Interview with Massimiliano Boccia

If you want to – and you understand Italian – you can also watch the interview on YouTube.

Barbara Grazzini (InEuropa srl): Good morning, everyone! Here we go again with the interviews to
the stakeholders who are supporting us within the implementation of FCHgo, a project which seeks
to make a matter-of-fact voice heard as regards what can be accomplished with hydrogen. Today, we
have the pleasure to interview Dr. Massimiliano Boccia from the CTS H2 in Brugnera, Pordenone. So,
we are moving north-east, outside the Emilia-Romagna region, in order to better understand CTS H2
working experience. It is important to pinpoint that CTS H2 is an integral part of the Greentech ClustER, a network in Emilia-Romagna that establishes collaborations among companies based on clean
energy, mainly hydrogen. Now, I pass on the word to you, Massimiliano. I’ll try not to interrupt. I’ll
intervene only if there’s something I want to say about the topic.

Massimiliano Boccia (CTS H2): Perfect. Thank you, Barbara. Good morning, everyone. Firstly, CTS H2
is also known as a system integrator, or rather a company that tracks down different components so
as to put them together into a single system in accordance with the customer’s requests. Let me give
a concrete example of what I mean. A customer who needs an energy storage system for solar panels
can turn to us. Our job is to find the right electrolyzer, the machine in charge of the hydrogen
production starting from water, the storage – i.e. containers, hydrogen tanks – and the fuel cell which
transforms hydrogen into electrical energy. Not by chance I have talked about “renewable energy
sources for solar panels”. In fact, one of the main problems of renewable energy sources is that they
are intermittent. As we all know, as a matter of fact, solar panels do not work at night. So, if it is
possible, it would be useful to store the surplus energy during the day allowing its use at night or
when the weather is particularly bad and there is no sun, nor light hence the panel produces little.
Furthermore, CTS H2 belongs to the Emilia-Romagna’s cluster of companies, a major association
since it sponsors the exploitation of hydrogen, bringing together different companies and institutions
so as to create a synergistic environment that would allow the promotion of hydrogen.
This is a key point. Unfortunately, in Italy we tend to work in a disconnected manner while we should
all unite. Having gained a great deal of experience and resources we think we could actually cover
ground not only in this field, but also in many others. Therefore, it is crucial to be an integral part of
an association which allows the interaction of so many different skills and the creation of synergies.
As a result, we will get to a product -hydrogen – suitable for all. This is our main purpose. Moreover,
CTS H2 belongs to H2 IT- the same idea, but on a national level. The objective is to bring about what
can be the utilization of hydrogen from a regulatory point of view. In such a manner, we will be able
to assert ourselves on hydrogen in front of the State – to a legislator, the person who makes laws – in
order to foster these systems. CTS H2 is a member of many influential associations.

Barbara Grazzini (InEuropa srl): Absolutely, thank you for this explanation. These kinds of networks
not only help reach a certain level of growth and training, but also improve exchange and
interrelation as in our case. We got in contact with them thanks to the Greentech Clust-ER, another
proof that these relationships help creating networks and a deep connection with the territory –
much stronger than the one a person can have individually as a company.

