The Green Industrial Revolution Radio

The Green Industrial Revolution Radio

Traveling Europe, Viktor, an enthusiastic and positive host, draws a map of the green tech-region of Northern Europe to see how green tech will change our lives and the climate. He talks to the most prominent actors within the field of green tech and climate policy and shows the listener what is going on under the hood. A long the road, a string of short segments unfolds the technology and political controversies that matter today.

Ep. 1 Hydrogen

by STRING megaregion | The Green Industrial Revolution Radio

Episode Description

In this episode Viktor talks to some of the most prominent figures within the field of green-tech to hear their take on what role hydrogen will play in the future energy system. Dr. Georg Büttner from HHLA and Jørgen Mads Clausen, CEO of Danfoss, explain groundbreaking technologies and advances made in the hydrogen economy. While the green transition is moving forward hydrogen still faces challenges. Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, CEO of Hydrogen Europe, describes some of these hurdles regarding legislation and competition that need to be addressed to unlock the full potential of hydrogen.

Episode Transcript

Viktor: Right now I am walking up the staircase of this watch tower.

Dr. Georg Böttner: Steep stairs, huh?

Viktor: It is.

Dr. Georg Böttner: But you get a good overview of support and adjourning areas.

Viktor: A cold afternoon. I went to the Port of Hamburg to talk to Dr. Georg Böttner. It was foggy and windy that day. We made our journey up the staircase to get an overview of the harbor. So I believe we’re at the fifth floor now and it was, ah, a little less pleasant than I had been imagining, but the view was definitely worth it.

I think there are 3, 6, 9, 12 sort of x shaped container cranes almost buried in this mist. I climbed the stairs because I wanted to know more about hydrogen. This little tiny particle everyone’s talking about. I think [00:01:00] a pretty good place to start if you want to know more about hydrogen is here at the Port of Hamburg. This specific port is one of the main frontiers of the Green Industrial Revolution. They’re building a blueprint for green technology in. And they’re really ambitious when it comes to hydrogen.

Dr. Georg Böttner: What excites me are a number of things. Uh, first of all, you know, if um, I get up in the morning and I look in the eyes of my daughter, I know I do something good for her survival, basically.

Viktor: Maybe I should introduce myself. My name is Viktor Zeuthen and I spent most of my waking hours working in the political arena of the Green Transition. Specifically, I work to make it all go a little bit faster. Oh, and I work for STRING. It’s a political member organization for regional and local authorities in Northern Europe.

EU has proposed that 50% of the industry should transition to green hydrogen by 2030, even 70% by 2035. This has resulted in an unprecedented amount of money being poured into hydrogen banks and hydrogen technology. We’re talking billions of euros invested by the biggest powers in Europe, all banking on the fact that hydrogen is the future.

In this episode, I talk to some of the most prominent figures within the field of Green Tech to hear their take on what role hydrogen will play in the future energy system. Dr. Georg Böttner from the Port of Hamburg.

Dr. Georg Böttner: If we start early, we can take advantage of developing hydrogen economy worldwide.

Viktor: The owner of Danfoss, Jørgen Mads Clausen who has an idea for storing hydrogen that I never imagined.

Jørgen Mads Clausen: It’s so great that you can put the Eiffel Tower inside this, uh, cavity.

Viktor: And Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, C E O of Hydrogen Europe and a former member of the European Parliament.

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis: Others globally, are gaining market shares and, uh, we’re still discussing and discussing.

Viktor: One of the things that really stood out to me after speaking with Dr. Böttner, Mr. Clausen and Mr. Chatzimarkakis, is that maybe our greatest obstacle to overcome is our own love of regulation.

You are listening to the Green Industrial Revolution Radio. We explore how green tech and policy will solve the climate crisis and change our lives.

We’re overlooking this canal where we have little ships sailing around and we can see a full view. Of the entire port area and it looks much like a lot of other harbors. I guess. It’s the same containers at least, because they’re being shipped back and forth between all of the harbors.

Dr. Georg Böttner: That makes sense for what you’re saying.

Viktor: Recording this podcast, I hope to draw a map of Europe and give you a guided tour inside the engine room of the green transition. I’m pretty sure that the best way to do so is to meet the people who are actually at the front lines.

