Science / Technology
New Norwegian research institute aims to bring hydrogen solutions for the future to the market
Nils A. Røkke, executive vice president for sustainability at SINTEF, on the current state and futural challenges and opportunities for hydrogen, as a potential bridge between fossil fuels and renewable energy.
1 Dec 2022

Hydrogen is extremely versatile, which means that not only can it replace fossil fuels in heat and electricity production, but also in industrial processes and transport applications. 

— Norway has renewable resources, technology providers in the sector, and energy companies who are transitioning their portfolio to clean products with near-zero emissions. However, there are still numerous barriers that need to be overcome, Nils A. Røkke, executive vice president for sustainability at SINTEF and the chair of the European Energy Research Alliance (EERA), explains.

SINTEF is one of the largest independent research institutes in both Norway and Europe, that’s been working for over 70 years to develop solutions and innovations all over the world. It’s also a non-profit organisation, and any financial surplus is invested in scientific equipment, skills, and expertise. 

— Hydrogen is high on our agenda, and we are confident that hydrogen and hydrogen carriers will play a vital role in the energy transition. 

Røkke is also the director of the new Norwegian research centre on hydrogen use and production, HYDROGENi — a Norwegian Centre for Environment-friendly Energy Research (FME).

— We’re focused on hydrogen and ammonia research and innovation. The centre will operate for eight years, and assembles key R&I institutions and over 50 industry partners in Norway and Europe, with the common goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. We have both public and private support, having received €20 million in funding from the Research Council of Norway and a total of €33 million from our industrial and research partners. Our main focus is to contribute to Norway’s 2030 and 2050 climate and energy targets, and thus provide new and improved solutions for the safe production, transport, and end use of hydrogen and hydrogen carriers. We employ a technologically neutral view with the purpose of producing sustainable solutions that respond to the demand for clean hydrogen and fast-tracking their time to the market, Røkke shares. He continues:

— The centre will offer a boost for a new Norwegian hydrogen industry by contributing to the development of new technologies and businesses, cultivating a Norwegian export market for hydrogen and hydrogen-related technologies, and supporting pilot, demo, and full-scale deployment projects in both Norway and Europe. Our six core R&I institutions will also educate 36 PhD candidates and postdoc researchers, who will bring their expertise to industry, government, and academia.


What’s the current state of hydrogen in Norway?

— The sheer size of our consortium is evidence of a great deal of interest. The Norwegian government is also boosting hydrogen clusters and their use in the maritime sector through other support schemes, such as Enova. Generally, hydrogen is considered to be one of the main drivers of the green transition. I mentioned the barriers, so achieving an emissions-free industry is a crucial part of the Norwegian hydrogen strategy, and will be key for developing both hydrogen production and uptake. An emerging market is developing but clearly more needs to be done to deploy the hydrogen economy. There are also numerous knowledge and technical gaps that need to be filled. Our goal with HYDROGENi is to support this development and build confidence to ensure that these solutions will be an accepted part of everyday life in the decarbonised economy at large.

And, looking forward, what will happen with hydrogen on a national scale onwards in the coming years?

— The recent report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) indicates that we are not on track to limiting the global increase in temperatures to 1.5°C. In fact, we are currently targeting to achieve 2.8°C. It is clear that we really need to step away from a fossil-fuel society, and establishing a hydrogen economy will be key to that end. If hydrogen is to become a primary fuel and energy source, we need to scale production from the current amount of approximately 90 Mt (million tonnes, Ed’s note) on a global scale to 3-4 times this amount.

— For Norway, it is about maintaining a role as a major exporter of energy and clean energy. Hydrogen can be that solution. I also see use in the maritime sector as very important together with industrial uses. Given our role as a major maritime nation, I see the use of ammonia and liquified hydrogen as key developments with great promise. We even see an emergence of hydrogen for air traffic. And it will go along with batteries, which are also key for a renewable and secure society. Teaming up with major trade partners on developing the hydrogen economy will be key. These are typically Germany, the UK, and France. 

According to Røkke, establishments like HYDROGENi have a great opportunity to be a hub for starting such cooperations. 

— This is an effort that should start now. Hydrogen can be a bridge between fossil fuels and renewable energy, with blue hydrogen ensuring a swift transition period, and green hydrogen contributing to a renewable energy society.

Nils A. Røkke.

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