PORTO MARGHERA – The name Hydrogen Park might sound a tad pretentious but today at Porto Marghera, work started on the the world’s first industrial-scale, 16-watt, hydrogen-fuelled power station. It will generate enough electricity for 60-80,000 people and prevent 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide from finding their way into the atmosphere. It works like this. When hydrogen burns, it produces only steam and oxides of nitrogen, which will be filtered before being discharged through the chimneys. This means almost zero emissions. “It’s a small plant but a significant engineering and industrial project that puts us in pole position internationally”, said ENEL’s CEO Fulvio Conti at the inauguration of work on the site, which is next to the coal-fired Fusina power station in the heart of Porto Marghera’s petrochemical district. “The new facility will come onstream before the end of 2009 and will entail an investment of 47 million euros”. People have been talking for years about hydrogen as the energy vector of the future. It already powers the fuel cells of cars that for the time being are eye-wateringly expensive but totally ecological.
WASTE PRODUCT – At the Fusina power station, hydrogen will be processed in a special burner and used as fuel. It is an intelligent and entirely appropriate approach since up to now, hydrogen at the petrochemical district has been considered a waste product from ethylene processing and is eliminated at a rate of 1.3 tons an hour. In other words, it is wasted. “From next year, hydrogen will be transferred from the petrochemical plants to the new power station in a four kilometre-long pipeline to fuel a combined cycle”, explains Professor Gennaro De Michele, head of scientific research at ENEL. “The hydrogen will be burned to drive a turbine for the direct generation of electricity. But the waste heat from the plant will also be utilised to produce steam, which can then be fed into the turbine of the neighbouring coal-fired power station”. In other words, everything will be used with maximum efficiency, in these days of high-cost power. Hydrogen Park is a consortium set up by the Venice Industrialists’ Union with the aim – as regional authority chairman Giancarlo Galan and Venice’s mayor Massimo Cacciari point out – of turning the Porto Marghera area into a district for the production of clean, renewable energy.
URBAN WASTE – Mr Cacciari has some serious accusations to make about the “ministerial red tape” that is preventing wider use of WDF (waste-derived fuel) for power generation. “For years, we have been striving to double the utilisation of WDF for energy purposes from 35,000 to 70,000 tons a year of waste incinerated. But there are intolerable barriers, which for us translate into a loss of four million euros a year. It’s a contradictory policy that sits poorly with Italy’s serious energy predicament”. At the presentation of the new hydrogen power station, there was unofficial confirmation of another major ENEL ecological project for the storage deep underground of carbon dioxide emitted by the coal-fired power station at Brinidisi. The first phase of experiments on the facility will be completed before the end of next year, providing one more way of reducing the impact of the greenhouse gases that are raising the planet’s temperature.
Franco Foresta Martin
English translation by Giles Watson