Poland and Germany on the hunt for staff
“Hydrogen is the fuel of the future and we need specialists who will help create this future.” This was Daniel Obajtek’s fitting description of the current situation in the Polish energy sector. The actual focus of the German-Polish industry conference in Eisenhüttenstadt, Germany, where the chairman of PKN Orlen made the statement in April 2023, was on digitalization and the energy transition. Nevertheless, it quickly became apparent that Germany and Poland are facing very similar challenges particularly when it comes to the shortage of skilled labor – especially in relation to building a viable hydrogen economy.
Regional vocational training initiatives had been invited, along with ArcelorMittal, to the conference on the Polish border at which professional training prospects in both countries were the subject of much discussion. Steelmaker ArcelorMittal, which soon hopes to start manufacturing green steel with the aid of hydrogen, was not alone in making it clear that energy companies in particular will need specially trained staff in the future. Petroleum company PKN Orlen, Poland’s third largest hydrogen producer, also came to the same realization.
Orlen’s hydrogen academy
Just a few weeks ago, PKN Orlen founded its hydrogen academy in Poland. This academy is aimed at students in their third year of study and is organized in collaboration with the Mazovian Hydrogen Valley. Poland’s subsidized hydrogen regions, named Hydrogen Valleys, are ascribed key focus areas when they are established. The Mazovian Hydrogen Valley in the center of Poland, which also contains the capital Warsaw, was tasked with two areas: education, due to the major universities in the region, and electrical engineering. Also involved in the initiative are carmaker Toyota and Poland’s top rolling stock manufacturer PESA.
Orlen boss Daniel Obajtek explained: “The hydrogen academy opens doors to this world. We are reliant on young, talented and ambitious people. We are offering them the possibility to actively take part in innovative projects, many of which will be truly groundbreaking in Europe. The academy is also a unique opportunity to proactively participate in Poland’s energy transition […]. The best graduates can complete internships and link their future to the work in our company and further develop their skills.”
In May 2023, Poland’s deputy climate minister Ireneusz Zyska told participants on the hydrogen academy’s inaugural courses: “Everything that we do in the public sector, in industry, in the economy, starts and finishes with people. I’m glad that today’s most talented people have found a place in the Orlen hydrogen academy and that they will carry the knowledge and experiences gained from here into the future.”
The central European energy giant Orlen has its own refueling stations and refineries in almost all countries in the region. Its mission is to become the leading hydrogen supplier in central Europe by 2030. The hydrogen strategy paper published by Orlen, which sets out the company’s vision, states: “In line with this, the aim is to construct more than 100 hydrogen refueling stations in central Europe for private vehicles, public transport and goods transport by road and rail (around 57 such refueling stations in Poland, 28 in the Czech Republic and 26 in Slovakia).”
Only some of the hydrogen will be green to start with, though. The Polish corporation intends to build 50 megawatts of capacity for hydrogen production by 2025. It is hoped this will increase tenfold by 2030, reaching a total of 540 megawatts. The production pathways under consideration are the steam reforming of biogas and biomethane and the reforming of hydrocarbons coupled with carbon capture, utilization and storage. Other possible methods are gasification, fermentation, pyrolysis of biomass and waste products as well as the manufacture of green hydrogen using electrolysis.
ArcelorMittal: green steel from 2050
Meanwhile ArcelorMittal is concentrating its efforts on initial pilot projects. It is also attempting to start discussions at its Eisenhüttenstadt steelworks about the move toward hydrogen by engaging both externally with the general public and internally with its employees. The plant, located in the east of Germany, is getting the ball rolling with two small electrolyzers supplied by McPhy, each with a capacity of 1 megawatt. McPhy has negotiated a long-term service agreement with the Eisenhüttenstadt works. The regional Brandenburg government has paid EUR 5.1 million in subsidies for the innovative project. The green hydrogen will then be utilized in the cold rolling mill and will also be used, according to the plans, to refuel forklift trucks or tractor units at the Eisenhüttenstadt site.
“We want to use this project to investigate and show how further emissions reductions are now possible before a complete changeover to net-zero production through a full-scale technological shift and the use of additional hydrogen in the years ahead,” said Reiner Blaschek, chairman of ArcelorMittal Deutschland.
At Arcelor in Eisenhüttenstadt there is a need for greater information about the project, something which the trainees themselves emphasized at the Polish-German conference. In their view, much was said about the energy transition and the transformation of steelmaking, but the specific detail which would inspire trust and confidence among the young recruits was lacking. The officials in Eisenhüttenstadt also remained relatively vague about which skills will be needed in the future and which will no longer be required.
Peter Wendt, who outlined the process for transforming the steelworks together with the employment and training situation, made it clear that the entire process at this facility will take until 2050 and involve several stages. Initially an electric scrap melting plant will be used which will be extended at a later phase with the addition of a direct reduction plant operated with green hydrogen. The expectation is that this will result in the workforce increasing over the next few years from almost 2,700 employees at present to 2,900 or more staff. However, as Peter Wendt further indicated, when electric furnaces are introduced in the final phase it is likely that over 300 jobs will then be surplus to requirements.
Author: Aleksandra Fedorska
Source: Orlen Deutschland, ArcelorMittal Eisenhüttenstadt GmbH / Bernd Geller