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Welcome Sebastiaan Ruijgrok, New Expert in the Generation Professionals Group- [an Energy Central Power Perspectives™ Interview]

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Energy Analyst Chester Energy and Policy

Official Energy Central Community Manager of Generation and Energy Management Networks. Matt is an energy analyst in Orlando FL (by way of Washington DC) working as an independent energy...

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  • Nov 18, 2021
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Each day, the power sector is moving further away from the business models of the past century and into the future of the energy industry. Whether that’s from digital tools or clean power generation or electric vehicles, we’re currently witnessing a complete transformation that is going to take a massive commitment to complete. And that’s why leaders in the various energy sector spaces will need to be held up as models for how this evolution should occur, as they are key for making the transformation possible.

One key area that’s seeing renewed interest and investment across the globe is regarding hydrogen energy. Hydrogen presents the opportunity to provide transportation fuels, seasonal energy storage, outlets for decarbonizing fossil fuel generation, and much more. But hydrogen has been hyped up before and failed to deliver on its promises, so this recent pathway must be treated carefully, and those leaders are going to be more important than ever.

For those reasons, Energy Central is thrilled to welcome Sebastiaan Ruijgrok of Siemens Energy to the Energy Central Network of Experts with a focus on the Generation Professionals Group, as well as Utility Management. In Sebastiaan’s role as Solutions Marketing Manager, he has a key focus on hydrogen energy and he’s bringing his years of experience to make the hydrogen future a reality.

As an Energy Central Expert, Sebastiaan will be on the Energy Central platform to address questions related to hydrogen energy while sharing his insights, and to kick off that process we wanted to introduce him to the community with an iteration of our Energy Central Power Perspective ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series.’

Enjoy!

Matt Chester:  I’d love to start at the beginning, with you providing your background for our community, including how you got into the energy business, and hydrogen specifically.

Sebastiaan Ruijgrok: I started my career after university as a consultant, among other things also in energy and industry area. But after almost two years, visiting a lot of customers and having lots of hours on the road, I thought this cannot be my life for the next decades. So, I decided to do something else. I came across a company in the Netherlands called NEM Energy and I started doing marketing and business development on projects involving industrial and utility boiler/heat exchangers. This company was taken over by, at the time, Siemens AG, now Siemens Energy, a spinoff from Siemens AG.

Today, we are addressing the energy transition developing new technologies for a pathway to zero carbon emissions. We ceased supporting the development of new coal-fired power plants. And we believe that gas fired power generation is the bridge to a new energy future, especially by using more and more hydrogen instead of natural gas as fuel, which is key to the future. You will hear from about this development from me soon.

My market expertise is also relevant here. Over the years we have served many different markets and applications, for instance we developed heat exchangers specifically for an energy storage application, converting surplus electricity from a wind farm in Northwest Germany into thermal heat. In this solution, you have an electric heater that uses electricity and converts it into hot air, which is blown into a reservoir where it heats up, in this case, a sort of volcanic rock, the reservoir for the energy storage. If you need electricity, you ‘simply’ blow hot air into a conventional steam generator, which then makes steam and hence allows to generate electricity. This is just an example of innovation, and there are many of these new initiatives in our company. Some of them might fail, though others will work out. But the fact is that we are trying and doing our utmost, and I was attracted to these new initiatives searching for carbon free power generation and carbon free energy storage solutions. And that doesn’t just mean completely CO2 free applications, but also transition solutions. The latter are important because we're not changing the world from one day to the other. So, there's a lot of focus on reducing the amount of CO2 per kilowatt-hour without jumping right up to a hundred percent hydrogen power generation – even though that’s what we’re aiming for in the long run, among other things.

 

MC: Some may content that hydrogen is more hype than substance and that we’ve fallen into this trap before. What’s your view on that skepticism?

SR: Over the last 15 years, hydrogen has been hailed as the fuel of the future came several times. And that’s why senior guys in my organization often used to say, hydrogen, no, we tried that already. Forget it. But why didn't it work? Well, a combination of things such as, the market mechanisms making hydrogen viable were not in place, the technology was not ready, and public opinion on climate urgency wasn't there yet. But now we have the simple fact that the planet needs us to reduce emissions and that can be done via solutions such as hydrogen. So, we’re already starting to use hydrogen as a fuel right now, with very good results. The electrolyzers, the market is really picking up, we have had the chance to build various great hydrogen projects, and we are rather optimistic about the outlook for market adoption. And for guidance even new hydrogen certification processes are being made ready for the industry.