Massimiliano Boccia (CTS H2): Yes. Academic institutions are a fundamental part of it in terms of
information and teaching. Moreover, these two fields thoroughly intertwine with the concepts of
news and education. The theme of hydrogen is crucial. It must become our daily bread, as we were
talking about electricity or the way we turn on a switch or a light bulb. It should be part of us because
in the end this will be our future. CTS H2 is specialised in hydrogen production and its storage. We
are indirectly involved in the fuel cells field, too. What I mean is that we are not fuel cell producers
though we have good partners who supply us with them, even if our main focus is on electrolysis. As
regards to that, I would like to talk about this particular process to make people understand how a
hydrogen generator works based on the electrolysis of water. With the term electrolysis we indicate
the method which uses electricity to split water molecules. To make it simple: we basically take
electricity and put it in a container where there is water in order to break the water molecule, made
of hydrogen and oxygen and get these two elements separated. Generally, oxygen recovery is not
required, but we have to consider that it is a gas that has a certain value on the market – just think
about the medical use of it. So, oxygen could be used, but not in the right way…
Now, let’s talk about hydrogen only. I have given you the practical example of a hydrogen energy
storage system. In this case, we are not talking about prototypes because it is all based on small
systems for houses and small companies which vie with lithium batteries. Nevertheless, there are
also systems a bit bigger in size, even though this is only one of the many applications of hydrogen.
Evidently, the best known use of it is the one in the automotive field, as to say electric cars powered
by fuel cells, although it is not the only one. In fact, even in the smart mobility sector there are some
interesting utilizations. For example, in Bolzano there are ten hydrogen buses running in the city,
producing zero emissions – an indisputable advantage. In this system, water comes out of the fuel
cell: so, we start from this element (water) and go back to it. Then we store energy from it and return
it to the environment – in this way, there are no CO2 emissions. Now, we need to take into
consideration the latest generation systems and the production of their components – completely
recyclable. The world is going in this direction, so the latest generation systems have a very good
recyclability rate (around 80%, maybe more). This is the advantage of hydrogen use, the creation of a
system that is accordant with the environment and an environmentally friendly operator, as to say
both environmentally friendly and operator friendly. These cutting edge models are highly
computerised, ergo the operator does the bare minimum – so he can avoid entering and setting the
different parameters – because these machines are autonomous. A huge asset combined with ecocompatibility. Another important factor to consider is that hydrogen is not a natural fuel like oil or
natural gas, but it can be made with water, a fundamental element, especially in certain countries.
Actually, research is moving forward in order to be able to use it in a profitable way, so that sea
water can also be used, having a high presence of it in nature.

Barbara Grazzini (InEuropa srl): I would like to ask you a question about this. Can the sea water be
used? You anticipated me, giving me the answer before I even had the chance to ask you. I was
curious to understand this aspect, thank you.

Massimiliano Boccia (CTS H2): One of the problems with sea water is that it is obviously rich in salt
which deteriorates the hydrogen generator components. This is one of the major issues, but research
is trying to find a solution, experimenting the use of materials compatible with sea water
composition. It can already be employed in filtration systems, despite the fact they are energyintensive and high maintenance systems. From an economic point of view, it is not convenient, even
though ethically it is – in fact, we exploit water that is not taken away from those who need it fresh.
Another positive aspect of this method is that you can reuse rainwater which is almost distilled
water, although it is not free from impurities. Nevertheless, with a simple filtration system it is
possible to modify it in order to use it in hydrogen generators…

Barbara Grazzini (InEuropa srl): I’ll play the part of the curious student this time…Also because
schools have asked us to do this. In other interviews, the main focus was fuel cells. Given the case of
a class, a school, a group of students that would like to try splitting hydrogen from oxygen, what do
they need? What does it take to do it at home? How can you see the final result?

Massimiliano Boccia (CTS H2): It is a very simple experiment they can easily replicate in the school
lab. I know this for sure because I was a teacher. All you need is a battery (do you remember the old
4.5 volt batteries, the large ones? Also a 9 volt will be just as good as the other); two conductive
wires (one copper wire or both in copper). Then, you take a container with salty water in order to
make it conductive. To observe the reaction and evolution of the gas, you need to put a balloon in a
closed container – in this way, you will see that it inflates – otherwise, if there is a volume of water
underneath, when the gas is generated, the volume of water will rise. Anyway, nowadays you can
find every sort of tutorial on the Internet. The one I have just described is a common experiment to
do at school. My explanation is not as clear as the ones you can find online.

Barbara Grazzini (InEuropa srl): It is nice to hear it from you. When you say that you have a
company, the immediate thought is that you only have to do with big deals but, actually, it all starts
from the scratch. Furthermore, it is particularly interesting because there are schools that absolutely
have to participate in this international competition. We go from primary school to middle school,
junior high school and high school as well. The fact of suggesting to try this sort of experiment within
this initiative could be an additional drive for students. Obviously, if the suggestion comes from you,
it has a different taste in comparison with that coming from a teacher.

Massimiliano Boccia (CTS H2): Trust me, it is a simple experiment that can be carried out using some
tricks and some small components. Consider that we are not talking about sophisticated processes
since electrolysis has been known since 1800. There is no doubt that technology keeps on
developing, but the basic concept is the same we were referring to in the XIXth century.

Barbara Grazzini (InEuropa srl): The process is the same.

