- Veronica Smink
- BBC News World, Southern Cone
Scientists have made it clear: if we want to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, we must find a way to stop global temperatures from rising further.
The challenge is immense. Temperatures are already 1 degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), just rising another 0.5 C the effects could be devastating.
Faced with this scenario, many countries are urgently looking for ways to solve their energy needs without continuing to harm the environment.
One of the solutions that some nations are developing is that of green hydrogen, also know as renewable hydrogen or e-Hydrogen.
Recently computer mogul Bill Gates, who just published a new book called How to avoid a climate disaster (“How to avoid a climate disaster”), highlighted this fuel as the best innovation in recent years to combat the greenhouse effect.
“I don’t know if we will be able to (produce green hydrogen at an affordable price), but if we could do it, it would solve many problems“he noted on the Armchair Expert podcast.
“I’m excited that there’s a lot of talk about getting this done. That didn’t happen 3-4 years ago,” he said.
What is it?
Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical element in the universe. Stars, like our Sun, are made up mainly of this gas, which can also take on a liquid state.
Hydrogen is very powerful: it has three times more energy than gasoline.
But, unlike this, it is a source of clean energy, since it only releases water (H2O), in the form of steam, and does not produce carbon dioxide (CO2).
However, although there have been technologies that allow the use of hydrogen as a fuel for many years, there are several reasons why until now it has only been used on special occasions (such as to power NASA spacecraft).
One is that it is considered dangerous because it is highly flammable, so transporting and storing it safely is a challenge.
But an even bigger stumbling block has to do with the difficulties in producing it.
Because it turns out that on Earth hydrogen only exists in combination with other elements. It is in water, along with oxygen, and combines with carbon to form hydrocarbons such as gas, coal, and oil. Thus, hydrogen must be separated from other molecules to use as fuel.
And achieving this requires large amounts of energy, in addition to being very expensive.
Until now, hydrocarbons had been used to generate that energy, so producing hydrogen continued to pollute the environment with CO2.
But a few years ago, hydrogen began to be produced from renewable energies such as the sun and the wind, using a process called electrolysis.
Electrolysis uses an electrical current to divide water into hydrogen and oxygen in a device called an electrolyzer.
The result is the so-called green hydrogen, which is 100% sustainable, but much more expensive to produce than traditional hydrogen.
However, many believe that it could offer a green solution for some of the most polluting industries, including transportation, chemical and steel production, and power generation.
A bet on the future
Currently, 99% of the hydrogen used as fuel is produced from non-renewable sources.
Meanwhile, less than 0.1% is produced through the electrolysis of water, according to the International Energy Agency.
However, many energy experts anticipate that this will change soon.
The pressures to reduce environmental pollution have led a whole series of countries and companies to bet on this new form of clean energy, which many believe will be key to “decarbonize” the planet.
Oil companies like Repsol, BP y Shell they are among those who have launched green hydrogen projects.
And several nations have published national production plans for this renewable fuel.
This includes the European Union (EU), which in its “Hydrogen Strategy for a Climate Neutral Europe”, published in mid-2020, pledged to invest US $ 430 billion in green hydrogen between now and 2030.
The EU’s intention is to install 40 gigawatt (GW) renewable hydrogen electrolyzers in the next decade, to achieve its goal of becoming climate neutral by 2050.
For his part, the new president of the United States, Joe Biden, promised in his energy plan that he will ensure “that the market can access the green hydrogen at the same cost as conventional hydrogen in a decade, providing a new clean fuel source for some existing power plants. “
At the end of 2020, seven international companies developing green hydrogen projects launched the initiative Green Hydrogen Catapult (Green Hydrogen Catapult), as part of the campaign Race to Zero (Race to Zero) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
This global coalition made up of Saudi clean energy group ACWA Power, Australian developer CWP Renewables, Chinese wind turbine maker Envision, European energy giants Iberdrola and Ørsted, Italian gas group Snam and Norwegian fertilizer producer Yara, look for the industry multiply by 50 in the next six years.
It also points to cut current cost in half of renewable hydrogen, less than US $ 2 per kilogram.
A report published in August 2020 by energy consultancy Wood Mackenzie suggests that they are on the right track: the report estimates that costs will be reduced by up to a 64% in the next decade.
Meanwhile, investment bank Goldman Sachs estimated last September that the green hydrogen market will exceed $ 11 trillion by 2050.
All this optimism around what Forbes magazine has called “the energy of the future” ties into a number of megaprojects that are planned around the world.
These works – which have been announced, but in most cases are in the planning phase – would represent a huge expansion of the green hydrogen market, expanding current capacity from about 80GW to over 140GW.
Here we tell you which are the six countries with the largest green hydrogen production projects.
Oceania’s largest nation is leading production plans for this new clean fuel with proposals to build 5 megaprojects in its territory, thanks to its enormous renewable energy resources, in particular wind and solar.
The largest project – in the country and in the world – is the Asian Renewable Energy Hub, in the Pilbara, Western Australia, where it is planned to build a series of electrolyzer plants with a total capacity of 14GW.
The $ 36 billion project is expected to be ready by 2027-28.
The other four projects – two in Western Australia and two in eastern Queensland – are still in the initial planning phase, but would add another 13.1GW if approved.
For all this, some are calling Australia “the Saudi Arabia of green hydrogen.”
Anglo-Dutch oil company Shell is leading the project together with other developers NortH2 at the Port of Ems, in the north of the Netherlands, which foresees the construction of at least 10GW of electrolyzers.
The goal is to have 1GW by 2027 and 4GW by 2030, using offshore wind energy.
In the middle of this year the feasibility study of the project will be completed, the cost of which has not been disclosed.
The hydrogen generated is planned to be used for potential heavy industry in both the Netherlands and Germany.
The Germans are also planning their own green hydrogen projects on national territory. The largest is that of AquaVentus, on the small island of Heligoland, in the North Sea.
The plan is to build there 10GW capacity by 2035.
A consortium of 27 companies, research institutions and organizations – including Shell – are promoting the project, which will use the powerful winds of the region as an energy source.
A second smaller project is planned in Rostock, on the north German coast, where a consortium led by local energy company RWE plans to build another 1GW of green energy.
The Asian giant is the world’s leading producer of hydrogen, but so far it has used hydrocarbons to generate almost all of that energy.
However, the country is giving its first steps in the green hydrogen market with the construction of a megaproject in the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia, in the north of the country.
The project is led by the state utility company Beijing Jingneng, which will invest US $ 3 billion to generate 5GW from wind and solar energy.
The project is expected to be ready this year.
The Arab country with the largest oil reserves also plans to enter the green hydrogen market, with the so-called Helios Green Fuels Project.
It will be located in NEOM’s futuristic “smart city” on the shores of the Red Sea, in Tabuk province, in the northwest of the country.
The $ 5 billion project is expected to install 4GW of electrolyzers by 2025.
The South American country, considered one of the meccas of solar energy, was the first in the region to present a “National Green Hydrogen Strategy” in November 2020.
And it is also the only Latin American with a project in development: HyEx, from the Chilean mining services company Enaex and the French energy company Engie.
The project, based in Antofagasta, in northern Chile, will use solar energy to power electrolysers of 1.6GW.
An initial pilot test plans to install 16MW by 2024.
Chilean Energy Minister Juan Carlos Jobet pointed out that the country not only seeks to generate green hydrogen to meet its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, but also aspires to power to export this clean fuel in the future.
“If we do things right, the green hydrogen industry in Chile can be as important as mining, the forestry sector or how salmon were once, “he told Electricidad magazine.
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