Largest H2 ecosystem will appear in Thüringen
In the heart of Thüringen – around Erfurt and the northern part of Thüringer Becken – is where TH2ECO is situating the regional hydrogen market currently in establishment. A partnership consortium of regional specialists has been developing this project since 2021. The partners from different renewable energy fields are grid operators as well as energy and power suppliers who are driving forward the building and expansion of a sustainable H2 infrastructure and the establishment of the new energy carrier hydrogen. With it from the start has been Kilian Fromm, project manager at Green Wind Innovation, to whom German economy minister Robert Habeck handed the H2Eco Award for this project during this year’s Hannover Messe.
TH2ECO aims to create a regional hydrogen market that demonstrates how the complex system of a market with various economic, technical and regulatory requirements over the complete value chain –from green H2 production to its use – can work for the region and how the local value creation can be integrated in a supraregional market in the long term.
TH2ECO is committed to three core objectives: decarbonization, regionality and sustainability. Through ramp up of a low-carbon economy, CO2 emissions in Thüringen will be significantly reduced. With a grid-serving integration into existing grids, already existing structures in the region will be integrated.
From production to use
Cooperating in the partnership and in coordinated project direction are, at this time, three energy providers (Green Wind Innovation, Boreas Energie, TEAG Thüringer Energie AG), three gas network operators (Ferngas Netzgesellschaft, SWE Netz, TEN Thüringer Energienetze) and a gas storage operator (TEP Thüringer Energie Speichergesellschaft) as well as several customers. The main areas for use of the H2 are transportation, the centralized heat generation as part of the district heat supply for Erfurt (SWE Energie) and in the industrial sector:
- Transport: At freight village Güterverkehrszentrum (GVZ) Erfurt Ost with a refueling station for commercial vehicles from Jet H2 Energy as well as intralogistics applications and use in rail transport
- Industry: businesses in industrial park Erfurter Kreuz
- Heating: GuD-Heizkraftwerk of Stadtwerke Erfurt (SWE) for heat and power generation; blending in the natural gas distribution networks
Phase 1: Gas pipeline already under conversion
TH2ECO is divided into three phases, which illustrate the building stages of the emerging hydrogen market. In the initial phase up to 2025, it is planned that three electrolysis plants with a combined capacity of 25 MW go into operation in Thüringer Becken. The H2 transport is primarily being carried out via the existing 42-km natural gas pipeline currently under repurposing for 100 percent green hydrogen. In the city of Erfurt, SWE Netz is providing further supply via H2 lines.
GuD-Heizkraftwerk in Erfurt, the industrial park in Erfurter Kreuz and the local natural gas grid of municipality Kirchheilingen will consequently be connected via this pipeline. The natural gas rock reservoirs in Kirchheilingen will be unidirectionally integrated, which has already been investigated for H2 use and the feasibility was confirmed. Also the GVZ in Erfurt will already be supplied in the initial phase by the second quarter of 2025, where since the new gas grid connection is yet to be built, delivery is initially to take place via high-pressure trailers.
Phase 2: Expansion to 40 MW generation capacity
In the second phase, to expand the regional H2 market that has emerged, an expansion of generation capacities to 40 MW is envisaged during ramp up of the German hydrogen market. The H2 supply network is to be expanded, for which the gas distribution network of provider TEN Thüringer Energienetze will be connected and the H2 storage used bidirectionally. On the consumption side, Erfurter Gasnetz will be linked in and line connection to the GVZ will occur. Use of H2 in the GuD-Heizkraftwerk will be heightened and rail transport structures incorporated.
Phase 3: Supraregional integration
Subsequently, the project TH2ECO will be scaled further through the uptake of additional regional H2 generation and H2 importing from other regions. The network will be integrated into the supraregional H2 backbone, so supply to large industrial operations is guaranteed and each of the municipal utilities can achieve climate neutrality.
Exemplary for Germany
A high degree of innovation has been shown with TH2ECO already in the initial phase: Due to the potent network across the generation and consumption sides, market structures are emerging on both sides of the value chain that differentiate TH2ECO from other projects.
With three H2 producers and various consumers in different industries, a variety of new questions arise, which are approached in an exemplary manner in the TH2ECO project, thus constituting a blueprint for the German H2 market:
- How will practical contract structures between H2 producers and consumers establish? Are there bilateral contract structures or are there central H2 vendors that bundle capacities on the generation side and distribute them among the customers?
- How will energy surpluses be handled in the market? Who is responsible for curtailing and balancing energy quantities?
- High H2 purities (5.0, or ≥999%) at withdrawal cannot be guaranteed in a converted pipeline. How can an efficient mechanism be found here?
