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    The role of hydrogen in the energy transition generates doubts in Catalonia due to its low efficiency


    October 5, 2022 - CE Noticias Financieras

     

      Faced with the environmental emergency, increasingly less questioned by the empirical evidence of the effects of climate change, governments and companies have already begun to take positions in a race towards energy transition. The latest geostrategic episodes, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which have revealed the dependence on certain fuels, such as natural gas, have intensified this process.

      Just last week, a consortium made up of Repsol, Enagás, Iqoxe and Messer presented a renewable hydrogen production project in the Tarragona petrochemical complex with an initial investment of 230 million euros to build the largest electrolyzer in Spain, with a capacity of 150 MW in the first phase and which would come into operation in 2025. Although the promoters of the initiative guarantee that the electrolyzer will use renewable and local energy, some voices question the viability of hydrogen as a vector of energy transformation due to its low degree of efficiency and others, who defend it, admit that despite becoming "a substitute for fossil fuels in general, it may be more interesting as a raw material for the chemical sector".

      The Tarragona plant is part of the Catalan Hydrogen Valley project and the Ebro hydrogen corridor. When it reaches 1 GW of production, it will account for 25% of the state's 2030 target for renewable hydrogen generation, according to those responsible. Once the first phase is over, they predict that from 2027 another 80 million euros will be earmarked for electrical storage facilities. Regarding its commitment to sustainability, they insist that the electrolyzer "will preferably use local renewable energy and minimize water consumption to produce hydrogen and oxygen from renewable sources".

      The initiative is in line with the strategy of the Generalitat de Catalunya in this area. In fact, the president Pere Aragonès qualifies as "transforming projects for the country", the electrification of mobility, green hydrogen or the European chip. In the same vein, the Minister of Enterprise and Employment, Roger Torrent, is confident that Catalonia is one of the key regions in Europe in the development of green hydrogen, as he believes, "we have the capabilities and assets to be a leading player".

      Hydrogen, a player in the chemical sector

      A recent conference organized by the Col-legi d'Enginyers Industrials de Catalunya (EIC) highlighted the need for the energy future to consider three variables: security of supply, environmentally sustainable solutions and viable economic costs. Although the president of the EIC's Energy Commission, Josep Maria Montagut, highlighted the opportunities offered by hydrogen and biogas as energy corridors, he admitted that obligations regarding the deployment of renewables cannot be overlooked. "Hydrogen will be the substitute for fossil fuels in general and feedstock in the chemical sector, and biomethane will replace natural gas in the domestic and tertiary sector." Despite these advantages, he believes that if the challenges in the field of renewables are not met, there will be no choice but to maintain traditional production systems to guarantee electricity supply.

      Despite the good intentions and intentions in energy policy, some experts envision that in the medium term, until an alternative to dependence on Russia is established, the use of nuclear energy will increase, while the green transition will have gone from being an environmental belief to a geopolitical imperative.

      "We are totally against putting on the table the approach that hydrogen can act as the energy vector of the future." The critical analysis of Josep Nualart, researcher in Energy and Climate at the Observatori del Deute en la Globalització (ODG), focuses both on the objective of using it and on the way projects are designed. In this sense, he distances even the possibility that green hydrogen could be the protagonist of economic decarbonization. He also recalls that certain European Union (EU) countries are considering reviving the Midcat pipeline construction project.

      Low energy efficiency

      Nualart points out that most of the current uses of fossil fuels can be replaced by renewable energies. Thus, hydrogen would only remain for some industrial activities. "Despite promises that its origin will be green, 99% of it is now produced with oil and gas as raw material". The researcher regrets that hydrogen is given a major role in the energy transition, when it should be residual. Thus, he specifies that "green hydrogen requires three times the volume of what is necessary, thus losing two thirds of energy". As an example, he indicates that only 20% of the energy generated is used to propel a car with this fuel.

      Faced with this low efficiency of hydrogen, Nualart calls for the deployment of renewable energies, such as solar, photovoltaic and wind power, as drivers of the paradigm shift. Beyond the energy used, the ODG defends an alternative model, which does not focus exclusively on macro projects, such as the Tarragona plant, but promotes a decentralized distribution network, which facilitates the population's access to supply points and puts an end to the oligopoly of some energy companies, which accumulate control over the production, transport and distribution of electricity.

      In fact, the complaint of entities such as the ODG is that, despite the use of an apparently more sustainable fuel, we are moving towards the same model of centralized projects and distribution networks without favoring a democratization of the energy system. It is an attempt to change the technology for producing energy, but repeating the same scheme of limited access to supply.

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