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    Green hydrogen: Europe's energy of the future and an alternative to gas?

    June 13, 2022 - CE Noticias Financieras


      There are scientists who believe that the day will come when the Earth will have clean, safe and inexhaustible energy, imitating the nuclear fusion process that nourishes the stars. But since this cosmic utopia is decades away from being technically possible and commercially viable, we have to entrust ourselves to

      for more agile solutions so that 8 billion people can consume energy without aggravating the climate crisis. And there is growing talk of green hydrogen, a clean, flammable gas that can replace part of the demand for natural gas, a fossil hydrocarbon that releases carbon dioxide. The International Energy Agency expects its consumption to increase sixfold by 2030, and the European Commission estimates that it will account for 10 % of the European Union's energy demand in 2050, compared to 2 % today. It will play a leading role in sectors that are difficult to electrify, such as high-temperature processes in the chemical and steel industries and as fuel for trucks or ships.Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical element in the universe, but on Earth it appears associated with other atoms, generally carbon (methane) or oxygen (water), and must be isolated. So-called gray or brown hydrogen, obtained from hydrocarbons, is much cheaper than green hydrogen, made from renewables, but releases greenhouse gases equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of Indonesia and the United Kingdom.Green hydrogen, on the other hand, is considered a clean energy carrier because it is isolated by breaking down water molecules through electrolysis, using surplus renewable electricity, for example, by harnessing the megawatts generated by wind at night, when consumption drops. The EU has always had an eye on hydrogen, but natural gas was the EU's big bet for the energy transition; however, the cheapening of renewable energies, the increase in the price of CO2 emissions and the political will to move rapidly away from Russian hydrocarbons have whetted the appetite of the EU-27 even more. Brussels projects an EU investment of between 180,000 and 476,000 million euros in the sector until the middle of the century and aspires for the EU to produce 10 tons and import as many more by the end of the decade.The main problem is "the cost of the energy to generate it and the distribution networks, because compressing hydrogen and cooling it is expensive," comments Juan Cristóbal García, an expert from the Spanish consulting firm Zabala Innovation. Currently, it moves between 2.5 and 6 dollars per kilo, according to the firm KPMG, compared to the range of 1 to 2.7 dollars for gray hydrogen, although the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) expects costs to equalize in the next decade and believes that many countries have the potential to produce clean hydrogen for less than 1 dollar per kilo in 2050. Spain, where there is sun, wind, available land and intensive industries, accounts for 20% of the hydrogen projects being announced and is the eleventh best placed country in the world to manufacture cheap hydrogen and the first in the EU, according to IRENA.The shortage of platinum or iridium also complicates the equation, although other non-metallic catalysts for the electrolysis process are being investigated. But the big challenge with hydrogen is its molecules: they are very small, and that is a big problem. Transporting 100 % hydrogen through pipelines designed for natural gas would cause leaks, and isolated hydrogen triggers chemical reactions that enhance other greenhouse gases. It would also damage electronic equipment in the pipelines. For now, it is mixed. Spain allows up to 5% hydrogen in natural gas pipelines, while it is investigating whether it could be raised to 20%.Spanish distributor Sedigas wants to make the most of the 11,000 kilometers of pipelines it has on the peninsula, while studying future interconnections to bring hydrogen from Africa and from the Iberian peninsula to the rest of Europe. But it requires "compressing and cooling the gas and protecting the pipelines, and that is expensive and wastes energy," García points out.In the immediate future, plants to manufacture green hydrogen where industry will consume it seem viable, such as the one recently inaugurated by the electricity company Iberdrola in Puertollano (Ciudad Real), capable of producing 2,000 tons of hydrogen per year.There is also consensus on its potential for trucks, which are difficult to move with electricity, and manufacturers such as Toyota, Hyundai, Honda and BMW are betting on a hydrogenerating network to also supply cars with hydrogen fuel cells, while Rolls Royce is working on turbines for small aircraft. "There is a lot of struggle of interests" and "no one is sure which paths will triumph", says García about the energy manna star of the recent Davos Forum, which is also making its way in Saudi Arabia, the United States, Namibia, Germany, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Chile and India. Efe


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