Green hydrogen: when will the most anticipated protagonist of the energy transition arrive?

Green hydrogen: when will the most anticipated protagonist of the energy transition arrive?

Green hydrogen

Imagine one day driving a hydrogen car that takes you to a train station where the vehicle to be taken can be fueled with the same fuel. Imagine that the heating of the house - or better still the heavy material with which the object that releases heat is built - originated with zero impact, thanks to green hydrogen. And imagine that these are not fantasies for your children, but a revolution that you can experience in the coming years: even here, in Italy. It is the final goal of the von der Leyen Commission's challenge, the center of the strategy to make Europe the first zero-impact continent in human history by 2050: green hydrogen promises to replace gas and to begin to do so. substantially by 2030. A beautiful dream. Surely too good to materialize without overcoming some obstacles. And which in the present has a price too expensive to become reality.

What it is and what are its advantages

In essence, green is the type of hydrogen obtained from sources of renewable energy . Because today hydrogen is already produced and used, but it is the gray. "The coloring of hydrogen defines the method of production - explains to Giorgio Graditi, director of the Energy Technologies and Renewable Sources Department of Enea -. Gray comes from reforming processes and therefore releases Co2 into the atmosphere: at the moment it costs 6 or 7 times less than the green one, which instead comes from renewable sources, therefore in the Italian solar photovoltaic and wind energy context. Unlike gray, the production of green hydrogen occurs through the process of electrolysis, or the splitting of the water molecule into hydrogen and oxygen.

It is a clean process in the sense that it does not release pollutants into the atmosphere. It is clear the decisive contribution that in the future green hydrogen will be able to make to the energy transition because it is able to decarbonise part of the industrial sector. Particularly the energy-intensive sectors, the so-called hard to abbot, but also to make a decisive contribution to sustainable mobility

Cars, heavy transport vehicles, trains and one day even airplanes. Heating and energizing homes. Satisfy the energy demand of all industries, even the heavy and most energy-intensive ones. All this could be used for green hydrogen, which, once fully operational, represents the first real goal of the long-awaited energy transition. “Hydrogen is a vector that can be used for different needs - continues Graditi - and has an important impact in hard to abate industries such as paper mills, glass factories, refineries, ceramic or chemical companies. Everything that can now be fueled by methane gas can find a great substitute in hydrogen ". And if hydrogen is green, the substitute also becomes sustainable.

India wants to become the "factory of the world" of renewables New Delhi challenges Beijing, which today is the global giant of manufacturing production of green energy technologies. An ambition that the United States is ready to support However, according to the manager of Enea, it is not for this reason that he is able to solve the problem of energy supply on his own: "The energy transition is a path that has begun from which one cannot and cannot must go back. But it must be balanced: consequently, made with a view to an energy mix. In this perspective, hydrogen plays an important role because it can create a fuel or a vector that can be used for smart sector integration actions, that is, integration between the electricity and gas networks. It is a starting point: from a national, community and global perspective it will play an important role ". The great demand for energy therefore needs a mixed response. And the fate of green hydrogen is intrinsically linked to that of its source, renewable energies.

The European Union strategy for hydrogen foresees the realization by 2030 of an electrolysis capacity of 40 GW in the member countries as well as the possible production of another 40 GW from other countries. For the latter, as Ispi explains, Morocco and Egypt present themselves as natural candidates for the export of green hydrogen to European nations. “Producing green hydrogen means producing enough renewables to power it: an integrated system is needed. And the production of renewables will also depend on where we can do better and at better costs ”. As we have learned the hard way, the cost of energy is a fundamental variable in the modern economy. In the case of green hydrogen, it depends above all on the cost of renewables, as companies that can't wait to open this new energy market are well aware.

A still high (and drugged) price

Looking at international benchmarks, the countries that are working hard to activate the production of green hydrogen are in particular Japan, the United States and some of the European ones. Among them, the Scandinavians and especially Germany. Linde Engineering is one of the big German industrialists who are dedicating themselves to the production of hydrogen: gray, blue (deriving from fossil fuels but without releasing Co2 into the atmosphere) and green. To give a dimension to its volume of business, Linde generated sales of over $ 2.5 billion last year through the different types of this energy source.

“Hydrogen will play a significant role in the global energy mix, while mitigating the impact of global warming - tells John van der Velden, senior vice president global sales & technology at Linde -. We need to decarbonise many industries and replace fossil fuels, especially gas. And hydrogen can be a very versatile solution even in sectors that are difficult to decarbonise. We need to start the hydrogen economy immediately: otherwise we will waste precious time decarbonising industry and mobility ”. At Gastech 2022 the German company presented various hydrogen power solutions, with particular consideration for blue and green, both considered as evolutionary prospects towards the energy transition.

