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Avoid the green challenge in hydrogen – make it from seawater

© AquastillPost Thumbnail

US-based electrolyser manufacturer Ohmium and Dutch water distilling specialist Aquastill have announced a strategic collaboration to produce green hydrogen from seawater using desalination powered by waste heat.

  • According to the IEA, by 2030 green hydrogen is forecast to grow by three times its 2022 levels but will require massive investment.
  • Green hydrogen remains a distant vision today, with 97% of all hydrogen being generated from fossil fuel sources.
  • Use of waste heat for desalination to generate green hydrogen should expand production while lowering costs.

Ohmium International is a green hydrogen company that designs, manufactures, and deploys advanced Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) electrolysers. It has just announced a strategic collaboration with Aquastill, itself a specialist in  modular membrane distillation technology that uses the sustainable power of waste heat for desalination.

The collaboration will enable Ohmium to use desalinated seawater as an input in greenwater hydrogen production. At the same time, it will reuse waste heat from the Ohmium electrolysis process and keep the electrolyser cool.  Together it’s a new application of sustainable desalination technology powered using waste heat to enable expansion of green hydrogen production.

Demand for green hydrogen is growing

Green hydrogen’s potential lies in decarbonisation of carbon-intensive sectors and as clean fuel for power generation. Carbon-intensive sectors are eager to adopt hydrogen into their production cycles to meet increasingly tightening emission standards.

Power companies, chemicals and steel sectors as well as short-distance maritime and aviation and long-haul, heavy-duty transport have the highest hydrogen adoption potential.

However, substantial hurdles are expected to constrain the development and commercialisation of green hydrogen at scale over the medium term. At the moment the majority of hydrogen is generated from natural gas and without effective CCS, cannot help achieve decarbonisation goals.

There are significant challenges to overcome in order to see the widespread scaling up of a green hydrogen ecosystem. Issues include a potential lack of available renewable energy and hydrogen, as well as low technological readiness. High production, distribution and storage costs are also likely to severely limit large-scale production and commercialisation of green hydrogen, especially without the guarantee of continued government support.

At the same time while low-carbon blue hydrogen, which uses carbon capture, could contribute to global carbon transition, it won’t reduce hydrocarbon reliance. According to Moody’s, continued reliance on hydrocarbons will leave issuers in carbon-intensive industries vulnerable to any acceleration in the global decarbonisation agenda, which is going to be a negative indicator for long-term credit.

Generating an energy vector during desalination changes economics

Green hydrogen today remains far more expensive than ‘grey’ hydrogen, with the majority of the cost differential being in the cost of the electricity. It’s also far from green today – in fact, under the EU’s definition of renewable hydrogen, ‘renewable hydrogen’ can be generated from coal or gas until 2028.

By integrating Aquastill’s desalination capabilities with Ohmium’s modular green hydrogen electrolysers, the collaboration will create new decarbonisation opportunities for businesses operating in coastal areas by providing a more efficient, sustainable and affordable way of producing clean energy.

In addition, the innovative integration of modular desalination units is expected to facilitate new applications for cost-effective green hydrogen production, including co-locating PEM electrolysers with offshore wind farms, to enable the production of green hydrogen at-source.

Ohmium and Aquastill say that they have already begun assessing optimal integration of these technologies, with the intention of having these fine-tuned modules commercially available as soon as possible.

“This strategic collaboration is a great example of how the innovative integration of Ohmium and Aquastill’s technologies can enable the expansion of green hydrogen production to new sectors and geographies,” said Arne Ballantine, CEO of Ohmium International. “Utilizing Aquastill’s membrane technology to efficiently produce green hydrogen from seawater has the potential to be a game changer for companies operating in coastal or rural regions that want to affordably and sustainably decarbonize.”

Aquastill’s technology is powered by the residual heat from Ohmium’s electrolysers and the membrane distillation process simultaneously provides additional cooling capabilities for the electrolyser.

Use of waste heat could transform desalination

Unlike other energy intensive desalination technologies, the waste heat membrane-based distillation process has minimal energy requirements. These advanced desalination modules feature a modular and compact system design, making them easily transportable to wherever clean water is needed. The modular nature of the solution makes them a far easier option for clean water than the large scale fossil fuel powered desalination projects that have dominated the market to date.

“We are excited to be working with Ohmium, to successfully pair their cutting-edge PEM electrolysers with our membrane distillation technology – providing an ideal platform to expand the transformational impact of green hydrogen production to other industries,” said Bart Nelemans, CEO of Aquastill

“We have already begun to test the integration of our respective technologies, and we are confident that as a result of this joint collaboration we will be able to produce cost-competitive green hydrogen from seawater, while simultaneously helping decarbonize the operations of companies operating in coastal regions.”

SGV Take

The widespread discussions of the transition to a hydrogen based economy consistently miss the amount of necessary investment in infrastructure and the fact that today, focus on hydrogen is almost an apologia for fossil fuels – in that 97% of hydrogen made today is from fossil fuel sources.

The use of seawater to generate hydrogen is a fascinating idea but the huge expense, and high energy demand, associated with effective desalination has always been a challenge.  The use of waste heat for desalination could be transformational in areas where clean water is of urgent need, and if the process generates hydrogen too, it provides an additional revenue stream that could provide a strong driver for uptake.

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