about real CLEAN hydrogen?

´Clean´ hydrogen is produced through electrolytic processes – basically using electricity from renewables to split water (H2O) into its two components, hydrogen H2 and oxygen O2; at burning point, the H2 simply becomes water again. But does this work anywhere? And is it affordable?

Zoom into the Austrian Alps, into Völs in Tyrol, centre piece of the hydrogen corridor from Munich (Germany) to Verona in Northern Italy. Regional food retailer MPREIS is a family-owned company with 257 supermarkets, 6000 employees, and its own bakery and meat processing plant. And, importantly, a fleet of 50 delivery trucks.

Its hydrogen initiative, called Demo4Grid, aims to power the bakery and all trucks with H2 that is produced from Tyrolian hydropower at times when demand is low and the price accordingly cheap. The intention is to demonstrate an integrated energy solution, which is clean and based on a large-scale rapid-response electrolysis, an “ ´above state of the art´ Pressurized Alkaline Electrolyser (PAE) technology for providing grid balancing services in real operational and market conditions” as the European Commission project text says,. calling it “the decisive demonstration stage”.

Demo4Grid attracted 3m Euro support from the EU as well as 1.5m Euro and 1.4m EURO from the Austrian and Swiss government respectively. And MPREIS shows real business leadership – the retailer is  investing  the remaining 7m of  the total 13m Euro, a courageous undertaking to say the least.

The electrolyser is currently being constructed by Swiss engineering outfit IHT. Other partners work on the H2 filling station, the integration of H2 systems to fuel the bakery ovens, and trucks that can be powered by both H2 and use diesel as a back-up. Construction of the facility is planned to start 2020 though discussions with land owners have caused some delays. Europe´s largest clean hydrogen installation should be fully operational by August 2023.

The project is the first larger test case for a H2 application in Europe that uses intermediate renewable electricity, stabilizes the grid, and combines this with straight business sense. The triple basis of the business proposition for MPREIS: an estimated 40% cost reduction for fuel costs for the trucks, the cost reduction for energy in the bakery, and the low-cost electricity from the grid, which supports grid stabilization.

In addition, a host of valuable policy lessons can be gleaned from this demonstration project, which indicate where state incentives beyond simple grants will be pivotal to stimulate the growth of a clean hydrogen market. Demo4Grid is a futuristic project, supported by all (political) Parties, and a real contribution to   Tyrol´s goal of  to making the region energy independent by 2050.

If you fancy biting in quasi-renewable hydrogen bread, watch this project!

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