Hydrogen in Austria

1. CURRENT STATE OF HYDROGEN PROJECTS IN AUSTRIA

Hydrogen has been deemed an important source of energy for Austria and the Austrian government has initiated an "Austrian hydrogen strategy", which is spearheaded by the Austrian Federal Ministry for Climate Action, Environment, Energy, Mobility, Innovation and Technology. The Austrian government has ambitious plans to incorporate hydrogen into its climate and energy strategy and has expressed that hydrogen will play a major role in achieving climate neutrality in Europe by 2050. The current environment minister recently stated that the new hydrogen strategy will be announced by the end of 2020.

In the past few decades, Austria has consciously shifted away from relying on fossil fuels and placed a greater emphasis on renewable energy sources. In 2016, according to the statistics released by the Austrian government, 262.8 petajoules of energy were generated from biofuels and other renewable energy sources as compared to 154.7 petajoules in 2005. The current Austrian government plans to continue this trend of incorporating renewable energies as part of its energy plan, with hydrogen as a cornerstone of its sustainable energy strategy. The Austrian Chancellor has announced the government's ambitions for Austria to be the number 1 country in Europe for hydrogen.

Several large Austrian companies, such as Austrian Power Grid, VERBUND and Voestalpine, have already undertaken initiatives to promote and establish hydrogen as a key source of energy. These companies are partners of the EU-funded H2FUTURE project (“H2FUTURE”), which aims to investigate the generation of green hydrogen from electricity that is derived from renewable sources.

Currently, Austria is focused on the production of green hydrogen on a large scale and is investing in the relevant infrastructure to allow for both public (for example, public transportation or logistics companies) and private hydrogen refuelling.

Power-to-Gas will be a topic of particular importance in the future to enable better energy storage and thus use of electricity from renewable energy sources.

Energy & Industry

Hydrogen is seen as a substitute for other natural gases. Currently, the direct supply of hydrogen into the natural gas network is limited to a maximum of 4% by volume, although an increase is likely. However, energy supplying companies, such as Wien Energie, have noted that almost no pure hydrogen (which is much more valuable than gas) is fed into the grid. Wien Energie has also stated that, until there is a real renewable electricity surplus, one should not expect larger quantities of hydrogen in the gas grid. Nonetheless, Wien Energie has expressed that hydrogen offers the possibility to resolve energy storage issues, whereby surplus electricity generated in summer can be stored in this manner for subsequent use in the winter, when there is a seasonal gap in supply. 1
https://positionen.wienenergie.at/beitraege/wasserstoff-und-energiewende/

Hydrogen has multiple applications for industrial use as well. Voestalpine has reported that as part of H2FUTURE, its largest pilot plant which produces CO2-free hydrogen has successfully started operation at its site in Linz. 2
https://www.voestalpine.com/group/de/media/presseaussendungen/2019-11-11-h2future-weltweit-groesste-gruene-wasserstoffpilotanlage-erfolgreich-in-betrieb-gegangen/
In 2019, OMV and VERBUND jointly evaluated the possibility of constructing a facility for hydrogen production using electrolysis. VERBUND has also commented that the Green Hydrogen produced from such a facility could then be used for subsequent chemical production processes. 3
https://www.verbund.com/de-at/ueber-verbund/news-presse/presse/2019/07/01/omv-verbund-photovoltaik

The Hydrogen Center Austria ("HyCentA") has also been involved in numerous hydrogen related projects in Austria. Completed projects include a pilot, produced in 2017, that involved the development of a new modular-connected high-pressure proton exchange membrane (“PEM”) electrolyser, which has the flexibility to generate hydrogen from renewable or surplus electricity according to its different load profiles. There are other hydrogen projects under development by HyCentA which are due for completion in the near future. These include:

  • the "Renewable Gasfield" project (due for completion in November 2021) and
  • the "HYTECHBASIS 4 WIVA" project (due for completion in March 2022), which aims to advance industrialisation by developing the next generation of PEM fuel cells and high pressure electrolysis technology. 4
    http://www.hycenta.at/projekte/#realisierte_projekte

Transportation

Some of Austria's largest petrol companies have begun to offer hydrogen as fuel at their gas stations. Since 2012, OMV – Austria's largest petrol company – has made hydrogen fuelling stations publicly available in Vienna. OMV's gas stations currently allow for hydrogen vehicles to refuel. Further OMV is also looking to set up more hydrogen refuelling stations throughout Austria. According to the Chancellor, the Austrian government's goal is to ensure that hydrogen gas stations will be available nationwide by 2025.