Dr. Georg Böttner: Our plan in, in Hamburg is, you know, to decarbonize, this area basically as a blueprint for different areas, in Germany, but other parts of Europe as well.

Viktor: Dr. Georg Böttner is in charge of the hydrogen projects in HHLA, Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG. It’s one of Europe’s leading port and logistic companies.

Dr. Georg Böttner: Our company, HHLA, has done a lot in decarbonizing, its activities already. We have electrified, a lot of our container yards, as you can see over there.

Viktor: The company intends to become carbon neutral by 2040. To do so. They’ve already electrified a bunch of activities, however,

Dr. Georg Böttner: there are still important parts missing. Then hydrogen seems to be a good solution.

Viktor: Let’s take a closer look at hydrogen and what makes it attractive.

Karen: Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical substance in the universe making up roughly 75% of all normal matter. It can carry and store energy, but what also makes it attractive is the way it can be produced. Hydrogen can be extracted from water using a technique known as electrolysis. You simply sap water using electricity. Splitting it into its two components, oxygen and hydrogen. What you get is a hydrogen gas.

The ideal way to produce hydrogen via electrolysis is to use excess electricity from renewable energy sources like wind turbines. This type of hydrogen produced from renewable energy by splitting water is commonly labeled as green.

It is a green 0 emission alternative for fossil fuels as well as an alternative for other types of hydrogen. Hydrogen has the potential to be used in a wide range of applications ranging from heavy industries to artificial fertilizers. In its pure form, it can power aviation and long haul road transport. As a component in e-fuels, it can fuel shipping.

That being said, it’s not known where and when hydrogen will be the most efficient alternative. Hydrogen poses a series of challenges for engineers. It’s explosive, it’s hard to store, and it takes a lot of energy to produce. That’s why engineers are experimenting to find the right way to deploy hydrogen and figure out how to best utilize it in combination with electricity and batteries.

Viktor: As I understand it, hydrogen has an advantage over battery technology in places where you don’t have space for batteries, you don’t have time to recharge batteries, or in places where you need a very large amount of energy input, for example, steel production, glass production, aviation fuels. Where is the entry point for hydrogen in the Port of Hamburg?

Dr. Georg Böttner: As an initial state and, for different use cases? Entry point can be a container terminal if you transport your hydrogen, via container, because the main advantage is every infrastructure is already in place. You can use it, you can use it for, you know, small volumes, very efficiently. There are a number of potential entry points.

Viktor: What kind of machine do you put the hydrogen?

Dr. Georg Böttner: Soil carriers, trucks, terminal tractors. We call it reach stack as empty container handlers. But I want to stress one thing, you know. Right now we are not certain, so we are open in, in regard to the results, we are looking at both electrification and hydrogen and, we will take the opportunity to decarbonize, which is most useful. You know, it’s not religious. It’s about we have to fulfill a purpose and we take what’s best for the purpose. Full stop.

Viktor: I’m thrilled that there are people like Georg Büttner who are experimenting with new solutions, not holding back or waiting for others to come up with them. This is obviously important because you know, it really has tremendous consequences if we don’t act, but from a financial point of view, it also makes sense.

The Port of Hamburg wants to build a full value chain for hydrogen. They want to be able to deliver everything that goes into the production and consumption of hydrogen.

Dr. Georg Böttner: The energy for the electrolyzer, the production, the storage, the transport of hydrogen, across the ocean.

Viktor: That way they can get a head start in the emerging hydrogen economy.

Dr. Georg Böttner: You know, we can take advantage of in developing hydrogen economy worldwide.

Viktor: Okay. Let me take a moment to point out just how groundbreaking and crazy this is. There is a hydrogen economy emerging worldwide, a hydrogen economy that means new conditions in terms of employment, as well as a shift in international relationships. It shows how the green industrial revolution will alter the economy and change our living conditions. And how important it is to take part in this transition to create a society that we would like to live in.

Europe can play a key role, Georg Böttner says.

Dr. Georg Böttner: If you look at the value chain and how many steps we could, you know, be world market leaders in supplying the world and not being consumers of someone, you know, it’s a great opportunity.