The biggest challenge will be the availability of a lot of renewable energy needed to replace the current gray or blue hydrogen, based on natural gas, and finally switch to green hydrogen

Despite the crisis triggered since the war in Ukraine, the wind seems to be pulling in favor of hydrogen. The demand for this type of energy is growing, even in the blue and green versions, in many companies historically distant from the concept of zero impact: "For example, the steel industry - follows John van der Velden - and also governments around the world have made hydrogen one of their main pillars in the attempt to achieve greater self-sufficiency and energy security ”. The road seems to be drawn: the economy, even the heavy one, and governments, even the largest ones, are focusing on green hydrogen.

What then are the main obstacles to its adoption? “Certainly the production, the infrastructures, the investments and the costs”. This is where the hardest game is played, as Linde's delegate explains: “The current challenge is to produce hydrogen on a scale and at a competitive price. The costs of renewable energy are increasing globally and availability is limited: 80% of the cost of green hydrogen is defined by the price of renewable energy ", which still has high costs compared to the price of energy derived from fossil sources.

According to various experts in the sector, this also depends on public subsidies for non-renewable energies. In the last year alone, they have doubled in OECD countries: in total, from 362 to 697 billion dollars. Funds for public support for crude oil, gas, coal and electricity. Marco Fossanelli, Siad's business developer, thinks so too, interviewed by at Gastech: "We are in a stalemate at the moment: there is the will, there is the need but the conditions are not there. In my opinion, what could change is a choice of individual governments to ensure that electricity produced from renewable sources is not connected to electricity obtained from fossil sources.

The famous speech of electricity that has a drugged price, also due to subsidies. If one day the price of electricity were no longer linked to that of fossils, then the choice of renewables would become more competitive and certainly attractive ".

A concrete perspective: heading towards 2030

Siad is one of the most important Italian chemical groups and has been dealing with the vast range of industrial gases for about a century. The fact that you are now focusing on green hydrogen is certainly a positive sign of the sincerity of the corporate world to really follow the energy transition. The same goes for Linde.

The European Commission proposes a cut in energy consumption According to a draft plan, Brussels wants to reduce energy consumption for 3 or 4 hours a day. Increases on extra-profits of energy companies are also expected According to John van der Velden, the problem of the cost of renewables higher on the market than fossils is a big brake on the energy turnaround: "Sometimes this means that investors have difficulties with business cases and delay final investment decisions. We need to seriously accelerate the storage of renewable electricity to meet the growing demand for direct electrification and power-to-x applications in order to reach an acceptable level of costs ”. Also because it is no longer a strictly technological problem, as Fossanelli explains. "The technology is there. Speaking of electrolysers, some are further ahead some are further behind. Of course, there is not yet a “shelf” solution, but you can get there: even in a short time.

If this market starts, you can get to see green hydrogen solutions ready for use within ten years, even in Italy

An estimate that also the director agrees by Enea Giorgio Graditi: “It is difficult to give a concrete time indication, but I think that in 2030 green hydrogen will begin to make a significant contribution to what the new energy mix will be”. Not only that: according to both the representatives of Siad and Linde, we can already start working on blending solutions of hydrogen with methane and thus immediately go from gray to blue. Van der Velden of Linde explains: "We believe that now blue hydrogen is an important bridge technology, before green hydrogen takes over in 2030." It is not just a German option: also in Italy, thanks to pipes of Snam, we could work hard to reach this first point of arrival of the energy transition. For once, we too have no shortage of funds.

The boost of the PNRR and the brake of the war

In Italy, scientists and business managers are in agreement for once: the money to complete the energy transition and reach the Eldorado of green hydrogen is there. "The National Recovery and Resilience Plan invests about 3.6 billion euros on hydrogen - explains Graditi - and invests to decarbonise the hard to abate sectors and in the transport sector: in particular the heavy ones. It has funds for research and for the construction of intelligent hydrogen infrastructures ". Fossanelli of S ad: “The large costs for investments in green hydrogen can be covered by the funds of the PNRR, which represents a great opportunity.

All the operators who are currently thinking of starting with renewable hydrogen had planned to start thanks to the PNRR, but were held back by the enormous energy price increases, absolutely unexpected "

The price of gas has exceeded 300 euros According to the Dutch reference market, the price currently stands at 310 euros. The government accelerates on rationing plans That is the energy crisis unleashed by the war in Ukraine. Electrolysers, the core technology of green hydrogen, are very energy-consuming and at this time supply becomes a critical issue linked to the part of the variable costs of the plants. This is the first major obstacle to the introduction of green hydrogen: a problem aggravated by the crisis of the war in Ukraine that has triggered the massive return of LNG production. Instead, it is necessary to accelerate the production of renewable energies. Not only here but in areas where it is possible to create large solar parks (such as North Africa) or wind farms.

In the meantime, the other major issues related to this new form of energy supply must be resolved: "In addition to renewables, all actions aimed at the use of hydrogen are also needed: storage, transport and distribution. We think only of the road infrastructure and refueling stations, imagining hydrogen vehicles. And it is also necessary to define the relative regulatory, standardization, regulation and certification aspects "explains Graditi. Thus, in addition to creating energy resources, development and new employment can be generated. Thanks to green hydrogen, imagining a zero-impact future has never been so easy and so close to becoming reality.

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