Will we soon be heating with clean hydrogen gas instead of fossil natural gas?

25/02/2021

KU Leuven and Fluxys are launching a pilot project in which they will send solar-powered hydrogen into the natural gas grid to replace fossil natural gas. In doing so, they hope to reduce CO₂ emissions. Therefore they are building a solar panel that produces hydrogen, which they developed two years ago. Leuven MindGate members Comate and the Province of Flemish Brabant were also involved in the process.

Two years ago, KU Leuven came up with a pioneering solar panel that produces hydrogen. The device looks like an ordinary solar panel, but it is not. It actually extracts green hydrogen from the air with the only ingredients being water vapor and sunlight.

"After the presentation of the first hydrogen panel, we were inundated with questions from home and abroad. Many people also wanted to order a hydrogen panel. But it is still too early for that," says researcher Jan Rongé.

KU Leuven is now going to test, together with Fluxys, whether they can send the hydrogen from solar energy into the natural gas grid to replace fossil natural gas. The aim is to reduce CO₂ emissions in this way. Leuven MindGate members Comate and the Province of Flemish Brabant were also involved in the process.

Hydrogen has several advantages. It can be used to generate both electricity and heat. You can heat or drive with it. It can be used as a raw material to replace oil products and its only by-product is water vapor.

It is also a gas that does not release greenhouse gases or toxic substances when used. The prerequisite for all these advantages is that you make hydrogen with clean energy. And Professor Martens' team has already succeeded in this.

Now the next step comes with a pilot project on the green roof of the Fluxys laboratory in Anderlecht. With this project, the researchers want to find out whether their green hydrogen meets the quality criteria of natural gas. Can it replace natural gas? Can it be injected into the natural gas grid? These tests should answer those kinds of questions.


But hydrogen also has drawbacks. It has been a promise in the energy market for years, but it has not yet made a real breakthrough. Hydrogen would still be expensive and cumbersome to make and store.

Another weakness of hydrogen is that it contains very little energy at normal pressure. To compare: for the same energy of 1 liter of gasoline, you need 3,200 liters of hydrogen gas. That's a huge volume.

That's why hydrogen is usually compressed under high pressure or converted into a liquid at a very low temperature (-253 degrees Celsius). Both processes require energy and a solid tank for storage. Injecting hydrogen into the gas network is therefore an obvious solution.

The Netherlands, with its extensive gas grid, is also working on this. Fluxys itself plans to convert part of the natural gas grid to a hydrogen network by 2025. Raphaël De Winter, Director of Innovation at Fluxys: "We want to advance the energy transition and gradually transport more carbon-neutral gases in our infrastructure."

But to make this happen, research is still needed. This is because the panels do not always produce the same amount of hydrogen, or hydrogen of the same composition. That depends on the orientation to the sun, the number of hours of sunshine, the season, the time of day and the weather.

Ten researchers are working on the project in the meantime. They are still trying to optimize the current hydrogen panels and develop the most efficient way to produce on a larger scale.

The project, named Solhyd, is meanwhile also receiving support from the Flemish government, which is aiming for a climate-neutral industry by 2050.



Pictures: LinkedIn + VRT NWS

Source: VRT NWS
Translated by Leuven MindGate