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2024

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Is green hydrogen the future of heating? Inside the first EU school with a clean hydrogen boiler

Author:

Hydrogencentral


 

Is green hydrogen the future of heating? Inside the first EU school with a clean hydrogen boiler.

 

The public high school of Antonio Meucci in Carpi looks much like any other in Europe: a hub of students eagerly awaiting lunch breaks, professors navigating peaks of motivation and resignation, while janitors run the halls.

 

But tucked away in a distant corner of the schoolyard, a mysterious fenced structure emerges from the trees. Accessible only to specialised technicians, a panel on the structure hints at its purpose: H2 Hydrogen.

 

This building contains the first green-hydrogen-powered boiler to heat an EU educational site, and it has zero emissions potential.

 

So, how does a green hydrogen boiler work? And could this technology revolutionise our heating systems, making them more sustainable?

 

To find out, Euronews Green headed to Carpi to talk to the protagonists of the projects, and spoke to experts on the pros and cons of hydrogen-powered heating.

 

The potential of green hydrogen boilers

 

Meucci’s green-hydrogen boiler was designed in 2020 by Coopservice, the winning applicant of a call for proposals organised by the province of Modena. The project started on 20 January 2023, garnering widespread acclaim for its forward-thinking approach.

 

The timing aligned with the European Union’s growing interest in hydrogen. The launch of the EU’s Green New Deal and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine inspired member states to explore more sustainable and energy-efficient alternatives to fossil fuels. 

 

And that’s when green hydrogen emerged as a potential solution. 

 

Produced from renewable sources, green hydrogen does not pollute and it simplifies the transportation and storage of energy. The new fuel is the focus of many European financial schemes for the energy transition, aimed at lowering its high production costs. 

 

Spain and Germany are among the most promising EU countries in green hydrogen production, but Italy is also playing its part, developing projects like Meucci’s boiler. 

 

How do green hydrogen boilers work?

 

This system heats the high school gym thanks to a chemical process called electrolysis. 

 

Annalisa Vita, the engineer behind the project, said:

 

Green hydrogen is produced from the renewable energy generated by the photovoltaic [solar] park which we built on the roof of the gym.

 

“This renewable energy sets off the electrolysis, which means that it splits water into oxygen and hydrogen. Oxygen is liberated into the air, while hydrogen is stored in a container.”

 

Thanks to hydrogen’s storage capability, a green hydrogen boiler is more reliable than simple renewable heating.

 

“On grey days, solar panels alone don’t generate much energy. But hydrogen allows us to store surplus energy from sunny days and use it during winter,” Vita explains. 

 

This characteristic is well suited for northern Italian cities like Carpi, where the winter sky is often covered in clouds and fog.

 

The hydrogen-driven boiler has another advantage: it does not need to create any emissions. 

 

“Meucci’s boiler, along with 20 other energy projects in Modena province, is expected to reduce CO2 emissions by 717 tonnes per year, equivalent to the CO2 emitted by 700 cars in a year,” Vita says. 

 

Again, this point is particularly significant for Carpi, located in the polluted Po Valley. While visiting the school, the local administration extended emergency measures in response to alarming air quality data.

 

So, if the green hydrogen boiler has so many upsides, why aren’t all of our homes, factories, and schools heated with this technology yet?

 

The limits of green hydrogen boilers

 

The adoption of green hydrogen in heating systems faces hurdles, primarily due to its cost. Meucci’s project was enabled by a €350,000 investment, a sum which illustrates the financial barrier to widespread implementation of similar projects.

 

Moreover, European green-hydrogen heating structures have to abide by strict safety regulations, which tend to reduce their energy efficiency. 

 

“We designed the boiler for future use of 100 per cent hydrogen, but currently it operates at 20 per cent hydrogen and 80 per cent methane due to safety rules,” explains Vita. 

 

This hybrid system mitigates the risks associated with hydrogen’s flammability and nitrogen oxide emissions from combustion, but also reduces the energy efficiency of the system.

 

Last but not least, experts are strongly divided over the use of green hydrogen in heating systems. 

 

In 2022, the International Energy Agency (IEA) predicted a “negligible role” for hydrogen in heating by 2030. 

 

In a clarification email to Euronews Green, Laura Cozzi, IEA director of sustainability, technology and outlooks, acknowledged hydrogen’s role in hard-to-decarbonise sectors such as steel, cement, and petrochemicals. 

 

However, she underlined that for residential heating electric heat pumps can be equally environmentally friendly, while offering lower heat dispersion and operational costs.

 

Hamed Aslannejad, assistant professor of sustainable energy at Utrecht University shares a similar view:

 

Hydrogen is a good solution, but it is not a solution to everything.

 

“For places that do not require high temperatures like houses and gyms, electric heat pumps can be more energy efficient and as sustainable as green hydrogen. 

 

“But for places where higher temperatures are needed, such as glass and steel factories, green hydrogen is better”. 

 

Green hydrogen’s journey: Just like a mobile phone?

 

Despite scientific doubts, Carpi’s green hydrogen initiative is hailed as a step towards sustainability by the community. 

 

While showing us around the park, dean Viviana Valentini and her students were enthusiastic about the sustainable opportunity provided to the school and looked forward to the expansion of the project.

 

 Annalisa Vita, Lead engineer of the green hydrogen boiler, said:

 

Maybe hydrogen is not as energy efficient as other sources, but if we want to find a greener solution to build the green energy of the future, we need pilot projects just like this one.

 

Though receptive to the scientific debate around it, engineer Vita still believes in green hydrogen’s potential.

 

“Maybe hydrogen is not as energy efficient as other sources, but if we want to find a greener solution to build the green energy of the future, we need pilot projects just like this one,” she says.

 

“Our hydrogen heating system is like the first gigantic cellphone. Now it seems pathetic, but back then it was a huge investment for the future”.

 

Source:Hydrogencentral

 

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