* Project will be biggest PEM-based hydrogen research site
* Aim is to use hydrogen to smooth green power fluctuations
* Plant will be built on Voestalpine site in Austria
* Hopes for green hydrogen use in steel production in 15
By Shadia Nasralla
VIENNA, Feb 7 Siemens, steel maker
Voestalpine and hydropower firm Verbund are
planning to build a cutting-edge plant to make green hydrogen
more suitable for industrial use, the companies said on Tuesday.
Utilities and industrial firms are under increasing pressure
to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and they hope to use
excess power generated by renewable sources such as wind or
solar to create hydrogen from water with electrolysis.
The hydrogen can then be stored for reconversion into power
or for direct industrial use. The process might in the long term
help to phase out the use of coal to make steel altogether.
The new research plant will be the biggest in the world to
use so-called Proton Exchange Membrane (PEM) technology
developed by Siemens, which the German company says smoothes out
power supply fluctuations better than other technologies.
The companies said the 6 megawatt, 18 million euro ($19.2
million) plant will be more closely integrated into the
steel-making process than similar green hydrogen projects.
Experiments are likely to start in about two years, Voestalpine
The plant, mostly financed by the European Union, is being
built on Voestalpine's grounds in the Austrian city of Linz and
will produce more power than other Siemens projects in Germany.
"It will be capable of very quickly varying its output to
follow renewable energy sources production," said Bart Biebuyck,
executive director of the European Commission's fuel cells and
hydrogen joint undertaking.
"This green hydrogen will be used in the reduction of the
iron ore in a concept that is very unique worldwide and which
the global steel industry ... will closely monitor," he said.
Voestalpine Chief Executive Wolfgang Eder said, however,
that it would take at least 15 years to work out how green
hydrogen could replace coal in the steel-making process without
major cost increases.
Voestalpine mainly uses coal to reduce iron ore though in
its plant in Texas it uses natural gas, cutting carbon emissions
by about 40 percent, and green hydrogen would be the next step.
"On the path towards decarbonisation we must walk from coal
via natural gas as an interim solution ... towards hydrogen in
the long term," Eder said.
The world's biggest oil companies and carmakers have also
pledged to invest more in hydrogen technologies.
($1 = 0.9377 euros)
(Reporting by Shadia Nasralla; editing by David Clarke)