 

MC: Hydrogen comes in all sorts of types and ‘colors,’ as we’ve heard of blue hydrogen vs. green hydrogen vs. grey hydrogen. What are the relative strengths and shortcomings of these different types of hydrogen?

SR: Nowadays you have all the colors of the rainbow. They even talk about purple hydrogen, which I first heard as a term a couple of months ago, as hydrogen from nuclear power generation, so they’re figuring out a color for every way of making hydrogen.

But I think that the most common way of producing hydrogen – which mainly has already been used for decades for producing fertilizer – is where you have natural gas converted into hydrogen in a steam methane reforming (SMR) process. We call that gray hydrogen, and the carbon with the conversion is going up in the air.

There are possible remedies for that. For example, there are projects attempting to take the carbon out at the source and inject it back into an underground reservoir, such as a gas or oil well and then move or transport the hydrogen instead of natural gas – this would be what we refer to as blue hydrogen. But there are issues with trying to store carbon dioxide. For example, if you want to do this offshore, it's a challenge. But onshore it’s tricky, too. I know this from a project close to the city of Rotterdam years ago. People by and large simply don't want to have some kind of carbon injection and storage in their backyard.

But if the conditions are right, I would say, yes, do it, because we don't have the amount of renewable energy available to start big time with green hydrogen today, even though there is a huge potential –we actually see green hydrogen growing rapidly over the next years and overtaking blue hydrogen. Still, today I would say, start with converting the gray hydrogen into blue hydrogen where that makes sense.

MC: Hydrogen energy may present different opportunities depending for different countries, for example comparing industrialized economies vs. industrializing economies. Is this an issue you’re looking into?

SR:  I would not say that hydrogen is limited to industrialized countries. For example, oil producing industrializing countries know they have to diversify their energy mix, because if they depend solely on oil the next decades don’t look so bright. So, they know that they have to find different ways on how to survive long term. That’s why they're investing in new technologies and new ways of supplying their customers with fuels. And that's why you see countries like Dubai coming up with all kinds of fancy projects, also to make green hydrogen.

Also, industrializing countries that have a huge potential for solar energy and wind, such as Chile, also have a great potential when it comes to producing hydrogen. Many of them are already well on their way towards decarbonizing energy generation – and producing und using hydrogen for energy generation and sector coupling is just a logical step that follows from that. For example, consider the Haru Oni plant in Chile’s Magallanes region. There, Siemens Energy, Porsche, ExxonMobil, and other companies will build the world’s first integrated, commercial, industrial-scale plant for making synthetic climate-neutral fuels based on green hydrogen and carbon dioxide captured directly from the air.

 

MC: Is sector coupling really the be all and end all for our future energy system?

SR: It is not a target in itself but consider that in the past most industries would have had their own supply for energy. Now you have a potential to combine different energy needs. For instance, utilities can produce hydrogen from excess power from the grid, while working together with industries that use this hydrogen as a basis for other products and processes. Another option might be supplying a hydrogen gas station with clean hydrogen gas thereby coupling the power generation market to mobility.

 

MC: Now speaking to our utility industry audience on Energy Central—what role can, and should they have in this hydrogen energy transition?

SR: Well, the good thing about hydrogen is you don't have to start big. In the landscape of power generation, gas turbine OEMs such as Siemens Energy are making great efforts to prepare for the energy industry using more hydrogen. If you have, let's say an F class gas turbine plant or 400-megawatt plant, you can quickly bring the plant’s carbon intensity down by mixing hydrogen with natural gas. And this way you also learn about hydrogen. You can also produce your own hydrogen on site using an electrolyzer – and PEM electrolyzers especially respond very well to fluctuating renewable output. So, if you start small, you can learn from it and then go bigger later. So, my message to utilities would be is to start with hydrogen now because if you do that, you might have a competitive advantage in the future. If you start in five years, you’ll still have to learn everything catching up with competitors. So, you better start now or lag behind.

 

________________________________________

Thanks to Sebastiaan Ruijgrok for joining me for this interview and for providing a wealth of insights an expertise to the Energy Central Community. You can trust that Sebastiaan will be available for you to reach out and connect, ask questions, and more as an Energy Central member, so be sure to make him feel welcome when you see her across the platform.

The other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interested in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

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