Green hydrogen is the key for transitioning energy sources

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Water is the source of life on Earth and its basis. It participates in almost every metabolic process and occupies an essential position in geological and ecological chains on our planet. Water is bonded to the history, economics, and politics of the human civilization. It is reflected in religion, philosophy, science, medicine, and other spheres of our lives. Furthermore, it plays a vital role in the agriculture, forestry, and energy industries.

Even though it is still unclear why there’s more water on the Earth than on other planets, its importance leaves no doubts. Without rain, agriculture, freshwater conservation, ponds filled with fish, rivers for cargo transportation, and many other industries wouldn’t exist. Water is precious and therefore shouldn’t be taken for granted.

Since nomadic times, high culture of antiquity, Middle Ages barbarism, and till this moment, the dispute about the quantity of water needed has stayed relevant. Too much water leads to flooding, too little leads to droughts. We’re still far away from solving this problem. Despite the fact that the majority (71%) of the Earth’s surface is covered by water, only 3,5% of it is fresh water. Moreover, the majority is ice at the poles, on glaciers, and in permafrost, making it unable to be used as drinking water.

Another of today’s problems that are worrying about the future, is the insatiable hunger for energy consumption that is leading to catastrophic consequences in climate change. That’s why renewable sources of energy are an attractive solution to remedying these issues.

Alongside solar and wind energy, hydropower is the most large-scale, well-studied, and reliable renewable energy source.

Hydropower makes an indispensable, global contribution to eco-friendly energy production and stable electrical energy supplies. Therefore, it impacts social and economic progress in wealthier, industrialized countries as well as in developing regions.

The potential of water’s properties have yet to be studied and used, but new research on concepts like hydrogen economy are already being carried out all over the world. Although from the point of view of chemistry hydrogen is a primary energy source, it is barely found in nature. You need sources of energy to extract it.

Wind energy, photovoltaic power stations, and experiments with biomass can also help solve a number of energy issues. But the important question is – will hydrogen be important to the new cycles and uses of energy?

Since the 1980s, scientists have been considering hydrogen as the energy source of the future. It has been used throughout various industries for a number of different uses. First, it’s used in passenger vehicles that utilize hydrogen-based fuel cells. This mode of transportation requires a large quantity of hydrogen stored in appropriately sized containers under high pressure. In order to meet modern market requirements, developing new container concepts, technological cycles, and technical approaches is necessary.

Today, hydrogen is considered one of the best renewable sources of energy that may be able to eventually replace diesel in vehicles for transportation, coal in industrial settings, and natural gas in heating systems. In many well-developed countries, hydrogen is viewed to be an alternative energy source. Its properties have been researched and it’s wide-reaching utility is well documented.

The worldwide production of hydrogen adds to carbon dioxide emissions only 830 tons per year, which is almost nothing when compared to carbon emissions in the production of traditional sources of energy. That is why hydrogen is imagined as the possible basis of a zero-carbon economy. It’s an economically and ecologically profitable solution especially when we consider countries dependent upon fuel imports.

Hydrogen requires a new approach to transportation and storage, so it is suggested to abandon purified hydrogen carriage. Thus scientists consider using ammonia, which is hydrogen nitrite NH3, as a better carrier solution. Because of its chemical properties, ammonia is easy to store and transport. Another advantage of this approach is building a whole, new infrastructure is unnecessary as ammonia has been actively used for some time now and infrastructure to use it already exists.

Electrolysis is used to extract hydrogen from ammonia with the help of any renewable energy source. Moreover, ammonia allows for the use of a profitable and safe form of transportation – shipping. This proves that renewable energy can be exported in the same ways as fossil fuel. Almost all the entire shipping and storage infrastructure needed already exists with only minimal modifications required. Therefore, cost parity between fuel and hydrogen will surely exist in the near future.

The annual consumption of hydrogen worldwide is 55 million tons, and according to the International Energy Agency, this number will increase by up to 90 million tons by 2040. This topic has been trending for the last decades, and research of all kinds concerning renewable energy is currently being carried out in every developed country.

Among European countries, Germany strives to invest 100 million EUR into hydrogen research annually, which makes it one of the world leaders in hydrogen technologies.