Specialist hydrogen companies, such as Hydrogen eMobility AG (“Hydrogen eMobility”), assist Austria in achieving its hydrogen goals. For transportation, Hydrogen eMobility intends to construct hydrogen fuelling stations in three stages:

  1. fuelling stations for buses for public transportation;
  2. fuelling stations for logistics companies; and
  3. fuelling stations for cars. 5
    http://www.hydrogen-emobility.com/en/home-en.html

Since 2018, hydrogen-powered buses have been tested in Austrian cities, such as Graz. 6
https://www.kleinezeitung.at/steiermark/graz/5509113/Nach-EBussen_Graz-bekommt-jetzt-auch-WasserstoffBusse

Austria's national railway company, ÖBB, is also researching a hydrogen and electric hybrid propulsion system for its trains. The development of such a prototype train began in 2015, and ÖBB has plans to test regional trains that will be propelled by hydrogen. 7
https://konzern.oebb.at/de/nachhaltigkeit/klima/die-e-hybridlok-rollt-an

In 2020, Wiener Linien (the public transportation company operating in Vienna) announced that it will conduct tests for hydrogen-powered buses and plans to operate 10 hydrogen-powered buses in Vienna by 2023. 8
https://www.techandnature.com/wie-wasserstoff-zuge-alte-dieselstrecken-umweltfreundlich-machen/ https://www.wienerlinien.at/eportal3/ep/contentView.do/pageTypeId/66526/programId/74577/contentTypeId/1001/channelId/-47186/contentId/5001224
Wiener Linien also has plans for a joint Hydrogen Strategy together with Wiener Netze and Wien Energie, whereby the former is tasked with providing the relevant hydrogen gas stations and the latter has been entrusted with procuring hydrogen that is required in the future. An Austrian hydrogen hybrid car which fuses the strengths of hydrogen and battery technology was also presented in Graz, in February 2020. 9
https://investinaustria.at/en/news/2020/02/hydrogen-hybrid-car-from-austria.php

2. MARKET PROSPECTS FOR HYDROGEN 

With strong support from the Austrian government and interest from numerous large Austrian companies, there are strong market prospects for hydrogen. The Climate and Energy Fund (the “Klima- und Energie Fonds”), which is set up by the Austrian government to provide financial support to companies engaging in sustainable energy technologies and climate research, has supported numerous hydrogen related projects in Austria. 10
https://www.klimafonds.gv.at/ueber-uns/
Some of the projects funded by the Klima- und Energie Fonds are: 11
https://www.klimafonds.gv.at/projekte/

  • UpHy I – the upscaling of green hydrogen for mobility and industry;
  • H2Pioneer – which aims to pave the way for green hydrogen for early adopters in the light industry;
  • Renewable Gasfield – looking at the production of green hydrogen by means of PEM electrolysis; and
  • HyTruck (Hydrogen Truck Austria) – aims to demonstrate an emission-free fuel cell solution for the commercial vehicle market.

Apart from the Klima- und Energie Fonds, alternative financing options are available for hydrogen projects. The Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking ("FCH JU"), which is a public-private partnership, supports research and development in fuel cell and hydrogen energy technologies in Europe. The FCH JU organises an annual event, Programme Review Days, that gives an overview of the progress of projects funded by the FCH JU, with the aim of promoting these projects among the wider market. 12
https://www.fch.europa.eu/page/programme-review-days-1

More recently, in July 2020, Hydrogen eMobility, announced that it has developed a technology that allows for the production of green hydrogen, through the drying and gasification of wood, that can be achieved at a previously unattainable production price and with maximum energy efficiency. According to the company, the technology produces pure green hydrogen with a resource-saving fuel efficiency of more than 97%, while ensuring that the price of the hydrogen produced will be approximately a third lower than the current costs from fossil fuels. 13
https://www.ots.at/presseaussendung/OTS_20200707_OTS0017/oesterreichisches-unternehmen-ermoeglicht-oesterreichische-wasserstoffstrategie-bild

With strong backing from the Austrian government, there are good market prospects for hydrogen. Additionally, numerous Austrian companies have publicly announced their commitment to increase the amount of hydrogen available for both commercial and private consumption, for example, through the construction of additional hydrogen gas stations.

3. CHALLENGES FACING HYDROGEN PROJECTS IN AUSTRIA

Legal framework

Currently, there is no legal framework that exclusively deals with hydrogen. With regards to general storage and conversion facilities, in particular  power-to-gas facilities, the current legal framework in Austria is still very rudimentary, although first steps have been taken to change this. Nevertheless, there are still numerous unresolved legal issues and associated uncertainties regarding hydrogen. For this reason, an initial paper compiling the legal problems and subsequent proposed changes has been prepared by several stakeholders from the hydrogen community. 14
https://energieinstitut-linz.at/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Power-to-Gas-Vorschlag_Anpassung_rechtliche_Rahmenbedingungen.pdf
More detail on this, below.

In March 2019, the Austrian government launched its Hydrogen Initiative and presented a roadmap for developing a new hydrogen strategy. Part of the strategy included considerations on the adjustments to the legal framework which were expected to be reflected in the Renewable Expansion Act (or “Erneuerbaren-Ausbaugesetz”). Unfortunately, this process has been delayed due to premature parliamentary elections. It is to be expected that the new hydrogen strategy and the new draft of the Renewable Expansion Act will address the regulatory shortcomings in the hydrogen sector.

Reducing Costs

Although the Austrian government is strongly focusing on green hydrogen as a cornerstone of its strategy to become climate neutral by 2040, the costs of implementing the widespread use of hydrogen (whether as fuel cells for mobility purposes, as green hydrogen, or in other uses) are currently still too high.

