'Our future lies in hydrogen': Siemens and Uniper forge green hydrogen partnership

Uniper's gas-fired power plant in Irsching, Germany | Credit: Uniper
Uniper's gas-fired power plant in Irsching, Germany | Credit: Uniper

Collaboration will investigate uses for hydrogen at Uniper's retiring coal plants as it takes aim at becoming carbon neutral by 2035

Siemens Gas and Power has teamed up with Uniper to drive decarbonisation projects across the latter's gas and power portfolio, with a particular focus on the production of hydrogen from both renewable energy as well as fossil fuel facilities, they announced yesterday.

The companies plan to study the potential for hydrogen production at German energy firm Uniper's existing gas turbines and storage facilities in Europe, as well as the potential role for the technology across its fleet of coal plants, which are scheduled for closure or conversion across Europe by 2025. Moreover, the firms are looking to explore opportunities to produce 'green' hydrogen at wind turbines, according to Reuters.

Hydrogen is a clean-burning molecule produced by splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen through electrolysis. Deemed 'green' when it is produced using renewable energy, and 'brown' when produced using fossil fuels, it can be used as a substitute for fossil fuels in a large host of applications including transport fuel and energy production.

Uniper chief executive Andreas Schierenbeck said the partnership with Siemens Gas and Power would allow the utility, which currently emits 22 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, to move towards its aim of reaching carbon neutrality in Europe by 2035.

"After the coal phase-out and the switch to a secure gas-based energy supply, the use of climate-friendly gas will be a major step towards successful energy system transformation," he said. "The decarbonisation of the gas industry, including gas-fired power generation, is essential if Germany and Europe are to achieve their climate targets."

Uniper's transition from fossil fuels to net zero by 2035 will require a drastic overhaul to its business, with gas and coal making up the lion's share - 26.5MW - of its total 34.3MW European generation capacity in 2019. Its low carbon power capacity, on the other hand, accounted for just 6MW, split between hydroelectricity and nuclear.

But Uniper said that its background as an industry leader in the power-to-gas technology - the firm was founded in 2016 as a result of the split in E.ON's upstream and downstream businesses - would stand it in good stead for the road ahead. The company operates two commercial power-to-gas plants in Germany, one of which stores energy produced from wind in the gas grid, while the other produces green hydrogen.

Proponents of hydrogen believe it has a key role to play in decarbonising energy intensive sectors currently largely reliant on fossil fuels, also concerns remain about the costs associated with the technology. Last month, influential analyst BloombergNEF touted the clean fuel's promise, in a report that claimed that, in the right policy environment, the clean fuel could offset one third of global emissions by 2050.

Siemens Energy board member Jochen Eickholt concurred, lauding the potential of green hydrogen to decarbonise mobility, heat, power and heavy industries, and the potential of the new tie-up with Uniper to push forward development of the technology.

"We can show that a carbon-dioxide free, environmentally-friendly energy supply is possible and makes sense under real conditions and using existing plants," Eickholt said. "Together, we are working to master the challenges up to series production and use of hydrogen on a large scale and to make this clear to the world: Our future lies in hydrogen."

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