“Moving Safely into a Sustainable Future”

“Moving Safely into a Sustainable Future”

In the energy transition, a lot of hope has been pinned on hydrogen as one of the cleanest energy sources in the world – albeit only if the entire life cycle from production to transport is environmentally friendly. The TÜV NORD GROUP has been working in this field for around a decade and is currently pioneering the development of a sustainable and safe infrastructure for hydrogen. Silvio Konrad, Managing Director of TÜV NORD Systems, and Dr. Carsten Gelhard, Head of HydroHub, explain in an interview the contribution the TÜV NORD GROUP is making to the hydrogen market and which projects the company is carrying out.

The Port of Hamburg has the ambition to become an important hub for hydrogen imports. The TÜV NORD GROUP is supporting the city of Hamburg in this project.

Mr. Konrad and Dr. Gelhard, what benefits do you see in hydrogen as an energy carrier?

SILVIO KONRAD At the TÜV NORD GROUP we believe that hydrogen could catalyse a revolution in the energy and industrial sectors and make a significant contribution to climate protection. The great value of hydrogen lies in its versatility, which makes it possible to build bridges between sectors such as energy, mobility, agriculture and other areas. 

DR. CARSTEN GELHARD If the energy transition is going to succeed, we need alternatives to fossil fuels, and hydrogen is going to play a key role here. The advantage of hydrogen is that its properties allow for a high degree of flexibility in energy supply. Electrolysers used to produce hydrogen, for example, can absorb excess amounts of energy and feed it into the power grid when required. With this integrated energy system, the hydrogen economy could make a significant contribution to the security of supply in the entire energy landscape.

The TÜV NORD GROUP has intensified its work on hydrogen in recent years. Why is this?

SK Hydrogen isn’t a new field for us. We set up some hydrogen filling stations at the Port of Hamburg a good ten years back. However, we’ve redoubled our efforts in this area because there’s been a rethinking of hydrogen technology in politics and business. Our customers are now increasingly asking for services in this area, one example being copper producer Aurubis, which is converting its anode production from natural gas to hydrogen. We carried out a risk assessment for Aurubis and provided safety-related support in the commissioning of this pilot project. The growing market demand means that we need to expand our knowledge but also to adapt existing services and develop new ones.

CG The TÜV NORD GROUP has the clear goal of driving forward the energy transition and leading its customers and society safely into a sustainable future. We aim to use our expertise to help shape the development of an infrastructure for hydrogen. To get ourselves in the position to do this, we’ve set out in a new direction that brings together different business segments within the Group. The best example of this is the founding of HydroHub, an initiative of several companies from the TÜV NORD GROUP. With this brand, we’re pooling our expertise in the areas of consulting, training and engineering and offering these services on the hydrogen market.

“We want to use our expertise to help shape the development of an infrastructure for hydrogen.”

Dr. Carsten Gelhard, Head of HydroHub

So what are the challenges facing the hydrogen economy right now?

CK The biggest challenge lies in the fact that we’re currently in the market ramp-up phase. This means that there are still lots of open questions, such as how the gas network can be converted to hydrogen. We’re helping our customers with the transformation process in all phases from strategic planning and conceptual design through to the implementation of the required systems. In the initial phase, for example, our experts are carrying out market analyses, formulating location strategies and developing concepts for a sustainable supply chain. We’re also presented with the challenge that huge amounts of electricity from renewable energies are required for the environmentally friendly production of hydrogen. That’s why the HydroHub in the TÜV NORD GROUP is currently focusing on supporting the development of a hydrogen infrastructure. As soon as the infrastructure is in place for everything from generation to application, hydrogen will boom.

SK Hydrogen is still being used sparingly just now because the policymakers haven’t yet come up with the regulatory framework necessary for reliable investments running into the billions of euro. Here, too, we’re helping to define the framework conditions for a successful hydrogen economy within local and international networks. For example, we’re a member of the Hamburg Renewable Energy Cluster and the Hydrogen Advisory Board in Essen, and we’re also represented on the World Energy Council and Hydrogen Europe. In these bodies, we’re using our many years of accumulated knowledge to steer projects to a successful outcome. 

Let's stay with this question for a moment: which specific projects is the TÜV NORD GROUP pushing ahead with?

SK In the “WindH₂” project, we’re working with companies from various industries to set up an integrated energy system in Salzgitter. We also supported the construction of a wind farm for Avacon, a regional energy supplier, the green electricity from which is now being used to power an electrolyser built by Siemens Energy. This electrolyser in turn is producing green hydrogen, which is then transported by Linde, an expert in process gases, to the Salzgitter steel group. Once delivered, the hydrogen gets used as a low-carbon energy source for steel production. We’ve provided safety-related support for each of these stages. “WindH₂” emphatically demonstrates how effectively hydrogen can bring different sectors together.

CG The port city of Hamburg wants to set itself up as a national and international hub for hydrogen imports in the coming years. A site like Hamburg is particularly important for an industrialised country like Germany, which has to import the majority of its energy. We were commissioned by Hamburg to evaluate the technological options for various hydrogen carrier materials, and we clearly and comprehensively communicated the advantages and disadvantages from an ecological, economic and safety-relevant point of view and contributed to the discussion about the required hydrogen infrastructure. As you can see, creating a hydrogen infrastructure is one of the key issues. In a general planning capacity, the experts from the TÜV NORD GROUP are also supporting terranets bw in the construction of a new 100-kilometre section of a South German natural gas pipeline which is earmarked for the future transport of hydrogen. So, with our expertise, we’re making a significant contribution to energy security.

Once safe and sustainable infrastructure is in place, from production through to transport and application, hydrogen will be an unstoppable force.

What goals has the TÜV NORD GROUP already achieved in relation to hydrogen?

SK In 2021, we achieved and in some cases even exceeded our ambitious targets. For example, we drove various innovations without using up our entire budget. We also generated sales through projects in our first year, showing that hydrogen projects can be profitable even under the current conditions. Our pioneering status in the energy transition is a strong motivator for our employees.

CG We want to use our services to position ourselves as a key player in safety, sustainability and reliability in the hydrogen economy. As I see it, we reached two major milestones in 2021. On the one hand, thanks to the close cooperation between the various business units, we’ve seen the development of much stronger internal coherence. On the other, alongside our classic inspection business, the broad range of expert knowledge in our various divisions and companies has helped cement the status of the TÜV NORD GROUP as a leading service provider in the hydrogen economy under the HydroHub brand.

What will be at the top of the TÜV NORD GROUP’s hydrogen agenda in the future?

CG One key theme is the development of a uniform classification system with transparent characteristics for sustainable hydrogen. Although hydrogen is an emissions-saving energy carrier, when it comes to sustainability we need to look at the entire value chain from production to transport and application. At the same time, economic and social criteria must be taken into account alongside ecological factors when it comes to evaluating the sustainability of hydrogen.

SK We also want to integrate other technological fields into the hydrogen economy. For example, in the case of offshore wind farms, the question arises as to whether they can produce green hydrogen as an integrated system. These are questions that we will continue to deal with in the future, and we’re going to use our expert knowledge to push ahead with the development of a safe and sustainable hydrogen infrastructure.

“We see hydrogen as a revolution in the energy and industrial sectors.”

Silvio Konrad, Managing Director at TÜV NORD Systems