Massimiliano Boccia (CTS H2): Yes, it is! Naturally, we can employ much more modern components.
Technology advances quickly, but in the end the electrolysis process is always the same – it consists
in a reaction where you give current to two electrodes so that you can split water into hydrogen and
oxygen. This is an easy explanation, of course.

Barbara Grazzini (InEuropa srl): Absolutely. As regards to CTS H2, I need to ask you if you have any
sort of collaboration with schools on the territory and on a national level as well. Moreover, I was
wondering if you have some activities that go in this direction or if you show what you do through
visit? I always try to clarify these aspects during these interview sessions for our public…

Massimiliano Boccia (CTS H2): Let me give you a more detailed presentation of CTS H2. At present,
we are a startup whose members can boast previous working experiences in the world of hydrogen.
We are three major skilled partners who can boast a 15-year-experience in the hydrogen field.
Thanks to our different working background – some more focused on the industrial aspect, others,
like me, coming from the research and development sector, some others from an administrative
environment – we jumped together in this innovative venture and, now, here we are. Back in the
past, we had brief collaborations and other moments we worked separately. Now, we have made
this startup from nothing and we are literally reaping the fruits of our previous companyexperiences. We still have to work a lot to reach a certain level of professional maturity.

Barbara Grazzini (InEuropa srl): We encourage you to keep on going!

Massimiliano Boccia (CTS H2): We are open-minded and we are deeply convinced that it is crucial to
create a hydrogen culture. More than 10 years ago, in receiving the call from a private individual who
wanted to put this system on his car in order to save fuel, we must admit we had to spread
information regarding this sort of device. Truth to be told, in recent years a lot has changed because
we can talk much more about this while a few years ago people thought about hydrogen and the Hbomb.

Barbara Grazzini (InEuropa srl): That’s right.

Massimiliano Boccia (CTS H2): I had to explain through SMS that hydrogen does not equal H-bomb.
Naturally, like all gases it must be treated in the right way. To make youngsters understand what we
are talking about, we need to give a concrete example, like the unfortunate event that occurred in
Viareggio ten years ago.

Barbara Grazzini (InEuropa srl): Fifteen years ago.

Massimiliano Boccia (CTS H2): Fifteen years ago, I’m sorry. What happened with hydrogen and LPG
addition could not have occurred. In fact, hydrogen is a very light gas and it is said to be very fleeting,
meaning it has the tendency to go up in the atmosphere and in space – so, there would not have
been an accumulation as in the case of LPG. The latter is heavier than air and it got stratified along
tracks and roads: only one single spark, which can come from anything (like two rubbing metals), and
it ignited. With hydrogen you would only have had a blaze upwards because it tends to go up, but
there wouldn’t have been all this damage. This makes you understand that it is a flammable and
explosive gas and this is the reason why it must be treated with care. In the end, safety systems do
exist and I really want to emphasise that it is less dangerous than you think.

Barbara Grazzini (InEuropa srl): It is crucial to highlight it. In fact, the main purpose of our project is
to dispel these misconceptions and make sure that everyone is aware not only of potential in terms
of clean energy production from this gas, but also to dissipate fears which are still widespread. This
should be an incentive to discover this kind of alternative or resources to substitute the existing ones
from an early age because, as Prof. Sala says, we are not talking about alternatives, but about
substitutions.

Massimiliano Boccia (CTS H2): I agree.

Barbara Grazzini (InEuropa srl): We must stop employing the resources we have been using until
now! Quoting the words of Massimiliano, one of our interviewed stakeholders, I would say we have
exceeded our 15 minutes, but it is always a pleasure to listen to you. You have worked in schools, you
speak in a clear and direct way and I feel pleased because it is always very interesting to have this
kind of approach. Maybe we’ll have the chance to talk again, okay?

Massimiliano Boccia (CTS H2): I hope so, too!

Barbara Grazzini (InEuropa srl): There will be maybe questions from students. Schools will start
again, soon.

Massimiliano Boccia (CTS H2): Hopefully.

Barbara Grazzini (InEuropa srl): We will keep in touch because this is our mission – to allow the
connection among different realities in order to create a dialogue focused on current/hot topics. This
is important as part of our present and our future. So, thank you!

Massimiliano Boccia (CTS H2): Thank you very much!

Barbara Grazzini (InEuropa srl): See you.

Massimiliano Boccia (CTS H2): See you soon, thank you!

 

 

 

 

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