Northern Industry 2024 Event (Pohjoinen teollisuus) highlighted that Finland already has innovative methods to help hydrogen transition, but investments are needed

Northern Industry 2024 fair, held in the end of May, offered visitors a wide range of industrial services, products and the latest information. The presentations were built around topical themes: hydrogen and wind power, the hydrogen economy, cleantech, sustainable development and major projects in Northern Finland were the main themes of the first day in particular.

Professor Mika Ruusunen giving a speech at Northern Industry 2024 Event

The University of Oulu is one of the most important centres of hydrogen research in Finland. The Faculty of Science at the University of Oulu was proud to be a first-time participant at the Northern Industry (Pohjoinen Teollisuus) Event 2024 held at Ouluhalli, in the home city of H2FUTURE research programme, Oulu. This major industry event brought together key players from across northern Finland, and University of Oulu had the privilege to showcase the innovative research and expertise we offer. H2FUTURE had the chance to engage with industry professionals and discuss how our cutting-edge research can contribute to a greener future for Finland.

Inno centre (Univeristy of Oulu) compiled impressions from the fair and the most topical highlights from the discussions on the hydrogen economy by Matti Malkamäki, Hycamite and Mika Ruusunen. You can read the whole blog post in Finnish here. We made a summary of the most topical highlights here in English.

Hycamite´s innovative, emission free hydrogen production method is based on Ulla Lassi`s invention – planned investments on EU and country level are needed now

Hydrogen can replace fossil fuels because it can be produced cleanly and used as energy without emissions. Hydrogen can also be used to store and transport energy, and it is a raw material for industry. The hydrogen economy is seen as a future component of the energy systems, industry, and transportation of advanced carbon-neutral societies.

The first speaker at the fair was Matti Malkamäki, founder of Hycamite, a company that produces clean hydrogen. Hycamite’s emission-free technology breaks down methane into hydrogen and solid carbon. This methane pyrolysis technology uses only 13% of the energy needed to produce hydrogen by electrolysis of water. The method is based on an invention by Professor Ulla Lassi of Sustainable Chemistry at the University of Oulu, which the company has further developed in collaboration with university researchers.

Malkamäki highlighted that large hydrogen sector investments are planned for Finland and the EU, but final investment decisions are still pending. In his speech, Malkamäki criticized EU regulations for focusing on making all energy renewable immediately, a goal not achieved elsewhere in Europe. Instead, he argued, we should focus on creating regulations aimed at first reducing carbon dioxide emissions, for which we need low-carbon hydrogen. For example, in the United States, a technology-neutral approach to hydrogen yields better results than the European focus on strictly renewable energy sources. While using renewable energy should ultimately be our goal, you can’t start climbing a tree from the top.

Additionally, Malkamäki stated that the hydrogen economy should be developed with a focus on industry - since the greatest benefits and emission reductions from the hydrogen economy will be achieved by decarbonizing industry rather than focusing on households. For example, the steel industry is currently one of the most polluting industrial sectors. However, the steel industry is on the brink of major changes: for instance, the Swedish steel company SSAB aims to be the first in the world to produce fossil-free steel with its hydrogen reduction method. The H2FUTURE research program also focuses on research on emission-free steel production and hydrogen reduction.

It was highly agreed that Finland has good conditions for developing a successful hydrogen economy. In addition to other resources, we have a lot of technological expertise in various companies and universities. We will achieve the best results by cooperating among different companies and organizations to advance the hydrogen transition.

Hydrogen research at the University of Oulu is world-class, with a key focus on emission-free photocatalysis and methane pyrolysis

Mika Ruusunen, head of the University of Oulu's control engineering research group, provided insights into the hydrogen economy and the cleantech sector from a research perspective. Cleantech is a general term for anything that improves energy and material efficiency and environmental well-being. According to Ruusunen, improving the state of the environment is a megatrend currently driving the hydrogen economy.

Currently, hydrogen production is still largely based on steam reforming, where hydrogen is produced from natural gas. In the near future, hydrogen production is expected to transition to an emission-free electrolysis process, where water is split into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity. However, producing hydrogen from water via electrolysis requires a large amount of energy. The massive need for renewable electricity is a challenge for scaling up electrolysis-based hydrogen production.

In addition to the methane pyrolysis methods utilized by Hycamite, the University of Oulu is developing other alternative, emission-free, and low-electricity methods for producing hydrogen. One future method is solar hydrogen production through photocatalysis, a research theme within the H2FUTURE program, where hydrogen is produced from water directly using sunlight without electricity. Water molecules are split into hydrogen and oxygen on the surface of a catalyst using the energy from sunlight.

Hydrogen research at the University of Oulu relies on both in-depth basic research and extensive applied research

In addition to water and natural gas, which are central to H2FUTURE research programmes´research, hydrogen is also produced from other raw materials, various industrial side streams, or organic waste.

As an example of the University of Oulu's research, Ruusunen mentioned the GREENE project, which aims to develop a new thermochemical method for utilizing biogas in the production of fossil-free biohydrogen. The method development and technology piloting in the project promote low-emission, flexible, and efficient decentralized energy production, thus strengthening the emergence of new local product development and business solutions in energy production. The project will develop and build a continuous pilot-scale system for hydrogen production. The carbon monoxide produced as a by-product of hydrogen production will be used as an energy source for the process.

Hydrogen research at the University of Oulu relies on both in-depth basic research and extensive applied research, advanced through dozens of research projects. The university's hydrogen research particularly emphasizes the advancement of clean hydrogen production technologies, the use of hydrogen in steel production, and the development of steels for hydrogen storage and transfer. Additionally, methods for utilizing hydrogen in the chemical industry, energy production, and transportation are being developed, along with business models suitable for the new hydrogen economy.

Last updated: 2.7.2024