To reach net zero emissions by 2050, we need to create a globally affordable and workable zero-carbon energy system. Green hydrogen plays a pivotal role.
Currently the demand for green hydrogen is low. However, it is rising and potentially very quickly. That is thanks to carbon reduction commitments made and strengthened at the COP26 international climate summit in November 2021, and the importance of improving energy security and affordability by reducing reliance on fossil fuels from potentially unreliable sources.
Green hydrogen is produced by splitting water into its component molecules – two hydrogen to one oxygen – via electrolysis using renewable energy. It is an essential counterpart to renewable power generation, providing a means of storing energy to overcome intermittency and balance supply with demand. As an energy carrier, it is also supremely versatile, allowing for use in different sectors including industry and transportation, and in domestic applications.
A growing number of ambitious green hydrogen giga projects will shape the hydrogen market by developing, testing and proving technologies, solving design, delivery and operational challenges, testing use cases and growing the scale of the market. All of which will help to bring down the cost of green hydrogen to a point where – by 2050 or before – it is competitive with conventional energy sources.
Key objectives are increasing the production efficiency and cutting the cost of electrolysis; creating the necessary infrastructure for hydrogen storage, transmission and distribution; developing industrial and domestic applications for use of pure hydrogen; and building fuelling infrastructure for hydrogen-powered transport.
Paving the way to an affordable zero-carbon energy system
Work is under way to reduce the cost of producing green hydrogen and make it competitive with alternative energy . The following projects, and more, will offer valuable lessons for the whole industry as it races to decarbonise and diversify, to provide reliable, affordable energy, and a climate-stable future.
UK industrial clusters
The UK government’s 10-point plan for a Green Industrial Revolution, published in November 2020, is aiming for 5GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030. That’s enough to produce approximately 30Mt of steel a year or power 1.5M homes.
Five industrial clusters are being developed, co-locating hydrogen production and use to minimise the requirement for and cost of storage and transmission. The shape of each cluster will be different, allowing different technical, commercial and regulatory issues to be explored. They are HyNet in the north-west, and the Teesside, Humberside, Scottish (Aberdeen) and Welsh (Anglesey) hubs.
Although the timescales for developing the hubs will not ease the current energy crunch, developing, implementing and refining green energy solutions across industrial, transportation and domestic applications will contribute to future energy resilience and protection from price crises.
NortH2 is one of several European projects working to develop green hydrogen technologies and build market scale, which is essential for bringing down costs.
NortH2 will deliver large-scale production, storage and transmission of green hydrogen to industrial sectors that are currently reliant on natural gas and difficult to electrify. It will create the world’s largest group of offshore wind farms, transmitting power onshore to produce green hydrogen by electrolysis, then transporting the hydrogen via converted gas infrastructure to industrial centres in Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands.
NortH2 will contribute towards meeting European Union, Dutch, German and Belgian climate goals by demonstrating renewables-to-hydrogen technology at scale.
North Sea Wind Power Hub
This project will integrate onshore and offshore wind energy transmission systems and connect to hydrogen production facilities across the continent via a network. It is a major evolution from existing wind power production, which is largely national, with little systems integration. The project involves several of Europe’s major energy companies and national governments. It will improve the availability of renewable electricity for industrial applications, including hydrogen production.
As part of a wider European plan for a continental ‘hydrogen backbone’ transmission network, the Dutch government is leading the way with a north-south transmission spine that will demonstrate the practicality of converting existing natural gas transmission infrastructure to transport pure hydrogen.
German gas grid operator Open Grid Europe and energy company RWE have announced plans for ‘H2ercules’, a network of electrolysers, storage and import facilities in north Germany, linked to industrial consumers in the south and west.
Helios Green Fuels
There is growing recognition that hydrogen cannot easily be shipped, unlike natural gas. Producers that are distant from centres of demand are looking at converting hydrogen into ammonia as the means to get their product to market. This project will convert low-cost renewable energy to hydrogen and then to ammonia for transportation.
First published by the Confederation of British Industry in May 2022, as part of the CBI Conference series: Achieving Net Zero 7-8 June 2022.
Chris de Beer is global hydrogen leader at Mott MacDonald