Viktor: A great opportunity. Hearing someone like Georg Böttner talking about how Europe can shape its own future and be world market leader, I couldn’t help but feel a little enthusiastic. I feel there is a momentum building. It is a tidal wave of green transition rolling over the continent of Europe right now. As I interpret the news and, and the people that I talk to.

Dr. Georg Böttner, however, didn’t get carried away by the tidal wave at that moment. Though very polite.

Dr. Georg Böttner: I hope you are right. But, to be honest, like if we look at some, some processes down in, in Brussels, like the important projects of common European interest, for instance. No, these projects were ready to go almost two years ago, so a long time passed already.

Viktor: Dr. Georg Böttner has his eyes on something that is impeding a European hydrogen adventure and it is not the explosiveness of hydrogen or global competition. Maybe you already guessed it.

Dr. Georg Böttner: It’s all over Europe. Hundreds of projects all over Europe.

Viktor: Which are currently being stalled by political processes and Brussels.

Dr. Georg Böttner: Exactly. And for two years.

Viktor: It’s our meticulous legislation processes.

Dr. Georg Böttner: You know, in these two years, I don’t know, the Chinese put like 2000 or more than thousand trucks on the road already. So, and we are still waiting for approval, of something, you know, which could have been here already.

Viktor: That’s a very interesting perspective because as you say, we could have started two years ago and that would’ve eased the processes a lot. Do you know, if there are any other ports in the world undertaking the same, challenge that you are currently grappling with?

Dr. Georg Böttner: I guess a lot of ports, you know, have the task of decarbonization.

I don’t know if they have the same, you know, setting, and the same testing environment. But I know for sure if you lean back and relax other ports will, you know, creep ahead of us, especially in Asia because that’s what they usually do. You know, they’re fast, they’re smart, and they have the same resources as we have.

Viktor: I feel like we’re standing at the beginning of an Iron Man race and everybody’s getting in the water, and until now we have seen the green transition as an expense. But right now, more and more are beginning to view it as an investment. The entire planet is going to go through the green transition and the businesses and the technologies that are developed, for example, here, might be part of a global green transition and in that context, export the technology and bring home a lot of, money.

Dr. Georg Böttner: Export technology, exports the products, exporting solutions, you know, be world market leader in green transition technologies and green processes and so on. It is an expense, but it’s also an opportunity to get our industrial nations to the next century and beyond. To have reliable and secure working spaces for everyone. You know, a place to earn your living with certainty. It’s not done with, you know, old fossil industry. That’s the past, we can live on these old fossil industries for a couple of years possibly, but not, you know, not our children. Not for the next decade, because that’s all gone basically.

Viktor: The way Dr. Böttner described his genuine concern for the welfare of people living in the proximity of the harbor who are affected by the pollution, including his own children, really made a strong impression about the sense of urgency some people working in this field have. I really sensed that he was mission driven and wanted to make a positive difference.

And I really like the idea of these types of quiet heroes working hard in the background while many of us are caught up in frustration, anxiety, or apathy, because it strengthens my trust in the fact that we’re actually on the way towards a true green industrial revolution.

Jørgen Mads Clausen: En, to, tre, fire, fem, seks, syv, otte, ni, ti.

Viktor: Okay, we are ready.

Jørgen Mads Clausen: Yes.

Viktor: Back in Copenhagen, in a sound studio downtown, I met up with the owner of Danfoss, Jørgen Mads Clausen.

Jørgen Mads Clausen: I am, just recently retired as a chairman of the company. And, I have various small startups that is about renewable energy.

Viktor: Jørgen Mads Clausen is 74 years old since childhood, he’s been immersed in Danfoss.

Jørgen Mads Clausen: My father founded the company 90 years ago, so, I have been thinking like Danfoss all my life, and if you retire, you just don’t stop doing that.

Viktor: Jørgen Mads Clausen started working in Danfoss in 1981. 16 years later, he became the CEO and president of the family company. Did you know that you would take over the, the company when you were a young man?

Jørgen Mads Clausen: No. I had no idea. So it came gradually.

Viktor: Today, Danfoss is a multinational tech company based in Denmark. It has more than 40,000 employees and 100 factories. The company has changed a lot since Jørgen Mads Clausen started working there in 1981.

