1. Home
  2. Hydrogen
  3. Hydrogen: The rising trend in energy transformation – EQ Mag Pro
Hydrogen: The rising trend in energy transformation – EQ Mag Pro

Hydrogen: The rising trend in energy transformation – EQ Mag Pro


The global energy system is collapsing due to the use of fossil fuels. In order to prevent climate disaster, a global energy transition should be accelerated immediately

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his statement on the World Meteorological Organization’s State of Global Climate 2021 report, underlined once again that the global energy system is deteriorating and bringing us closer to climate disaster. Fossil fuels are at an environmental and economic dead end; the immediate effects of the war in Ukraine on energy prices are another wake-up call; the only sustainable future is a renewable one; fuel pollution must end as soon as possible before it destroys our only home, our world; and the renewable energy transition must be accelerated.

Successive world-scale crises have repeatedly underlined the urgent need to accelerate the global energy transition. While events in recent years highlight the cost to the global economy of a centralized energy system that is heavily dependent on fossil fuels, oil and gas prices are climbing to new heights as the crisis in Ukraine raises levels of anxiety and uncertainty. While we are still recovering from the damage wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, citizens around the world are concerned about the affordability of their energy bills. In addition, the effects of human-induced climate change are becoming more and more evident around the world. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) continues to warn that approximately 3.6 billion people currently live in environments highly vulnerable to climate change.

Short-term interventions to address pressing issues must be accompanied by a determined focus on a successful energy transition in the medium and long term. Governments today face the challenge of tackling the seemingly contradictory agendas of energy security, resilience and economic energy for all. In the face of this uncertainty, the goal is to learn to implement a more inclusive perspective by ensuring sustainable development in the face of the rapidly changing climate. Otherwise, the existing risks will continue and the deep-rooted threats from climate change will continue to increase.

In this context, accelerating the energy transformation for the energy sector, which accounts for a large part of global greenhouse gas emissions, is also necessary for long-term energy security, price stability and national resilience. About 80% of the world’s population lives in countries where energy is imported. With an abundance of renewable potential not yet tapped, this percentage can be significantly reduced. Such a profound shift would make countries less dependent on energy imports through different supply options and would help to isolate economies from broad fluctuations in fossil fuel prices. This pathway will also generate jobs, reduce poverty and support an inclusive and climate-safe global economy.

For this reason, the development and implementation of renewable energy conversion processes are necessary to reduce dependence on fossil fuel reserves and to control atmospheric greenhouse gases. As a result, renewables are seen as the ultimate route to truly independent energy security and, consequently, to stable energy prices and sustainable employment opportunities. Therefore, research shows that the increase in renewable energy generation capacity is extremely important and that interruptions and geographical constraints can be overcome by improving renewable energy conversion processes and energy storage processes.

Since the first oil crisis in the 1970s, economic development has been directly affected by access to safe energy sources, especially in industry. Innovative energy systems that provide reliable, cost-effective and clean supply are needed to meet energy needs for sustainable economic growth. Such energy systems are essential for sustainable economic growth, from new employment and export opportunities to other industrialization advantages.

In this respect, there is a promising field: hydrogen. Readily available, hydrogen recently attracted a lot of attention with the acceleration of renewable energy studies and applications in line with the U.N. Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, held in Glasgow last year.

In fact, turning to hydrogen for energy is not a very new idea. Until 1977, homes in the United Kingdom were supplied with a synthetic gas made up of methane, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and around 50% hydrogen. This gas mixture was used for cooking as well as providing heat and lighting before interest shifted to cheaper and cleaner natural gas.

Research reveals that global leadership in hydrogen energy systems has a potentially pivotal role in creating better jobs, from innovative research and development to maintenance and operation. In this respect, hydrogen is considered a key issue in achieving this goal, as the decarbonization of the energy system is the way forward to meet current climate targets and limit rising temperatures in line with net zero emissions targets.

But to place itself in such a role, hydrogen production must also be emission-free.

50 shades of hydrogen

Hydrogen has the potential to provide economically viable, financially promising, socially advantageous and energetically efficient solutions to problems related to the ever-increasing global energy demand, including global warming. However, although it is the most abundant element on Earth, it is not freely available in the molecular (or functional) form, rather, it is found in other compounds (water, fossil fuels, ammonia, biomass, etc.) For this reason, there are different production techniques. Since these production techniques are directly related to greenhouse gas emissions, it would be helpful to touch upon this issue a little.

Because hydrogen can be made through multiple processes and energy sources, color-coded terminology is commonly used. However, since there may be situations that do not fully fit a single color (for example, mixed hydrogen sources, grid electricity and electrolysis), it would be correct to guide policies using an objective measure of impact based on life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions. Hydrogen has many color codes such as gray, pink, turquoise and blue. According to the method of production, the most widely used hydrogen is blue hydrogen from steam methane reforming combined with carbon capture; then electrolytic hydrogen (yellow hydrogen), which is produced through low-carbon electricity, and then electrolytic hydrogen (green hydrogen), which is produced through fully renewable sources. These are the main potential candidates to meet the carbon-free or low-carbon emission requirement.

However, green hydrogen relies on the production of a universal, light and highly reactive fuel, through a chemical process known as electrolysis. This method uses an electric current to separate the hydrogen from the oxygen in the water and produces energy without releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by obtaining this electric current from completely renewable sources.

Green hydrogen, meaning hydrogen produced entirely from renewable energy, is considered the most suitable for a fully sustainable energy transition. The most established option in terms of technology for producing green hydrogen is water electrolysis powered by renewable electricity.