According to Germany’s National Hydrogen Strategy, a large bet on hydrogen as a useful source of renewable energy underpins the country’s ambitions to become a global leader in the field. The main focus is concentrated on this “green” variety at the expense of support for using controversial carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology in order to extract hydrogen from natural gas. Although the majority of environmental activists supported such an approach, the industry, in general, was critical. But at the same time, some experts agreed Germany’s strategy opened a new chapter in the country’s energy transition.

In the Netherlands, synthesis gas (a mixture of hydrogen, CO, and CO2) has been in production from biomass for a few years. This gas is mainly used in the production of nitric acid, methanol, ethylene, propylene, and other chemicals for the industry, replacing natural gas and oil as raw materials.

In 2020, Shell, in conjunction with Dutch natural gas infrastructure and the transportation company Gasunie, announced their plan for developing the largest green hydrogen project in Europe. This hydrogen facility will be established in Eemshaven and powered by new wind farms in the North Sea.  Gasunie infrastructure will be transporting green hydrogen to industrial customers in the Netherlands and Northwest Europe.

This is an ambitious but important project for the Netherlands, whose Government considers hydrogen to be a cheaper way to land renewable energy from offshore wind farms than an overhaul of the energy grid. The Netherlands has a high concentration of gas pipelines that transport a significant amount of gas from the North Sea to continental Europe. According to the project, the existing natural gas infrastructure is suitable for storage and large-scale distribution of green hydrogen. Provided the feasibility study is successful, the consortium will start development to produce the first amounts of hydrogen by 2027.

France has also developed a national strategy for “green” hydrogen production. According to this strategy, 10% of purified hydrogen is going to be produced at the expense of renewable sources of energy that will cut down the average cost of gas by approximately two thirds.

In 2019, the French nuclear power plant operator EDF announced the establishment of a subsidiary company Hynamics in order to develop hydrogen energy. Earlier in 2018, EDF became the main shareholder of McPhy, a company specializing in on-site hydrogen production by water electrolysis. McPhy also provides energy storage and refueling stations for zero-emission mobility.

According to Hynamics, the company has decided to abandon the practice of hydrogen production by fossil fuel combustion. Instead, they will use the electricity produced by 58 nuclear power plants in France, hydropower plants, wind farms, and solar power plants. This will provide an opportunity to produce hydrogen that is 96% CO2-free. Hynamics announced the development of 40 industrial sites for hydrogen production in France, Belgium, Germany, and the UK.

In Finnmark, Norway, wind power is also used in hydrogen production. Furthermore, there are plans to supply hydrogen to the Svalbard thermal power station and to carry out some other ambitious projects concerning the use of hydrogen in Norway’s arctic region.

The United Kingdom along with other European countries are also introducing hydrogen projects. For instance, the “Hydrogen to Heysham” (H2H) project led by EDF Energy R&D is focused on using nuclear power from the Heysham power stations to produce hydrogen with the help of on-site electrolyzers. The main goal of H2H is to use hydrogen as an alternative to fossil fuel, mostly for transport and heating. Besides, EDF has recently carried out research proving nuclear-powered hydrogen is feasible on technical and safety grounds. The study says: “EDF Energy’s nuclear new-build project, Sizewell C, which is currently in development, could support the modular installation of large-scale electrolyzers. Hinkley Point C, which is already in construction, also presents the same opportunity.”

Another British project H21 is dedicated to converting the network to carry 100% hydrogen. Initially, in 2017 Ofgem invested 9 million pounds into the project and was focused on a matter of leakage testing of assets and the consequences. Two years later, H21 got another investment (£6.8 million) to support the second phase of the research that involves testing operational and maintenance procedures on the gas network.

The second phase is also based on the consumer research that was carried out during phase one in cooperation with social studies teams from Leeds Beckett University. It’ll help to understand public perception of hydrogen usage as well as persuade the consumers to make informed choices on energy consumption.

In summary, we are witnessing the emergence of the green hydrogen industry that will increase up to $2 trillion in 2050, as estimated by Forbes experts. Nowadays, hydrogen is being considered as the most important factor in energy transition since it is able to decarbonize the heating and transportation sectors.

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