Hydrogen energy is gaining more attention. This once niche product that served heavy industry was now a key component of decarbonizing transportation and shipping. Projects that aim to achieve net-zero targets or create zero-emission fuel receive hundreds of billions of dollars. Let’s look at some of the options that are available against this backdrop.
This is the most common type of hydrogen. It’s made from fossil fuels. The process also releases carbon dioxide, which cannot be captured.
Creating hydrogen from natural gas is steam-methane reforming (SMR). This involves using high-temperature steam (700°C-1,000°C) to make hydrogen from methane sources such as natural gas. Steam methane reforming is a process in which methane reacts to smoke at 3-25 bar pressure (1 bar = 14.5 lbs per square inch). This catalyst produces hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and a small amount of carbon dioxide. Endothermic steam reforming requires heat to be initiated.
A gasification process that uses coal as a fuel source produces brown hydrogen. This also releases carbon dioxide and can be placed in the same category as grey.
Enel’s head of business development has called hydrogen a “climate-killer” right now because almost all hydrogen is grey. He said that 98% of hydrogen was produced by steam reforming and gasification. This equates to annual carbon emissions compared with those of Indonesia and the UK. Only 2% of hydrogen is produced by electrolysis.
Grey hydrogen is a short-term solution.
Carbon capture and storage
The process for blue hydrogen is the same as that used to make grey hydrogen, but the carbon is now captured and stored. It is more environmentally friendly but comes with additional technical challenges and a significant cost increase.
Carbon capture & storage (CCS) has been around for a while. The technology is used by heavy industry and power generation companies that burn fossil fuels. Although it can capture as much as 90% of CO2, the technology significantly improves over previous methods.
This CO2 is usually transported via pipelines to deep underground storage, such as salt caverns and depleted oil or gas reservoirs.
It will be easier for countries with access to underground sources to create a blue-hydrogen industry. However, it might be easier to develop green hydrogen instead.
Some forward-thinking organizations like Drax have combined CCS and biomass fuels to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
Blue hydrogen is often used as a stepping stone from grey to green in hydrogen production. It’s also been proven to be divisive by industry professionals.
It is also relatively simple to scale up existing grey hydrogen production, requiring less electricity. It is independent of the continuous and rapid growth of renewable energy sources like solar and offshore wind.
The other side is the argument of think tanks and green hydrogen advocates, who argue blue hydrogen is against net-zero’s principles and goals and is more expensive than green over the medium term.
Future utopia envisions a world with zero emissions and all electricity and fuel produced from non-emission sources.
This refers to a fully-scaled global green hydrogen industry.
It could play a significant role in solving the intermittent generating capacities of many renewable energy sources. You can use excess electricity to make hydrogen. This hydrogen is then stored in liquid or gas until it is needed.
Although it faces many difficulties, there is a lot of momentum. Governments around the globe are realizing the potential benefits and creating policies to drive adoption and development.
What is green hydrogen, you ask?
Instead of using fossil fuels, green hydrogen is created by electrolysis. This process splits water into hydrogen and oxygen.
The hydrogen produced by this process is considered green if it is powered by renewable energy sources such as solar or wind power.
What are the biggest challenges?
Electrolyzers for green hydrogen must be constructed on a larger scale than we have seen.
Transportation and Storage
Both very high pressures and very high temperatures are required. Each has its technical challenges.
The price per kilogram of green hydrogen must drop to $2/kg to be competitive. Bloomberg New Energy Finance reports that $1/kg will be possible by 2050. Green hydrogen is competitive with natural gas at these prices.
“The costs for producing hydrogen have fallen half a million dollars since 2015, and could fall by 30% to 2025, thanks to increased scale and standard manufacturing,” stated Simon Blakey, senior adviser for global gases at IHSMarkit.
To create green hydrogen, you need a lot of electricity. This means that there will be a massive increase in wind and solar power needed to reach global goals.
According to some estimates, we will need more offshore wind capacity in the next 20 years than we did in the previous 30 years.
These are major challenges, but many of them are being solved by amazing engineers and scientists.
We can be sure that green hydrogen, with the right backing will be the incredible energy solution we require.
Comparison of costs. Source: sgh2energy.com
The Hydrogen Council published a report in February that outlines the growth rate.
Over 300 projects were announced by more than 30 countries with investments totalling over $300 billion.
Australia and Europe are the main players in this area at the moment, each with a different approach.
Australia has identified hydrogen a priority and is working towards producing clean/green hydrogen for less than $2/kg
The European Union has a clear strategy and has formed a clean hydrogen alliance. It is also developing “hydrogen valleys”, which make use of the North Sea’s offshore wind power to power electrolysers. Longer term plans include the use of the existing natural gas pipeline network for hydrogen transportation across Europe.
Recently, Saudi Arabia declared that it will enter the market. They bring with them their immense solar power potential as well as expertise in the development of major energy projects.
Japan has developed a project that could have broad-ranging potential. It involves the conversion of sewage into hydrogen using a carbon neutral process. This project could be implemented in any country that has sewage treatment facilities. It would allow for hydrogen production locally and reduce the need to transport it.
The US is somewhat behind in certain areas, according to a report last year that urged policymakers to follow the European Union’s lead.
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