Sicily as the hydrogen bridge between North Africa and Europe

Sicily as a sustainable hydrogen hub in the Mediterranean, a bridge linking North Africa and Europe.

 It is not science fiction, but a concrete scenario that already witnesses various institutional and entrepreneurial actors in the territory. A sustainable opportunity which might create between 4,000 and 5,000 new jobs in Sicily, experts say.

The island has the perfect conditions to be the first hydrogen factory: a strong presence of solar radiation and wind to support the massive production of hydrogen through renewable energy. The regional government is aware of the significant possibilities and has recently announced its candidacy to host the National Research Center.

The Hydrogen council, a consortium reuniting more than one hundred companies operating in the sector, counts 300 billion investments on hydrogen projects globally, most of them to be started in Europe.

What are the next steps for Europe?

First of all, electrolysis plants are needed.

Brussels aims to install at least 40GW before 2030 but, currently, European electrolysis capacity reaches about 1GW. There’s still a long way to go, yet there are many encouraging examples about the feasibility of the projects.

For example, the ENI biorefinery in Gela (Province of Caltanissetta) built a “Steam Reforming” to produce hydrogen, which represents a fundamental component in the production process of HVO (Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil). ENI is working together with ENEL “to develop green hydrogen projects through electrolysers powered by renewable energy. Electrolysers will be positioned close to two Eni refineries where green hydrogen can represent the best decarbonization option. Each of the two pilot projects will include an electrolyser of approximately 10 MW and are expected to start generating green hydrogen by 2022-2023”.

Hence, hydrogen can be defined as the connecting element between the gas and electricity sector. As envisaged by the Regional Energy Plan, Sicilian government wants to enter this segment in order to provide “the necessary support to build electrolysis plants powered by renewable sources to produce clean hydrogen, investing on the favorable characteristics of the territory”.

Concomitantly, Sicily already has various projects for solar energy: Enel Green Power will invest half a billion euros to build the largest PV plant in Europe for the production of PV cells and modules. The solar plant will expand over a 42.000 sqm area and is expected to create up to 2.000 jobs.

From solar to hydrogen

Solar energy abundance is the vector to launch investments on hydrogen in Sicily. In fact, as stated by Gabriele Centi, Full professor of Industrial Chemistry at the University of Messina, “Sicily is among the regions in Europe that can offer the most in terms of renewable resources available on a single territory”.

“The island has both wind and sun, but while wind is equally present in Northern Europe, sun remains a quantitatively unique resource. Today in Sicily there is a production limit and insufficient local demand. Tools and infrastructures must be developed to increase local needs and to allow Sicily to have the right opportunity to open up to exports.

Like gas, hydrogen could cross SNAM gas pipeline passing through Sicily, in the mixed methane-hydrogen formula. “A hydrogen supply chain might be developed, yet not much would be exported because of the lack of adequate power lines”, concluded Professor Centi.

In this scenario, North Africa could also play a role to produce solar energy and install electolysers. Then hydrogen could be sent to Europe through Sicily, by using existing pipelines which are currently underused.

Environmental and social impact

The diffusion of clean hydrogen technologies would have a remarkable impact on environment, health, reduction of pollution and improvement of the quality of life. In fact, the increase in production from renewable sources (of which about 60% will come from wind and solar energy) in the near future will weigh about 55% on final electricity consumption by 2030.

Moreover, according H2 Italy 2050 analysis, hydrogen can guarantee an extraordinary impact on gross domestic product (GDP), producing more than 40 billion by 2050 and will have an estimated impact of over 540,000 new jobs all over the Country.

Definitely an opportunity to grab for Sicily and the entire country.

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