- In the heating or industrial sector, there are different regulatory frameworks than in transportation (THG-Quote credit systems). How can the different incentives be reconciled in one market?
Modularly constructed electrolysis units
Through joint planning and close coordination in the consortium, reliable and functioning structures will be created that reduce the risk for all project undertakers and enables a simultaneous ramp up of H2 supply and demand.
The H2 producer ensures economic H2 production in the initial phase through the intelligent combination of energy from their own wind and PV ground-mounted systems that supply the electrolyzers with CO2-free energy. Having their own RE plants guarantees that the H2 producers have available a long-term, plannable supply of electricity with fixed prices.
A modular design and the flexible plant structure composed of several containerized MW electrolysis units will make adapting to the physical and legal requirements of hydrogen for different supply strings in the TH2ECO project at an electrolysis site possible. In this way, from the start, filling a high-pressure trailer with 5.0 purity green hydrogen as defined in EU directive REDII and eventually feeding CO2-free green hydrogen at 30 bar into the H2 grid can occur. Synergies of H2 demand and different revenue streams are thus used in a way that enables efficient cash intakes in the different areas of use.
H2Eco Award for TH2ECO
During Hannover Messe, TH2ECO and namely Green Wind Innovation was distinguished with the H2Eco Award – a distinction by the DWV (German hydrogen and fuel cell association) and Deutsche Messe for companies whose projects make an outstanding contribution to the ramp-up of the hydrogen economy. In the project TH2ECO, where it is a consortium member, Green Wind Innovation is responsible for the set-up of a modular 10-MW electrolysis plant. According to the assessment by the jury of notable figures, the project distinguishes itself through a special system technological, national economic contribution to climate protection and CO2 reduction.
TH2ECO MOBILITY is a HyPerformer
In the area of transportation, the planned refueling station in GVZ Erfurt will make higher revenue potentials with hydrogen possible. Recently, the subproject TH2ECO MOBILITY, led by consultancy EurA Innovationsberatung, was named a HyPerformer 2023 by the German transport ministry. To realize the development of an H2 mobility hub in the GVZ, 15 million euros of federal funding has been allocated.
In the area of industry, with a suitably coordinated H2 product, a CO2-free energy source will be created, which can also be used as a chemical starting material. For the centralized heating of Stadtwerke Erfurt, a CO2-free heating product will be available in the market.
Security of supply increasing
With TH2ECO, an H2 ecosystem is being created that uses the potentials of cheap renewable energies from wind and PV plants and incorporates the fluctuation of energy sources through the buffer and storage capabilities of an H2 pipeline. In this way, the constant demand from industry, daily fluctuating demand from transportation, and seasonally fluctuating demand in the heating sector can be brought together with renewable energy from regional sources.
In the combined heat-and-power station of Stadtwerke Erfurt, hydrogen is to be used to generate grid heat. About 40 percent of the residents of Erfurt can proportionately and directly benefit from this. Furthermore, by blending H2 in sections of the existing natural gas grid, households in these microgrids will be supplied with green hydrogen.
In the medium term, one of the largest economic centers of Thüringen, that is industrial park Erfurter Kreuz, as well as the rail transport systems will be incorporated. The planned connection starting 2030 to the German and European Hydrogen Backbone (EHB) will support the commercial prospects beyond the borders of Thüringen and Germany in the long term. In this way, the commerce of locations Germany and particularly Thüringen will be strengthened by the TH2ECO project.
Project development of the electrolysis station
Could you illustrate what the project development of the electrolyzers was like?
Fromm: During the realization of the electrolysis plant from Green Wind, the local community was actively involved early on through a presentation for the Bürgermeister in the town hall, in a building committee and in town council meetings. Like with the installation of wind energy in Thüringen, we are convinced that a fair involvement of the community in the projects is necessary. Additionally, consultation with critical stakeholders like regional water providers was done in order to ensure an environmentally considerate water supply.
What advantages are there at the electrolysis location?
Our approach is to use the complete feed-in energy of the electrolysis plant. Therefore, in addition to the generation of green hydrogen, the decoupling of local heat on site at the electrolysis plant is planned. A helpful potential, since its operation generates low-cost waste heat that – when locally used – is a helpful building block in the clean heating transition of the community, for example as part of a low-temperature heating grid.
Are there advantages on site beyond the waste heat?
Yes, definitely: We envisage that there will be an opportunity to visit at the electrolysis site, so it will become a place for knowledge expansion and learning. By being present locally, we want to develop a practical example that can be experienced and that gives the important topics of energy transition and sector coupling the visibility they deserve.
Author: Kilian Fromm, Green Wind Innovation, Berlin