Heat pump + fuel cell = the future?

We must stop using gas, that much is clear. That is why the Netherlands is now busy looking for alternatives. The Mission Zero Centre of Expertise provides input for the most promising long-term solutions. And we are onto something interesting! In the Hydrogen Heating Studies project, we are researching the combination of fuel cell and heat pump. Lecturer researcher Joep de Groot explains: “If the Netherlands ultimately opts for hydrogen, this is a very promising solution.”

In the race to succeed natural gas, hydrogen is a big contender. It is completely clean to manufacture and burn, without any CO2 emissions. “Moreover, it is simple to store hydrogen compared to battery storage,” says Joep. “Batteries are heavy and contain a lot of expensive raw materials, whereas you only need a well-sealed hollow space for storing hydrogen. Like ... a gas pipeline! Of course, we will soon have many of these at our disposal, both in the districts as well as in the North Sea. There are also plans to use empty natural gas fields in the North Sea for large-scale seasonal hydrogen storage. Instead of having to clear those old gas pipelines at great expense, we can easily keep using them. This will provide a wonderful free transport and storage system for renewable energy, and we do not need to further burden or reinforce our overburdened electricity network.” 

Interesting return

If we choose this solution in the Netherlands, we can start burning hydrogen for heating in our (slightly modified) boilers. Exactly as we are doing now with gas. “But perhaps we can do it more efficiently,” Joep says. “We are now researching whether it is smarter to convert hydrogen into electricity in your home. This can be done with the help of a fuel cell. You may wonder why electricity is so interesting. Namely, because you can use it to power your heat pump. And as you know, with a heat pump you can produce 3 to 5 times as much heat as with a boiler. That is extremely efficient. At the same time, you lose energy when converting electricity to hydrogen and back again. That is why we are now testing under which conditions the fuel cell and heat pump provide an interesting return.” 

Testing for a suitable answer

Hydrogen Heating Studies also collaborates with existing research into the operation of hydrogen in boilers at The Green Village in Delft. “The data from that research is our reference material. At the same time, we are using a test configuration in the Schiehallen. Here we heat the offices of the Accenda company with a specific combination of fuel cell and heat pump. With the data we collect, we can test many other possibilities in a simulation environment with ‘digital twins’. You understand that we need all kinds of different disciplines in this research. Students from the ICT department work on data access, from the mechanical engineering department on building and testing the installation, and students from the Finance & Control department, for example, for developing the business case. In this way, we will hopefully have a suitable answer when the Netherlands switches to hydrogen!”  

This interview is part of Energy Transition Month from Mission Zero Centre of Expertise.