Around the world, momentum is building behind the renewable energy movement. Nations are looking for solutions to propel a cleaner, greener future, and bold plans are being made to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The race is on to move to a net zero energy system by 2050, and thus avoid the crisis of global warming by limiting the increase in global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius, as provided for in the Paris Agreement.
Yet, as countries around the world seek to halt rampant CO2 emissions, demand for energy is expected to rise more and more, as economies demand more electricity to facilitate their continued growth and development. The International Energy Agency (IEA) predicts that demand for energy will increase by 25-30% by 2040.
Reaching the net zero threshold in a few decades as energy consumption continues to rise will require companies to innovate and seek sustainable solutions that are both accessible and efficient. One of them could be hydrogen.
A progressive fuel
Solutions for the transition to renewable energies are often found prominently in the natural world. Take solar, wind or hydro power. Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical element and as such it is found everywhere on earth. Its atoms make up water, plants, animals and humans, and in its rarer gas form it is an incredibly valuable fuel. It suffices to take into account that hydrogen is always in a compound form.
Today, green hydrogen is used as a cleaner alternative to highly polluting fuels, providing an essential tool in countries’ net zero journeys. While fossil fuels like petroleum, coal, and natural gas cause harmful greenhouse gases when burned, the only waste that hydrogen creates is water vapor. Universal fuel, light and very reactive, its place in the energy mix is essential. For years, hydrogen has been touted as a commodity with the power to revolutionize the energy industry.
A key step in the decarbonisation of the planet will involve the decarbonisation of the hydrogen sector
But obtaining hydrogen is not cheap, and the high costs have limited its growth. With the green credentials of hydrogen catching the attention of global investors, however, that is finally about to change. The Hydrogen Council expects at least $ 300 billion to be invested globally in green hydrogen over the next decade. At the same time, global demand for hydrogen intended for use as a raw material (in the manufacture of ammonia or its inclusion in chemical processes in refineries or industry) has tripled since 1975 to reach 70 million tonnes per year in 2018, according to the IEA.
Its popularity is not surprising, but its environmental impact is not so clear. When fossil fuels are used to create hydrogen, emissions of carbon dioxide end up in the atmosphere despite hydrogen’s own credentials. Currently, hydrogen is almost entirely supplied from fossil fuels, with six percent of the world’s natural gas and two percent of the world’s coal going directly to hydrogen production. This makes hydrogen responsible for over 2% of total global CO2 emissions, which is equivalent to the carbon emissions produced by the UK and Indonesia combined.
This is why renewable energy champions like Iberdrola believe that a key step in the decarbonization of the planet will involve the decarbonization of the hydrogen industry. The creation of green hydrogen, a version from renewable energies, will reduce carbon dioxide emissions and create a truly revolutionary material that will help decarbonize other highly polluting sectors, provide more security for renewable energies and prevent a climate crisis. .
Hydrogen generated from natural gas, or methane, is also known as gray hydrogen, and it is the form of fuel that is most commonly produced today. Blue hydrogen is created when the carbon generated by obtaining hydrogen is captured and stored underground by carbon capture and storage (CCS) before it can pollute the atmosphere, although carbon capture is expensive technology and not yet commercially viable.
Green hydrogen is the cleanest version of hydrogen available, and it is produced when renewable electricity, created by solar or wind power, is used in a chemical process called electrolysis, which separates atoms from hydrogen which make up the water (H2O) of the oxygen atoms. Green hydrogen is a small but growing segment of the energy market, currently accounting for just 0.1% of global hydrogen production, according to the IEA.
The World Hydrogen Council predicts that the costs of producing green hydrogen will fall by 50% by 2030, opening the floodgates for green hydrogen to fuel the future. As the decarbonization of the economy progresses around the world – a process well underway – and companies continue to build the necessary infrastructure, renewables will become cheaper, reducing the cost of green hydrogen and making it more expensive. widely available. In the longer term, green hydrogen will be important in niche areas that cannot be electrified, such as shipping, aviation, long-haul freight, and steelmaking.
Realize your potential
Barriers persist, however. Iberdrola itself has been investing in renewables for almost two decades, but more progress is needed. Replacing all gray hydrogen in the world will require 3,000 terawatt-hours per year (TWh / year) from new renewable energies, which is the equivalent of Europe’s current demand.
This change will be critical in creating a cleaner energy system, as producing green hydrogen that does not emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere would reduce the 830 million tonnes of CO2 emitted each year by obtaining gray hydrogen. using traditional fossil fuels.
For green hydrogen to replace dirtier and polluting fuels, it must be produced on a large scale. Until the cost of renewables drops, green hydrogen will remain expensive to produce. Electrolyzer farms, fuel cells and other equipment used to obtain and manage green hydrogen will all see their costs come down through mass manufacturing.
Another aspect to keep in mind is the additional safety requirements necessary when using hydrogen. Hydrogen is a highly volatile and flammable element, so important safety measures must be put in place to prevent leaks and explosions. While these obstacles cannot be ignored, the benefits of hydrogen extend far beyond its sustainable status.
Hydrogen is also transportable and versatile, as it can be turned into electricity to power a wide variety of industries, as well as ships and airplanes. In addition, the hydrogen could be stored, which would allow it to resolve some of the mismatches between supply and demand, an issue that is often at the heart of the renewable energy debate. As the prices of new solar and wind power drop, batteries or other storage solutions are needed for days when the wind is not blowing or the sun is hiding behind the clouds. Hydrogen, which can be obtained through renewable energy and then stored and used after its production, as well as mixed with other energy sources, offers a flexible solution. Hydrogen can also be transported from countries rich in renewable energy to areas less accessible to green energy, or manufactured in situ if the renewable electricity is transported through power grids to consumption areas.
A long-standing relationship with industry has also proven to be beneficial for hydrogen. Used to power cars, airships and spacecraft since the early 19th century, hydrogen fuel cells are increasingly common in vehicles today. Scaling up green hydrogen in industries such as fertilizer production, steel, shipping and aviation is crucial for hydrogen’s contribution to a clean energy future (see figure 1).
Electrifying the economy using renewable energies is the world’s best bet on decarbonization, but carbon-free materials like green hydrogen have an important role to play in sectors where electrification does not exist. is not yet competitive or technically possible, such as the steel industry, shipping or aviation.
A promising future
Iberdrola, a long-time pioneer in renewable energies, is today a leading force in the development of green hydrogen. Having already carried out projects to transform sectors like the ammonia industry with green hydrogen, the group has announced its intention to launch a large-scale green hydrogen project based on photovoltaic energy which starts its production. initial phase in Puertollano, Spain. By 2030, Iberdrola is expected to produce 85,000 tonnes of green hydrogen.
Now is the time to act on the vast opportunities offered by green hydrogen. Iberdrola’s investments in green hydrogen technology reduce costs and commit resources to a greener, cleaner future. For example, the company has spearheaded new developments as part of a larger € 150 billion investment plan that will fuel the growth of green hydrogen, as well as the launch of a new business unit focused solely on green hydrogen. By investing in revolutionary green hydrogen technology, Iberdrola promises in the future that a cleaner energy industry is on the horizon.