September 26 -- From industry to transport, many sectors are adopting hydrogen as a key pillar of their national and international energy system strategies that are aimed at tackling climate change by reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. By the beginning of 2021, over 30 countries had released hydrogen roadmaps, and announced more than 200 hydrogen projects and ambitious investment plans. Governments worldwide have committed more than US$70 billion in public funding. This momentum exists along the entire value chain and is accelerating cost reductions for hydrogen production, transmission, distribution, retail, and end applications.
Hydrogen is already a commodity that is being used as feedstock in different industrial applications, ranging from refineries to ammonia and methanol production. The global demand for pure hydrogen has tripled since 1975. Current hydrogen demand is mostly supplied by fossil fuels, including natural gas, oil and coal, because they represent the cheapest pathway. However, hydrogen has also been proposed as a potential energy carrier to support the wider deployment of low-carbon energy, mainly produced from renewable energy sources.
The reason for hydrogen
The universe’s most abundant element has long been considered a potential alternative to traditional forms of fuel. However, until now, the cost barriers associated with hydrogen production were too high to make it a viable zero-carbon fuel source.
Three factors are behind the rise in a renewed interest in hydrogen:
- The introduction of favourable government policies.
- Technological improvements and scale driving down costs.
- Increased demand driven by sectors seeking to decarbonise.
Varying waves of enthusiasm have supported the narrative of low-cost, clean hydrogen as an alternative to fossil fuels, mainly exploiting fuel cell applications in the transport sector, and heating as a lower-cost alternative to electricity. Scientific and industrial interest in the potential of hydrogen technologies first occurred during the oil crises of the 1970s, as the world was looking for alternative solutions to tackle potential oil shortages and addressing environmental problems such as local pollution and acid rains. Research programmes on hydrogen were implemented, but they did not have significant effects since, due to new oil discoveries, the oil prices eventually decreased, and the fear of shortages disappeared. Rising concerns over climate change and peak oil scenarios renewed interest in hydrogen in the 1990s and 2000s. Again, low oil prices limited the diffusion of hydrogen technologies, and so did the economic and financial crisis at the end of the 2000s.
Today, a growing consensus is once again building up on the potential of hydrogen, mostly due to a stronger climate agenda with more challenging targets. Clean hydrogen is part of a group of technologies that need to be deployed across final uses to ensure a transition towards climate-friendly energy sources.
Blocks to overcome
Sustainability is good for business, and has become a source of future competitive advantages. However, turning initiatives such as hydrogen into reality is a challenge. With green hydrogen costing six times that of traditional energy production, and blue hydrogen costing two to three times as much, the transition to cleaner production through carbon capture and renewable energy must be strategic. To win in the future, operators must begin laying the foundation with OT data management and software solutions.
The infrastructure necessary to support a low/zero-hydrogen economy consists of transport, storage and distribution stations. This can be extremely costly compared to other decarbonisation efforts, such as electrification. Cheaper and more abundant renewable energy sources are integral to scaling low and zero-carbon hydrogen use. There are a lack of proven applications at scale to date, though large-scale efforts are in their planning phases... (cont.)