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Expertise in offshore hydrogen platform helps large-scale North Sea study progress

Expertise in offshore hydrogen platform helps large-scale North Sea study progress

The Dutch energy grid is full, thus posing a highly complicated situation should an extra Gigawatt need to be added somewhere on land. To meet future energy needs, the focus no longer lies on locations and possibilities on land but is shifting to the water. The North Sea, to be precise. TNO set up the North Sea Energy (NSE) research programme to investigate how the North Sea can become an essential source of energy. NSE is exploring an integral approach to the energy system, in which all sources are considered as a whole: hydrogen, wind, natural gas, CO2 capture and storage and energy storage. Iv-Offshore & Energy has been asked to investigate the possibilities for an offshore hydrogen platform. “This could be the basis for more,” says Innovation Manager Niels Verkaik.

A project like this is why I want to do this work.

The demand for more energy from natural sources such as sun, wind and water is more urgent than ever. Geopolitical relations are under pressure, and fossil fuels will be exhausted in the short term. The search for environmentally friendly and natural energy sources is extensive. Iv-Offshore & Energy is helping the NSE consortium in the fourth phase of the NSE research programme and has designed a concept for a hydrogen platform, including all related accessories. Using hydrogen as an energy carrier is currently popular as, unlike electricity, hydrogen surpluses can be stored on a large scale and transported more efficiently.

The Dutch government also recognises the urgency and aims to produce much more energy in the North Sea in the coming years. The North Sea is also considered a breeding ground for innovations within NSE. Niels Verkaik is optimistic that Iv’s offshore branch can contribute to this. “For me, a project like this is why I want to do this work. Devising innovative ideas, tackling the puzzles, and with some luck and wisdom, something useful will come out of it. It’s really great to be at the forefront of new developments.”

Iv-Offshore & Energy was engaged by programme leader TNO precisely because of its specific in-house expertise in platform design. In addition to a platform design, a design for a hydrogen island is also underway. Both concepts will then be placed side by side to weigh the pros and cons. Niels is fully aware that a solid conclusion will not arise from this. This project is, therefore, very much in a study phase. Niels: “These are real studies. Purely to determine the possibilities and pros and cons. The costs, CO2 emissions, and the effects on ecology are examined within North Sea Energy. No conclusions are drawn in this phase, but we do examine the extent of the outcomes.”

NSE views the North Sea not only as a source of (new) energy but as an entire system. For example, what is the ecological composition of flora and fauna? What is already in place in terms of infrastructure? Is there enough space left over for fishing, for example? In short, a broader scope is considered than only providing an answer to the question of how much (hydrogen) energy can be ‘fished out’ of the North Sea. Niels. “We are used to conducting a lot of assignments related to the design of electrical substations. We’re good in this, but we are now getting involved earlier. This study helps us demonstrate what we can do and why. For that matter, this could be a breakthrough.”

If you ask smart things, you get smart things.

Using hydrogen is nothing new. In fact, hydrogen is already widely used in industry, for example, in the port of Rotterdam. “It is needed there as a raw material for the petrochemical industry and plastics and fuels.” But hydrogen can also be applied more widely, for example, for transport and homes. The hydrogen platform designed by Offshore & Energy generates hydrogen from 500 Megawatts or 85kTA. First, Niels and colleague Eric van Breukelen investigated the necessary equipment on board the platform. Subsequently, a logical and efficient layout was created, and the structural design was examined.


That is the core of system integration: piecing the parts together

The most important factor of the design is the electrolysers, the equipment that produces hydrogen by converting ultrapure water into water and oxygen using electricity. A digital 3D tour shows how impressive the platform is. In terms of system integration and use of equipment, the platform is compact and smartly compiled. “At Iv-Offshore & Energy, we are familiar with system integration. In fact, I dare say we are exceptionally good at it,” Niels continues. “We take all the components and process equipment such as compressors, water pumps, filters and all measurement and control technology and determine how these should work together. This is the core of system integration: piecing the parts together. If you aim for clever things, you’ll achieve clever things. The art lies in designing as efficiently as possible.”

The study into the possibilities for a hydrogen platform in the North Sea is almost complete. The project is currently in the final phase, with which weight estimates and final reports are drawn up. Then, for the time being, Iv-Offshore & Energy’s work is done.

We want to show that we are ready.

Niels hopes and expects to have aroused the interest of (potential) clients by participating in the research programme and making a crucial contribution to the energy issue with which the world is faced. “Governments and the business community are very interested in this topic,” he says. “So, of course, we’ll be circulating this design. We have laid a good foundation.”

But, although there is urgency, patience above all is needed, says Niels. “Innovations always take a long time to develop. It can take years before it becomes feasible and an investor dares to commit. But we want to show that we are ready. We’re not waiting. When is it going to happen? Governments worldwide, not only the Dutch government, are seeking innovations. It’s coming, but no one knows whether it will be next year or if we have to wait a little longer. In any case, the potential is enormous.”