The road to greener hydrogen


Whether hydrogen fuel holds the key to delivering widespread renewable energy remains a heated debate. What cannot be argued is the shear investment that donors are investing in the power source – up to € 470 billion by 2050. When skeptics protest the potential of hydrogen, as an efficient and environmentally friendly fuel source, it’s important that they see the bigger picture. Mats W. Lundberg, Sustainability Manager at Sandvik, examines the hydrogen roadmap.

Currently, around 96% of hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels. The gas is mainly produced by reforming methane, which creates carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon capture and storage can make this method of production more sustainable, but it is also under development.

Focusing on the current hydrogen situation could make anyone uncertain about their future. So let’s consider where the hydrogen might be and what it will take to get there.

Green, gray and blue

Hydrogen produced using fossil fuels is only one type of hydrogen – the gray variety. The three types of hydrogen refer to the different ways it can be produced. Blue hydrogen is also made from fossil fuels, but carbon capture technologies in hydrogen plants prevent CO2 to be released into the atmosphere.

The third type, green hydrogen, is the end goal of hydrogen producers because it produces no carbon emissions. Indeed, it is produced by electrolysis powered by renewable resources such as offshore wind power. Although this produces CO2, it does not add any new carbon to the biosphere and could be combined with carbon capture and storage.

Currently, gray hydrogen production is the cheapest option and the estimated costs are around 1.50 € / kg for European Union (EU) countries. However, the lower level of gray hydrogen in the form of CO has drawbacks.2 emissions have an increasing cost. The price of CO2 varies from 20 € to 25 € / t, which means that the CO2 could add nearly € 0.50 to the price of a kilo of hydrogen, making the profitability of gray hydrogen unsustainable.

Scaling up electrolysis could improve the feasibility of green hydrogen, increasing both its availability and cost-effectiveness.

Countries around the world are focusing on the production of green hydrogen. France has set a 10% target for the use of green hydrogen in industry by 2022 and the UK government has revealed £ 350million in funding to help decarbonize the industry, including a funding dedicated to green hydrogen.

The big picture

Another reason skeptics may underestimate hydrogen is that they don’t realize its full potential. Hydrogen could certainly replace gas to power our vehicles and heat our homes – but these applications are drops in an ocean of possibilities.

When green hydrogen takes off, it could decarbonize industries that already rely on hydrogen. Today, around 70 million tonnes of hydrogen are produced worldwide, used in industries such as petrochemicals, solar panels and glass manufacturing. Selling green hydrogen in these industries, especially as its cost decreases, would automatically make them more sustainable without needing to change any of their main raw materials.

Fueling the future

Green hydrogen will be essential for industries that are difficult to decarbonize, such as the production of cement, steel and glass. To heat and power buildings and industry, hydrogen can use existing assets. Particularly for buildings, low concentrations of green hydrogen could be incorporated into public natural gas networks without any infrastructure upgrades.

Most renewables have low operating costs, which means they must be “always on” to be efficient, regardless of the demand for electricity. This means that the blades of the wind turbines will continue to rotate, even if the grid does not require their power. In fact, many countries are experiencing days when electricity prices are reaching negative levels due to an oversupply of wind and solar.

Surplus renewable energy can be used to power electrolysis, which uses renewable energy otherwise wasted and means renewable operators can take advantage of energy that would have been wasted.

The infrastructure to build this hydrogen economy already exists, although some investment in existing assets will still be needed. Materials specialists will play a role in developing the hydrogen infrastructure, and Sandvik is already taking action to support energy companies.

Stainless steel alloy tubing, like those the company can supply as part of its mobile services solution, can be used to transport hydrogen from storage tanks to distributors. The mobile service, which provides a complete solution of tubes in a container, is already helping an energy supplier install multiple hydrogen stations using a simpler modular method.

The skepticism about hydrogen is understandable, especially considering our addiction to gray hydrogen. However, it is important to recognize that the hydrogen of today is not the hydrogen of the future. New investments and developments are constantly being made, and the measures taken today to decarbonize hydrogen will certainly have an impact on its green future.

Read the article online at: https://www.energyglobal.com/other-renewables/06052021/the-road-to-greener-hydrogen/


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