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55 MW electrolyzer to decarbonize Saarland

By Dr. Patrick Staudt, Dominik Waller, both from Iqony

February 20, 2024

Image titel: Völklingen-Fenne power plant

Sources: STEAG

55 MW electrolyzer to decarbonize Saarland

Hydrogen Regions series: HydroHub Fenne living lab

The power plant site in Fenne, Völklingen, a long-standing power generation facility which celebrates its centenary this year, is now the focus of Iqony’s plans to meet the future energy needs of the industrial region of Saarland. Owned by the STEAG Group, Iqony specializes in renewable energy, hydrogen projects, energy storage, district heating and decarbonization solutions.

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The site is already a major energy intersection for the state of Saarland in southwestern Germany and is at the crux of the area’s district heating supply. Along with the present facility, the site will in future be home to HydroHub Fenne, an addition that will ensure it remains an essential part of Saarland’s energy system in the years ahead.

“Due to its existing infrastructure, we see the site as ideally suited to the building of a hydrogen production facility at this location. The existing grid connection allows us to draw sufficiently large amounts of renewably generated power to produce renewable hydrogen here, close to the point of use,” explains Patrick Staudt who is in charge of hydrogen at Iqony Energies, a Saarland-based subsidiary of Iqony.

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The project will need to comply with the provisions of the European Union’s Renewable Energy Directive (RED) and its associated German legislation so that the hydrogen produced in Fenne can also be classified as climate neutral according to the strict criteria set out in EU law. Iqony’s own trading division will provide support to make sure this happens.

IPCEI notification is vital

Depending on the number of operating hours, HydroHub Fenne will produce approximately 8,200 metric tons of green hydrogen a year. “The current plan is to commission the plant in 2027 – assuming that the latest statements on the completion of the IPCEI notification by the European Union are correct,” says Patrick Staudt.

IPCEI stands for Important Project of Common European Interest. Iqony applied to have its Saarland hydrogen project recognized as an IPCEI back in spring 2021. Dominik Waller, who is responsible for project development alongside Patrick Staudt, explains the significance of the decision: “Our project needs to gain recognition as an IPCEI to allow the German government to support us financially with the investment. It’s impossible without IPCEI notification due to European law on competition and state aid.”

The prospects are looking good for the project in Fenne. A final decision is expected in Brussels by the end of 2023 – more than two years after the original announcement was due. “Once we have the funding authorization from the EU, it will then be a matter of the government putting specific funding in place. That should happen in the first quarter of 2024 which will mean we are on track in terms of the project schedule,” elucidates Patrick Staudt.

Public funding of the project is necessary because there is not yet a functioning market for hydrogen in general or for green, i.e., renewable, hydrogen in particular. Hydrogen can help industry or, for example, local public transport avoid carbon dioxide emissions. However, hydrogen finds itself in financial competition with other energy sources such as natural gas. In economic terms, hydrogen is no match for other energy forms at present, precisely because a competitive marketplace has still to develop.

“We see this as a classic chicken-and-the-egg problem: Potential hydrogen producers are holding back on their investment decisions, waiting for definitive signs of future off-takers. On the other hand, potential off-takers are not investing in converting their processes and plant technology while there is no guarantee that the required hydrogen will be available in sufficient quantities in the future. The only way of getting out of this dilemma is if public authorities provide investment security for both sides in the form of funding,” acknowledges Dominik Waller.

As for the level of funding for HydroHub in Fenne and the overall capital outlay, Iqony is not at liberty to divulge specific figures for competitive reasons. However, a few hundred million euros are expected to be invested in the project. “We won’t be able to give a more exact figure until the tender for the plant technology has been concluded,” says Patrick Staudt. Though this will only be when the funding letter has been received. According to Staudt, this once again shows how fundamentally important the conclusion of the IPCEI process is in order to progress the project further.

Fig. 2: Site development

Tenders on the market

Another stipulation resulting from the funding conditions for an IPCEI-designated project is that the hydrogen produced can’t simply be sold in the usual way. “We’re obliged to use tenders to bring our product to market so that all potentially interested parties have a chance to participate,” states Dominik Waller. This is where the Fenne location is said to be to the company’s advantage, since it already has a disused gas pipeline connection that could be employed in future to link HydroHub Fenne to the hydrogen supply network being created. Waller continues: “It’s also why we are paying close attention to the current discussion on the government’s plans for a core hydrogen network – and here we see the need for further improvement, especially for Saarland.”

This expressly applies not only to the delivery of the future electrolyzer in Fenne through the core network draft, which was presented by FNB Gas to Germany’s Federal Network Agency in November 2023, but also to the present STEAG and Iqony power plants in Bexbach and Quierschied (Weiher power plant). “At both sites we want to build new, hydrogen-compatible gas power plants – just like the government itself has set out in its 2030 target, so we can switch off old coal-fired units, meet our national climate goals while at the same time ensuring the security of supply if wind and solar power aren’t available in sufficient quantities,” says Andreas Reichel, CEO of STEAG and Iqony.

Reichel adds: “Current government plans do not yet envisage bringing the core hydrogen network to these two locations, which will be necessary to make this happen. That said, we’re grateful to the Saarland regional government for its reassurance that this is precisely what it will be campaigning for in Berlin.” If such efforts are successful, it would enable Iqony to build new power plant capacity in Saarland by 2030 which is urgently needed to guarantee security of supply as well as ensure the green transformation of power generation in Saarland.

In the medium and long term, it is then hoped that these and other new gas power plants will be run on hydrogen to provide a reliable, carbon-neutral supply of energy. If the core hydrogen network planned by the German government is not immediately routed to within close proximity of the sites, this will be completely impossible. Despite the unresolved issues, Iqony is optimistic about the realization of its hydrogen and power plant projects on the River Saar:

“We have the technical and commercial expertise from more than 85 years in the global energy industry, we have the right locations and we have proven through the construction and commissioning of one of the world’s most advanced combined-cycle power plants in Herne, Nordrhein-Westfalen, at the end of 2022 under difficult COVID-19 conditions, that we can carry out challenging large-scale engineering projects on time and on budget – if the regulatory environment allows us to do so,” concludes Andreas Reichel.

Author: Dr. Patrick Staudt, Dominik Waller, both from Iqony

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