Infrastructure

If hydrogen is to play a significant role in the road to climate neutrality, investments in the corresponding infrastructure will be necessary, for example, the strengthening of the transmission and distribution networks and an increase of storage capacities.

4. REGULATION OF HYDROGEN 

Legislation

There is currently little legislation that explicitly deals with hydrogen and related topics. Accordingly, it is necessary to resort to general public and energy law provisions when implementing hydrogen projects, however, as discussed below, this can be problematic.

Currently, the scope of application of the Gas Industry Act 2011 (or “Gaswirtschaftsgesetz 2011”) is limited to natural gas or biogenic gases processed to natural gas quality. Thus, the current provisions of the Gas Industry Act do not explicitly include other types of gas, such as hydrogen and synthetic natural gas. However, this could be remedied by Art. 1 Sec 2 of the Gas Directive 2009, the scope of which extends to other types of gas in a non-discriminatory manner. As the Gas Industry Act falls short of the EU law requirements in this respect and does not fully implement them, it can be argued that EU law is directly applicable. 15 De Bruyn, Power to Gas - Eine rechtliche Analyse, Jahrbuch Energiewirtschaft 2017, 169. In this sense, the Gas Industry Act could be seen to also apply to hydrogen.

Generation

The licensing process for the construction and operation of a hydrogen production unit and compliance with the respective conditions in the operating license (or “Betriebsanlagengenehmigung”) must be taken into account. The licence will also depend on the production plant and land use planning zone in question. A hydrogen plant with production capacity exceeding 150,000 tonnes per year, would be considered as a plant causing significant environmental impact. In such a case, a simplified environmental impact assessment, as per the Environmental Impact Assessment Act 2000 (or “UVP-G 2000”) is necessary; additionally, the provisions of the Austrian Trade Act (or “Gewerbeordnung”) and any land use plans (“Flächenwidmungsplan”) have to be considered.

Storage

Regulations such as the Regulation dealing with the Prevention of Accidents in the Industry Sector (or “Industrieunfallverordnung”), the Explosion Protection Regulation 2015 (or “Explosionsschutzverordnung 2015”) and the Regulation on Flammable Liquids (or “Verordnung über brennbare Flüssigkeiten”) must be consulted when storing hydrogen. Necessary considerations will depend on the size of the facility being used.

Transport and Distribution

The European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road ("ADR") regulates the transport of hydrogen, which is classified as a dangerous good under Annex 5 of the ADR. Drivers transporting hydrogen must be appropriately trained and vehicles must meet certain specifications required for hazardous cargoes. The Law on the Transportation of Dangerous Goods ( “Gefahrgutbeförderungsgesetz”), the Law on Pressure Equipment (“Druckgerätegesetz”) and the Regulation on Explosion Protection (“Explosionsschutzverordnung”) also apply to the transport, design and manufacture of tanks being used to transport hydrogen.

Gas Grid

The Austrian gas market is regulated by the public authority E-Control, whose task is to monitor and support the implementation of the liberalisation of the Austrian electricity and gas markets and, where necessary, to take regulatory action. Anyone acting in the Austrian gas market as a gas supplier or gas trader must have a licence under the Gas Industry Act.

It must be considered that - unlike synthetic natural gas - hydrogen cannot be fed into the grid in its pure form. As a result, it must first be mixed with natural gas to form a natural gas-hydrogen mixture to achieve the required composition, so that damage to pipelines and customer plants, for example, can be prevented. It is therefore imperative that the gas being fed in complies with the relevant guidelines of Österreichische Vereinigung für das Gas- und Wasserfach (“ÖVGWF”) and thus, is compatible with the grid.

5. REGULATORY BODIES 

Regulatory Body

Role

Municipality

The respective municipality makes the decisions on land use plans.

State (Bundesland)

The "Bundesland" is a one-stop-shop for the Environmental Impact Assessment

Gas Connect Austria as Transmission System Operator (“TSO”)

Gas Connect Austria is responsible for the safe operation of a high-pressure natural gas pipeline network. It is up to the transmission systems operator to decide whether hydrogen can be injected into the gas grid.

AGGM Austrian Gas Grid Management AG

AGGM is the independent System operator of the Austrian gas network.

E-Control GmbH

E-Control monitors and supports the implementation of the liberalisation of the Austrian electricity and gas markets.

6. UPCOMING DEVELOPMENTS 

The agenda of the Austrian Government envisages an expansion and support programme for "green gas" (biomethane, green hydrogen and synthetic gas based on renewable electricity) with the aim of feeding 5 TWh into the gas grid by 2030.

Further, a new Austrian hydrogen strategy is due to be announced at the end of 2020. The following cornerstones are currently being developed as part of the strategy:

  • Developing hydrogen technology specifically for the economic and transport sectors to make Austria the number one hydrogen nation;
  • Implementing a Climate Protection and Hydrogen Centre as a cluster for research, innovation and technology to position Austria as a pioneer in the field of renewable energy and support the Austrian export economy; andd
  • Making Austria:
    • the pioneer in electricity generation from renewable energies focusing on an anti-nuclear and anti-coal power agenda; and
    • an innovation leader in hydrogen technology.
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