Global value -based collaboration a key to sustainable Hydrogen strategy

Hydrogen is being produced annually at amounts of like 90 million tonnes with demand expected to increase significantly soon.

sustainable Hydrogen strategy
There are several reasons why it will be very important to include Hydrogen as a component in the global energy system for the future.

By Prof Christopher Hebling & Anandi Iyer

The burning topic that is on everyone’s mind today is Hydrogen and its contribution to the Sustainable Development for the Global Energy System. There are several reasons why it will be very important to include Hydrogen as a component in the global energy system for the future. While 194 countries around the world have committed to emit no more CO2 than they absorb from like the middle of the century, the energy sovereignty, affordability, and climate and environmental protection will only be possible with hydrogen as an energy carrier. The economics also make a compelling case, as according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the demand for hydrogen could reach 115 million metric tons (MMT)/year by 2030 and would need to touch 200 MMT/year by 2030 so as to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 and Green Hydrogen is expected to emerge as a $12 to $15 trillion global industry by 2050. With a good strategy, safety measures in place, robust supply chains and value-based partnerships; it also has the potential to become a key component of the energy mix in the coming years and therefore not surprisingly has garnered significant political, technology and investment interest globally. Hydrogen is being produced annually at amounts of like 90 million tonnes with demand expected to increase significantly soon. It will be an important platform chemical and energy carrier used in various sectors like steel manufacturing, chemicals, transport, and energy.

We have now entered an age in which green electrons will clearly be the backbone of future energy supply, i.e., electricity produced from photovoltaics and wind, which can be used wherever it makes sense and, above all, wherever it is appropriate in terms of time and place. Nevertheless, the gaps due to the fluctuations in energy production with the seasons or due to a mismatch of generation and demand can be filled by a synthetically and sustainably produced energy carrier. And that for sure will be hydrogen and its derivates.

There are some very important steps that one must take in order to establish a secure and economically viable Hydrogen alternative. The first step is a sound and robust strategy. Japan has been a good role-model in the new energy world, leading the way in hydrogen technology: In 2017, the Japanese government issued the Basic Hydrogen Strategy and became the first to adopt a national hydrogen framework. Through a series of legislations and plans, Japan plans to expand its hydrogen economy and hydrogen production by 3 million tons by 2030 and 20 million tons by 2050. Currently, 40 countries around the world have established national hydrogen energy strategies at a national level as part of their strategy to defossilize their energy economy. Germany has been the leading country driving the energy transition. Towards that, the H2Global foundation initiated by the federal government, whose goal is to establish fossil parity of hydrogen and its derivatives, has set up a double auction system to be used to bring together supply and demand for green hydrogen by means of a price equalization. For which a fund with 3.6 billion Euros has been allocated. The EU Commission has also just quadrupled its ambitions for green hydrogen through the Repower EU program. This implies that by the end of the decade, the hydrogen market in Europe should rise to 20 million tons, of which 10 million tons will be produced within Europe and 10 million as imports outside Europe. UAE has contracted the Fraunhofer Institute of Solar Energy(ISE) and the Fraunhofer Institute of Energy Infrastructure and Geothermal Storage (IEG) to develop its Hydrogen strategy and this will be a very interesting journey and will certainly play an important role for the energy security of the Region.

Secondly, we will need to develop comprehensive life cycle analysis and the economics of the same. Achieving carbon neutrality means that one ton of hydrogen must be produced for not more than one ton of CO₂-emissions in the overall process including all CO2 emissions in the value chain from cradle to grave. Although this level has not yet been reached, a ratio of hydrogen production to CO₂ emissions must be determined to set allowable and standard values for green hydrogen on a global scale. In the current situation, where CO₂ emissions remain high, there is also the possibility of capturing CO₂ and storing it underground or forming it to a solid-state product. An energy transformation roadmap will be created with allowable and actual values beyond the color-coding like green, blue or red hydrogen. LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) will need to be developed for the entire hydrogen value chain, from the energy production to real-world application in the up-taker sectors.

The next and very important step would be to seek investors, at both private and national levels, and green technology is also welcomed by investors. Investors will need to be convinced that trillions of dollars will be needed to build the entire value chain that will transform fossil carbon into sustainable, green technology. National-level investments, such as contributions and incentives to actual hydrogen industries and infrastructures like pipeline constructions, will need to be mandated.

However, the most important aspect will be global alliances. In the past, various stakeholders such as Governments, large corporations, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) companies and research organizations developed and competed with their own proprietary technologies and used fossil resources from underground such as oil, gas and coal in the energy and transportation sectors. However, going forward, above-ground energy sources, such as wind-, solar- and hydropower, will be used for free energy harvesting. G20’s common platform brings everyone together to work toward a framework that will support this major energy transformation.