Jørgen Mads Clausen: In the old days, there were not much talk about saving energy, but today that is really important and it’s a competitive factor. How can you make the same thing with the least amount of energy?

Viktor: To save energy Danfoss has committed to the principle of energy efficiency first. That is reducing carbon emissions simply by using less energy.

Jørgen Mads Clausen: You know, the cheapest energy is the one that you don’t use. Our products of course, use energy, but our competitiveness I is, about how little energy you can use in order to do the things you want.

Viktor: And you would, know a little bit about these things because you’re also, an engineer. As I understand, right?

Jørgen Mads Clausen: Yes.

Viktor: I brought you here to talk about hydrogen.

Jørgen Mads Clausen: Yes.

Viktor: There is a great push for hydrogen

Jørgen Mads Clausen: Yes.

Viktor: To be deployed in various parts of society in steel production, glass production. When did you realize that you were interested in hydrogen?

Jørgen Mads Clausen: In my school years, I studied hydrogen very much, and, it was ideal, but, nobody, you know, it was too expensive or there were many barriers. And just three years ago, I would’ve said, well, it’s promising, but, will it ever come? I don’t know. It is a monumental task to introduce a hydrogen economy.

Karen: For many years, there’s been great expectations for hydrogen as an alternative to fossil fuels. But until now, the challenges the hydrogen poses has impeded its use on a global scale. In Europe, hydrogen accounts for less than 2% of the total energy consumption, and 96% of those 2% is produced with natural gas, which means a significant amount of CO2 emissions.

One of the serious challenges hydrogen poses is the energy loss, the fact that you need energy to produce hydrogen. Another one is associated with the size of hydrogen. Hydrogen molecules are so tiny that they can seep through metal and it needs to be stored at an extreme pressure making hydrogen difficult to store.

Viktor: One of the problems with hydrogen is how to store it. I know that you have an idea for storage of hydrogen and it kind of blew my mind. You actually had a city in mind too. I think it was Kiel. Could you tell me a little bit more about that?

Jørgen Mads Clausen: Yes. Hydrogen is extremely difficult to store and of course it can be held within a steel container, but you will always have a little bit of seep something that seeps out and, the best method to make storage is actually underground in, a salt cavern. A salt cavern is sort of a balloon under the earth, you know, one kilometer down where you have pumped water down to dissolve the salt, and then you pump that salt away and you can store the hydrogen in this cavity.

Viktor: It doesn’t seep out as, in the same way as it does with steel or other compartments.

Jørgen Mads Clausen: No, it’s a completely tight, even for hydrogen.

Viktor: Wow.

Jørgen Mads Clausen: And it’s so great that you can put the Eiffel Tower inside this, cavity.

Viktor: They’re not crushing down.

Jørgen Mads Clausen: No. There are many caverns used for other gases around the world.

Viktor: Okay, great.

Jørgen Mads Clausen: But, we don’t have any for hydrogen.

Viktor: We need to talk a little bit also about the energy loss, the Achilles heel of hydrogen. How do you see this problem?

Jørgen Mads Clausen: Well, you can’t change that. This is physics. You know, if you make hydrogen via electrolysis, there’s maybe only 50% efficiency. And when you burn the hydrogen in a combustion engine, you also have less than 50% efficiency. Hydrogen is, in reality, quite, inefficient and it would be much better if you could, go directly from electricity.

Viktor: Jørgen Mads Clausen believes that direct electrification should be the first choice whenever possible. However, he also points out that there are certain sectors, such as heavy industries, steel and glass production, and even heavy duty rope transport where electricity cannot be used at the moment, which makes hydrogen an attractive alternative.

It made me wonder, if he had an estimate of, just how much that the global energy consumption hydrogen would account for in the future. What role do you think hydrogen plays in, let’s say 20 years from now?

Jørgen Mads Clausen: I don’t know exactly. It’s not going to be a hundred percent. I can assure you that, but, maybe five, 10%.

Viktor: Five to 10% maybe. It doesn’t sound like a lot but think about it. 10% that would match almost two thirds of the energy demands of the entire United States in 2019, before the global pandemic slowed things a bit down. If green hydrogen could account for five to 10%, I think it would make a huge difference.

