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Looking ahead to the future

November 5, 2003, 08:00 CET

What do the tiny island of Utsira off the coast of Norway, Reykjavik and Hamburg have in common? They are all home to Hydro projects with a window on a future energy market in which hydrogen, wind and waves provide environmentally friendly power. These projects show what is technically feasible and we are also working systematically to develop commercial solutions.

On the island of Utsira, west of Karmøy, 10-15 households will soon have an independent power supply provided by windmills and hydrogen. In Reykjavik and Hamburg, Hydro has played a role in setting up filling stations for hydrogen-run vehicles. In Finnmark in the north of Norway, we are co-owner of the world's most northerly windmill park, and in Scotland we are involved in the development of wave power generators.

Altogether these projects show the breadth of Hydro's involvement in new forms of energy, which runs in parallel to the core activities of Hydro Oil and Energy, namely to supply the market with oil, gas and hydroelectric power.

"We know that the development is in the direction of new forms of energy. It's important for us to be involved from the start, to build up expertise and establish a position in the new energy market, at the same time as we produce hydrocarbons in our core operation in the most efficient and environmental way," says Jørgen Rostrup, leader of the unit Renewables and hydrogen.

Good prospects
Hydro's extensive hydroelectric power operations have provided many years of experience in delivering power based on a renewable, environmentally friendly energy source. The company has also produced hydrogen in connection with its fertilizer production for 75 years.

"When we add to this the many examples of the company's pioneering applications of new technology both in its aluminium and in its oil and gas operations, we see that Hydro is in a natural position to develop new forms of energy," Rostrup continues.

So far, Hydro has mainly focused on hydrogen and wind power. The company has set up Norsk Hydro Technology Ventures to support promising projects based on other forms of renewable energy such as wave power.

Oil and Energy also works on solutions for handling carbon dioxide (CO2), to minimize emissions of this greenhouse gas, and on trade with CO2 quotas and green certificates.

Altogether Hydro has extensive activities within new forms of energy and gas related issues. Uncertain market prospects and the significant costs involved in the commercialization of this type of technology mean that a joint effort is needed in relation to frame conditions and the way the players in this area collaborate and share insights.

"Hydro is interested a close collaboration between industrial players and the authorities on the application of gas. In Norway, a state innovation company for environmental applications of gas could provide the kind of national focus needed to bring technology closer to commercialization and practical application. The Norwegian government and parliament have recommended the establishment of such a company in Grenland from 2005. We support this recommendation," says Jørgen Rostrup.


Three disciplines
The present focus on hydrogen is based on three centres of expertise in Hydro. Norsk Hydro Electrolysers in Notodden produce electrolysers for small scale hydrogen production. Technology is mainly developed at the Research Centre at Porsgrunn, and the commercial and strategic aspects are worked on at Hydro Energy's office in Sandvika, near Oslo.
"For Hydro it is important to integrate technical and research expertise in operational demonstration projects. All of these centres of expertise are vital," says Rostrup.

He explains that Hydro works along three axes in its hydrogen projects:

  • small scale hydrogen production for the transport sector
  • hydrogen production combined with renewable energy sources
  • large scale hydrogen production including handling of CO2

Demonstration projects have been established in the first two areas on Iceland and on the island of Utsira respectively. The third area may become more important for Hydro in the long-term.

"It is in this area we find our main impetus. We want to be involved in the development of a larger hydrogen market, with deliveries of hydrogen gas from large scale plants," says Rostrup.

Hydro's demonstration projects have attracted a good deal of interest from the international press, environmental organizations, politicians and ordinary individuals.

"We want to demonstrate through these projects that hydrogen can become part of our day-to-day life in the future. So we are delighted that there has been so much interest. It's important for us to show what we are able to achieve today, even though the costs and frame conditions prevent this technology from being available on a large scale. We have to show that we have the patience to further develop energy concepts over time so that they can become interesting for larger market segments," says Rostrup.