With EU funding secured and a construction timeline finalized for the Sines Hydrogen Plant, Portugal is well on its way to producing green hydrogen on an industrial scale. At a cost of 3.5 billion euros, the annual capacity of the mega-project is predicted at 200,000 tons of hydrogen by 2025, with that number doubling to 465,000 tons by 2030.
Located on the southwestern Portuguese coast, the planned site for the Sines Hydrogen Plant is strategically situated next to the Port of Sines, the largest artificial port in the country, along with the Sines Refinery, one of the largest oil refineries in Europe. The location offers access to Portugal’s main infrastructure for energy exports, underlining the ultimate goal of the new hydrogen facility: to establish the country as a key supplier in Europe’s emerging green energy market.
According to Jornal Económico, construction will start in 2021. The JE report quoted João Pedro Matos Fernandes, Minister for the Environment and Climate Action, who highlighted in a recent address to Portuguese Parliament that investment in Sines is backed by the EU through 2030, supported “by European funds and financing from the European Investment Bank.”
European cooperation and interest in Sines extends beyond Investment Bank funding. Led by the Portuguese and Dutch governments, a small consortium of participating countries have begun preparations for an associated project related to the main timeline of hydrogen production at Sines. Their collaboration, dubbed “Green Flamingo,” aims to produce hydrogen via solar energy, a technique already underway in the Netherlands (see Project Report, Valve World magazine, April 2020). Production in the Green Flamingo project would mark the first completed stage of hydrogen production at Sines.
According to ECO, the joint Portuguese-Dutch hydrogen project would install a green hydrogen production unit in Sines, “powered by solar energy of one gigawatt, which corresponds to the energy consumed by one million homes.” The investment is estimated at 600 million euros. Following the completion of the Green Flamingo project in 2025, further work would take place to complete the main hydrogen production facility, ultimately doubling Sines production by 2030.
The Secretary of State for energy, João Galamba, is quoted in the ECO report: “we can say to the world and to Europe (and especially to the countries of northern Europe that greatly need hydrogen): we have something that central and northern Europe does not have, and that is the capacity to produce electricity at the costs that make hydrogen viable.”
Further, on the Dutch side, Noé van Hulst, special envoy of the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Environmental Policy, guarantees that hydrogen imported from southern Europe will play a important role in the energy future of the Netherlands, where 90% of homes are connected to the gas supply network.
Not all the hydrogen produced at Sines will be for consumption in family homes however. EU documents list another, industrial objective for the resulting hydrogen: the development of “an Iberian green hydrogen export hub, connected by maritime route to the Port of Rotterdam, the gateway to Europe’s mega chemical cluster.”
In order to bring the Sines facility online, two associated facilities are currently in planning stages. Specifically, ECO reports that “two new factories – one for solar panels and the other for electrolysis equipment, for domestic consumption and export” will be required.
Impact of COVID-19
With the widespread disruption caused by the coronavirus, the government of Portugal announced that planning for the hydrogen unit at Sines will be postponed until at least June 2020, but is confident that the project will move forward once normal business resumes. According to ECO news, “the country also delayed signing the Memorandum of Understanding with Netherlands for the project Green Flamingo. Still, despite the postponements, the coronavirus pandemic does not put the project at risk.”
Hydrogen is set to play a pivotal role in the EU’s efforts to combat climage change. According to a EU whitepaper, “hydrogen will play a pivotal role in achieving an affordable, clean and prosperous economy. Hydrogen allows for cost-efficient bulk transport and storage of renewable energy and can decarbonise energy use in all sectors.”
“Furthermore, hydrogen and electricity are both carbon free energy carriers that can be produced from fossil energy resources as well as renewable energy resources. Both carriers will be necessary in a sustainable energy system and are complementary to each other. Hydrogen allows for cost-efficient bulk transport of energy over long distances together with cost-effective storage of large energy volumes. Hydrogen can therefore decouple energy production and usage in location and time.”
The planners behind the Sine Hydrogen Plant have taken the above considerations to heart, and beyond the Sines hydrogen facility, they also report that by 2023, the coal-fired power station in Sines will close, suggesting a more central role for hydrogen in Portugal’s energy mix.