Hydrogen is used in refineries, fertilizers and plastic synthesis, but it has good prospects in the transport sector and to generate industrial heat. It could be said that today’s society is fed thanks to the fact that hydrogen or natural gas fertilize the fields, one of the main reasons why agriculture is a highly CO2 emitter.
The generation of hydrogen spends an energy equivalent to 342 nuclear reactors operating las 24 hours and seven days a weekbut from fossil fuels, but the hydrogen market is booming, with annual double-digit growth rates.
According to the report directed by Marcos Rupérez from OBS Business School, the objective is convert the entire world production of hydrogen in renewable and also increase it. All international organizations plan for this to be the most installed technology in the future and therefore the current market for electrolysers and renewable hydrogen is an exploding industry with double-digit annual growth rates (%). The production rate of hydrogen obtained through renewable energies today is less than 0.03% of world production.
Currently 80% of the energy we use in the world is non-electric and is produced mainly through fossils such as oil, natural gas and coal. Climate change and the scarcity of these fossils make the energy transition essential, but to achieve the electrification of the economy, a huge variety of technologies and sectors is necessary. Hydrogen and its technologies can be a relevant actor that provides solutions. However, this does not always come from renewable sources, in fact today fossil fuels that emit CO2 in the process are usually used to obtain it.
World hydrogen consumption was around 90 Mt (Million metric tons) in 2020, and 2% of all the primary energy used by humans on earth was used for its generation. Practically all of this hydrogen was generated through fossil fuels and therefore this hydrogen is the main candidate to be replaced by another produced without emitting CO2, the so-called “green hydrogen”, which is obtained from renewable sources by electrolysis or by gasification of organic matter. Marcos Ruperez states that “it is of paramount importance to establish a system of guarantees of origin that officially certify the emissions associated with the generation of hydrogen, as well as its origin.”
And the report’s data indicates that the rate of hydrogen production from electrolysis by renewable energies or other sources that do not emit CO2, to date, is less than 0.03% of world production.
The objective today is to convert all world hydrogen production in renewable and also increase it. All international organizations plan for this to be the most installed technology in the future and therefore the current market for electrolysers and renewable hydrogen is an exploding industry with double-digit annual growth rates (%).
Current costs to generate hydrogen by electrolysis are high, but economies of scale are expected to apply as electrolyser installations rapidly increase and these come down to make non-CO2 emitting hydrogen competitive.
44% of all world hydrogen consumption, 40 Mt per year, is used in oil refineries to modify the properties or convert the final petroleum products into other fuels. This hydrogen is usually generated at the plant itself from natural gas or crude oil itself and recombined with other flows in situ. 37%, approximately 34 Mt, is used to generate ammonia for fertilizers. It could be said that today’s society is fed by the fact that hydrogen or natural gas fertilize the fields, a little-known fact but one of the main reasons why agriculture is a highly CO2 emitter.
A viable option
Another 12% of the world’s hydrogen, 11 Mt per year, is used to manufacture methanol, which in the chemical industry is used to synthesize plastics, paints, resins and adhesives among others. And it is also used in metallurgy to reduce iron oxide. In this area, a great future is predicted for it as it is one of the few reducing agents that do not emit CO2.
But beyond its use in industry, hydrogen is being tested for heat generation. According to the OBS report, it seems that in this field it could offer advantages at an industrial level, however, it will hardly prevail for home heating because there are technologies such as aerothermal or geothermal that are between three and five times more efficient than any boiler, including hydrogen.
In the transport sector, hydrogen is a very viable option because it weighs less than lithium batteries and its recharging times are similar to diesel. It seems like a good option for long-distance freight transport, trains, ships and planes, for which it is also being considered. the use of biofuels. Hydrogen can be integrated into other liquid and gaseous molecules that are easier to handle to manufacture a fuel similar to diesel, the so-called e-fuel; and it can also be stored within the ammonia molecule, a gas that is easier to manage and is considered one of the main fuels for future large ships.
In this sector there are already many different solutions and in the coming years and based on the experience of pilot projects, it will be defined which applications will use hydrogen, which electric batteries and which biofuels or other technologies.
In order to reach a planet with zero net emissions, the UN plan implies a high implantation of hydrogen and given that only 28 years separate us from the date indicated, “the boost that must be given to hydrogen must be massive”, Ruperez says. Many countries in the world are already translating into Strategic plans their intentions, among them Chile stands out, with the aim of installing 25 GW of electrolysis before 2030, and the European Union, which as a whole plans to install 40 GW by the same date. “You have to understand that the challenge is enormous since there is currently not even 1% of that installed power,” adds Rupérez.
One of the great limitations for the massive use of hydrogen is that the current natural gas network cannot be used for its transport, since hydrogen is much more corrosive for the materials of the pipes and valves, so it seems that cannot be inserted easily more than 20% without modifying the pipes or the final applications. In addition, as the author of the report explains, “inserting hydrogen into the natural gas network for any use is ultimately using it for applications such as boilers in homes where it is not the most efficient possible option for electrification and therefore an unnecessary waste of energy.” primary. Still, the energy sector is multifactorial so efficiency might not be the defining factor.”
It is planned that by 2030 green hydrogen will go from the current 2% to suppose between 8% and 24% of all primary consumption of world energy and therefore the hydrogen sector will surely follow a path of growth in the next decade.
The European Commission considers that renewable hydrogen is the most compatible option with the EU’s long-term goal of climate neutrality and zero pollution. The choice of renewable hydrogen is based in the European industrial force in the production of electrolysers, which would create new jobs and economic growth in the EU and support an integrated and cost-effective energy system.
The Commission has published its roadmap, in which three phases are contemplated until the year 2050, with a program of necessary investments throughout the territory, with items that move in a maximum range of 919,200 and a minimum of 501,010 million euros. All this with the aim of tackle Europe’s adaptation to position itself as a world power in the production and consumption of hydrogen.