What was once a discussion is now becoming policy. As a result, hundreds of billions of dollars are being invested into projects aimed at helping achieve net-zero targets and creating zero-emission fuel.
Green hydrogen stands out as having a lot of potential to one day help us reach a net zero-emission. But before we delve into the crux of it, what is hydrogen and how can it help?
What is Hydrogen?
Hydrogen is the most common chemical in the universe. It can be produced as a gas or liquid or made up of other materials. Hydrogen can be produced from various domestic resources such as natural gas, nuclear power, biomass and renewable power such as solar and wind.
These qualities make Hydrogen an attractive fuel source for transportation and electricity generation applications. It can be used in cars, houses, portable chargers and more.
Hydrogen has been used as an energy source since the 19th century. Hydrogen is now most commonly used in petroleum refining and fertiliser production and more and more for utilities and transport industries.
Types of Hydrogen
Grey hydrogen is the most common form, created from fossil fuels (oil and coal) and releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This accounts for 95% of hydrogen production in the world today.
Blue hydrogen uses the same process as grey, except the carbon is captured and stored underground. This method is much more environmentally friendly but comes with added technical challenges and a price increase.
Green Hydrogen does not use fossil fuels but instead uses electrolysis, splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen. This process is powered by renewable energy sources such as solar or wind power.
Green hydrogen seems to be the ideal solution to transition, and eventually replace grey hydrogen, so why hasn’t it been done already?!
Producing green hydrogen is a complex process.
Producing green hydrogen is a process that involves using water, an electrolyser and an ample supply of electricity. Green Hydrogen is created when the hydrogen and oxygen have been split using an electric current to breakwater into its two elements, hydrogen and oxygen.
This energy comes from a renewable source such as wind, solar or hydro, making the hydrogen effectively green as zero-emissions are released.
The production cost of green hydrogen is higher.
Due to the cheap coal and natural gases readily available, grey hydrogen can be as low as circa 1 USD/kg H2 in regionals such as the Middle East, Russia and North America and still staying below 2 USD/kg H2 for other regions, like Europe.
Green hydrogen reports being in the range of 2.5-6 USD/kg H2, being more expensive than both grey and blue. When it is at its lowest, it is cost-competitive with blue.
The key factor is therefore access to an abundance of inexpensive renewable energy, from wind and solar. However, as long as energy storage is not commonly available at utility scale, fluctuation in sunlight and wind will affect the power grid sustainability and electricity prices.
According to Bloomberg NEF, an $11 trillion investment in production and storage worldwide will be needed through 2050 to meet a quarter of the world’s energy needs. The European Union has already allocated $430 billions and Australia $275 billions until 2030 as part of their green hydrogen strategy. A recent analysis by MIT and Wood Mackenzie predicts a reduction of 30% in green hydrogen production cost by 2030 linked to the development of new technology.
Transporting green hydrogen remains challenging.
One of the key challenges associated with the use of green hydrogen is its transportation. When green hydrogen is converted into liquid hydrogen or blended into gas, it is stored and transferred using liquid organic hydrogen carriers (LOHC).
These methods have a variety of challenges associated with them, but in saying that, there are many projects underway that are finding ways to overcome these challenges. For example, blending green hydrogen in natural pipelines is being tried and experimented with by different companies around the globe.
Existing pipelines and other infrastructure can unfortunately not be used. This is because embrittles metal and hydrogen are highly combustible. Therefore, hydrogen needs to be pressured / converted into ammonia to move safely through pipelines, trucks and ships.
What’s definite is that in the decarbonisation race, hydrogen can bridge the gap that other energy sources can not. With a high energy density, hydrogen can power aircrafts and long-haul trucks with a fraction of the weight, space and cost of electric batteries.
The challenge for aircrafts is storing hydrogen safely onboard and building infrastructure for alternate fuel at airports. As for long-haul trucks, engines can already be run on hydrogen, but these engines will eventually need to be replaced by hydrogen fuel cells, which is expensive to replace.
Therefore, new and emerging technology will need to become a focus for the green hydrogen revolution, not only for production but also for transportation nationwide and globally.
How does Australia fit in?
With an abundance of water and clean electricity all year round, Australia could position itself as an industry leader. However, considering its geographical location, the question of transport is crucial to make it a success both locally and for export.
As part of Australia’s National Hydrogen Strategy, a network of hydrogen-hubs have already been deployed across the country, where hydrogen users and exporters work together to test and create the solutions of tomorrow.
The driving force of the Australian economy, the mining industry is also contributing and working to be part of the transition. In 2020, the big four – BHP, Fortescue, Anglo American and Hatch – formed the Green Hydrogen Consortium, embracing the challenge of decarbonisation to evolve their technology and processes to keep powering transportation and other heavy industries.
Where to from here?
Green hydrogen still has a long way to go to fulfill its promises in the race to decarbonisation. The UN predicts fossil fuels production needs to decrease by 6% between 2020-2030 to prevent a catastrophic global temperature rise. Green hydrogen could be the solution to cover the 15% to 20% energy need that can’t be met by wind and solar.