At the same time, I think it makes it evident that we need to eliminate a one size fits all mindset. It’s a matter of embracing diversity. And exploring use cases to enable differing technologies. I’m still wondering though, what role will Europe play in the emerging hydrogen economy? Dr. Georg Böttner from the Port of Hamburg, as well as Jørgen Mads Clausen believe that Europe can play a decisive role. However, they both view regulation as an obstacle that we really have to overcome. So what’s taking so long?

To find out I called Jorgo Chatzimarkakis. Hi.

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis: Hi.

Viktor: You are in your office right now?

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis: I wish. I am with my little daughter, so I’m at home.

Viktor: Oh, you’re at home.

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis: Today, because I need to, I need to take care of my daughter.

Viktor: Of course.

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis: She cannot go to school

Viktor: Okay, great.

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis: and my wife is a parliamentarian in Strassbourg, so, I’m in deep sh…

Viktor: Nice.

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis: But I’m here.

Viktor: Jorgo is the C E O of Hydrogen Europe and he’s also a former member of the European pa. If anyone knows what’s holding back this development, it would be Jorgo. What are we waiting for?

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis: That is a good question. Well, this world, and especially the Europeans, believe very much that electrons, so electricity will do the job.

Viktor: Okay. This is going to be a bit technical, so bear with me for a moment. According to Jorgo, leading politicians working at the European Commission agree that electricity from renewable sources is the most suitable solution. Why waste energy producing hydrogen when you can get electricity directly from the tap? That’s kind of the logic behind their policy.

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis: The reason of which is, theoretically, that hydrogen is cannibalizing the electricity, which can be used much more efficient, they say, in battery or heat pumps, so in electricity application.

Viktor: To make sure that hydrogen doesn’t cannibalize electricity that could have been used elsewhere they want to be able to test where the electricity comes from. And according to Jorgo, the urge to test where electricity comes from has led to proposals that are entirely unrealistic.

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis: The initial proposal by the European Commission was. That you need to prove every 15 minutes. I come again every 15 minutes. Where your electricity comes from, when you take it from the grid. And you need to prove that it comes from an additional, no older than two year old wind park or solar park, that has not been subsidized. What?

Yes. This is what you need to prove only if you produce hydrogen with it.

Viktor: Because if not, it’s not defined as green hydrogen. Is that what you’re telling me? If you cannot prove

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis: Exactly, and this is what actually, and currently is delaying the whole thing.

Viktor: For two years, politicians have tried to agree on a definition for green hydrogen.

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis: Two years ago, the European Parliament and the council member states said: Hey, commission come up with this technical regulation. How should the green molecule look like?

Viktor: Is it green if you use a wind turbine that could have produced electricity for heating or direct electrification of transport instead of electrolysis? Is it green if the production of hydrogen somehow depends on an energy system that emits fossil fuels? When is green green?

The definition of green Hydrogen is super important. Every entrepreneur and every company wants to know legislative framework and boundaries before they invest, and so companies are waiting for a definition of green hydrogen. And before the politicians have agreed on what’s green, it’s just too risky to move ahead.

Jorgo Chatzimarkakis: And that is very, very unfortunate. That’s why I only can say good morning. Wake up and please deliver the definition of green hydrogen, simple and clear so that investors can start to do their job.

That’s it for this time on my, green Tech and Policy map of Europe. I can now add a dedicated expert at the Port of Hamburg, Dr. Georg Böttner, standing on the roof of a modern building on a foggy day, urging politicians to speed up the legislation process so he and others can move ahead and make Europe the world market leader in this emerging hydrogen economy.

In a little studio downtown in Copenhagen, the owner of a global tech company, Jørgen Mads Clausen, who’s advocating energy efficiency and has this incredible idea of turning Kiel into a hydrogen city by using its salt caverns underneath the earth to store hydrogen. And at home in his living room, Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, the CEO of Hydrogen Europe, who, like me, would like to know one thing: when is hydrogen green?

You’ve been listening to the Green Industrial Revolution Radio, brought to you by STRING and produced by Munck Studios.