Collaboration will become achievable by getting to know other countries with high ambitions for climate neutrality by means of hydrogen, such as Australia, India Japan Saudi Arabia, the United States, Canada, and South Africa. For example, South Africa is a major source of precious metals like platinum and ruthenium that are being used in electrochemical, thermo-chemical, and catalytic processes. Meanwhile, money flows are notably active in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, and Iraq, but also in countries like Chile or in Europe.

There are of course challenges that one needs to overcome. Such as the efficiency of green hydrogen because it takes a lot of energy to produce hydrogen and a lot of energy is lost again when it is converted back into electricity. Also, the fact that it will take even longer than just supplying the current electricity sector with green electricity. Safety of Hydrogen and its transportation is another area of challenge as well as research. For example, Germany has been able to achieve 50 percent green electricity in the power grid. But given the very few days of sunlight in Germany, storage will be a major area of intervention. And here safety and storage will be critical for Hydrogen. Price volatility will remain the focus of all interventions. For example, a megawatt hour of natural gas was $20 at the beginning of 2021, which then reached $340, and hit back to $100. The second is that hydrogen produced from steam reforming, i.e., one ton of hydrogen produced from natural gas, emits ten to twelve tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. If the price of CO2, which is currently around 40 dollars, then rises to 50 or 100 dollars, it will no longer be possible to do this because it is far too expensive to emit ten tons of CO2 if you want to have one ton of hydrogen. When we reach that point, we’ll have what’s called fossil parity, that is, the parity of greens versus fossil technologies. In the case of electrolysis, efficiency is already over 70% and a significant reduction in the cost of electrolysers will be achieved because of economies of scale. Additionally, renewable energies will also continue to become cheaper.

Approximately 95% of hydrogen is currently produced from natural gas and other fossil resources, resulting in the emission of some 900 Mt of CO2-eq every year, or about 2% of global CO2 emissions. Clearly, this situation must change if we are to achieve the climate goals set by the Paris Agreements. In this regard, the concept of waste-to-hydrogen, the production of hydrogen from waste materials, has emerged as a promising alternative. Waste, and especially organic waste, can be used as a resource for producing hydrogen. This avoids the depletion of finite resources and results in significantly lower net emissions, since the carbon contained in organic waste was at some point extracted from the atmosphere. Various methods are available for this purpose. These can be broadly categorized into two groups: thermo-chemical and biochemical processes. Thermo-chemical processes in general use high temperatures and/or pressures to break down organic waste and release the hydrogen contained in its chemical structure, while biochemical processes use microorganisms and enzymes to drive the required chemical reactions. These methods differ in terms of energy requirements, type of waste used, yields, and efficiencies, and each has specific advantages and disadvantages. If coupled with Carbon Capture and long-term Storage (CCS), hydrogen produced in this way can even result in negative emissions (carbon is removed from the atmosphere), a concept known as HyBECCS (Hydrogen Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage/Use).

Achieving carbon neutrality requires the most efficient use of the available resources, including waste. Since no one solution is optimal for all possible scenarios, energy production and waste utilization approaches must remain flexible. The utilization of locally produced organic residues via waste-to-hydrogen technologies, for example, constitutes a feasible option for facing the challenge of carbon neutrality and sustainable waste management.

India with its massive investments into renewable energy, its large domestic market and the competitive advantage it offers in terms of economies of scale will play a very important role in the global scene. With the Presidency of G20 bring held by India this year, there is a massive opportunity to create a transformational change in the global energy security. At the G20 Platforms, each country will discuss a variety of cooperation initiatives, including government funding, and research initiatives. There is an urgent imperative for the establishment of a clear regulatory framework for hydrogen energy, as it hasn’t been clearly defined yet. There’s a need for more research to develop efficient and cost-effective catalysts for the synthesis of sustainable fuels and chemicals. Furthermore, the global infrastructures for hydrogen and hydrogen derivates both by ships and land-based by pipelines have to be installed as a prerequisite for a global hydrogen economy.

About Fraunhofer ISE Prof Dr Christopher Hebling

He holds a PhD in Physics, and he is the Director of the division of hydrogen technologies at Fraunhofer ISE, which mainly conducts research in three areas: hydrogen production from renewable energy sources, fuel cells in the transportation sector as well as in thermochemical catalysis and process developments of hydrogen to synthetic fuels and chemicals (PtX). He has been involved in RD20 since its inception in 2019 and his division at ISE has 150 researchers, consisting of scientists, engineers, and students.  Among his many-fold affiliations he is involved in international stakeholder processes and advisory boards of international hydrogen and fuel cell conferences.

About Anandi Iyer

She is the Director & Head of the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, India Office since the last 15 years. She was for several years also Special Advisor to the Federal Ministry of Education and Research Govt. of Germany (BMBF). She has been working in the field of collaborative Technology and Innovation in the Indo-European corridor for the last more than 20 years. She is a member of the Indo German Expert Group on Digitalisation set up by the two Heads of Government.

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First published on: 13-02-2023 at 12:47 IST
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