Green vs. clean hydrogen

Clean hydrogen doesn’t necessarily mean that hydrogen is emission-free: Green hydrogen contains no carbon, while other types of hydrogen can still emit greenhouse gases.

But in recent years, hydrogen has risen to the fore as a potential missing piece of the clean energy puzzle. An increasing number of countries now have a national hydrogen road map or strategy, while a significant portion of COVID-19 incentives and recovery funds are devoted to accelerating hydrogen work. At the COP26 in Glasgow, 32 countries and the European Union agreed to work together to accelerate the development and deployment of clean hydrogen, and it was agreed that affordable renewable and low-carbon hydrogen could be used globally by 2030.

Clean hydrogen is touted as the EU’s future fuel and promises to provide plenty of carbon neutral energy by 2030. In this context, it is stated that it will power long-haul freight vehicles, aircraft, steelmaking and heat homes. But environmentalists are skeptical.

Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Silvia Pastorelli addressed the drawbacks of the issue in simple terms, stating that: “We cannot overcome the climate crisis by consuming the same amount of energy and just burning different fuels. Energy conservation, changing energy use and as much heating, transport and electrification of the industry as possible should be at the center of our energy plans.”

On the other hand, although the number of electrolyzers required to separate water into oxygen and hydrogen is currently insufficient and the renewable electricity needed to power them is not yet at the desired level, the world has already taken serious steps and started to accelerate this issue. For example, the European Commission estimates that between 180 billion euros ($185 billion) and 470 billion euros will be needed for green hydrogen to make up 13-14% of the EU energy mix in 2050.

Although making blue hydrogen is currently cheaper than making green hydrogen, the researchers underline that this may change as the electrolyzers used to make green hydrogen enter mass production.

With new hydrogen promotion projects launched every day, things are moving fast and countries are developing strategies to create green hydrogen markets. Start-ups and researchers work across the hydrogen value chain. Therefore, while intensive studies and research continue on the question marks regarding green hydrogen, countries like Australia are witnessing a hydrogen explosion.

Use of hydrogen

It has a wide range of industrial applications, from hydrogen refining to petrochemicals and steelmaking. Also, similar to natural gas, hydrogen can be stored for a long time and transported over significant distances via pipelines or transported after conversion to liquid organic hydrogen carriers, ammonia or liquefied hydrogen, which shall be the subject of a separate article.

We know that we will need innovative energy sources, advanced energy systems and improved infrastructure to meet the increasing energy demands in a sustainable way in the coming years. Believed to be able to meet this need, hydrogen can provide improved efficiency and reliability, it can be produced from a wide variety of local sources and its use can result in zero or low emissions of pollutants, including greenhouse gases. As a result, hydrogen sits at the center as an energy carrier capable of supporting a non-polluting, reliable and inexpensive energy system that can enrich the economy without harming the environment or energy security.

Therefore, studies show that hydrogen is a pillar of the energy transition that is critically needed to combat global warming and other problems associated with traditional energy systems, as initiating and accelerating the energy transition from traditional systems to innovative, sustainable alternatives is an inevitability.

Implementing hydrogen systems in energy conversion has many varied benefits. For example, the large-scale integration of renewable energy into existing energy infrastructure; accessible, reliable, safe, clean and affordable energy to all sectors and regions; the high durability of energy systems; cleaner transportation through fuel cells and hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engines; residential applications and more. It is emphasized that hydrogen can make broad use of renewable energy sources and fully penetrate the market while also providing cleaner industrial raw materials.

Hydrogen economy

The ongoing energy transition is at an unprecedented level due to its magnitude and profound impact on established socioeconomic, technological and geopolitical trends around the world. Combined with energy efficiency, renewable energy sources now lead the way for a comprehensive global energy transformation. This conversion is not a fuel conversion; this is a transition to a different system with political, technical, environmental and economic setbacks; nonetheless, it is a voluntary adaptation. Therefore, we all have a duty.

Hydrogen is likely to affect the geography of energy trade and further regionalize energy relations. This is because while the costs of renewable energy are falling, hydrogen transportation costs are still high for now, and the resulting geopolitical map is likely to show an increasing regionalization in energy relations. Renewable energy can be used in every country and exported to neighboring countries via renewable electricity transmission cables. In addition, hydrogen could facilitate the generation of renewable energy sources over long distances through pipelines and shipping, thereby unlocking unused renewable resources in remote locations. Some existing natural gas pipelines can be reused to carry hydrogen with technical changes.

In the report titled “The Geopolitics of Energy Transformation: The Hydrogen Factor” published by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in January 2022, it was determined that hydrogen would be more competitive than oil and gas. The importance of hydrogen as a transformative business is brought to the attention of the whole world, though it notes that clean hydrogen will not provide returns comparable to that of oil and gas today.

Given that hydrogen can be produced competitively in many places, hydrogen strategies that include import and export plans show that cross-border hydrogen trade will increase significantly in more than 30 countries and regions. Access to hydrogen can often be seen as an element of energy security and general national resilience, especially for industries where other solutions are not viable or economical.

Fossil fuel exporters see clean hydrogen as an attractive way to diversify their economies. Many existing exporters are turning to clean hydrogen to develop new export industries.

The topic was also discussed at the Western Balkans and Türkiye high-level meeting held in Vienna last week when discussing how the Western Balkan countries would ensure energy diversity. Ideas were exchanged on this subject using examples from different countries.

Continuing with the examples, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) hydrogen leadership road map is clearly embracing a dual approach, while many countries, including Australia, Oman and Saudi Arabia, are exploring it.

Hydrogen trading depends not only on the cost of production and transportation or the comparison of domestic and import costs but also on other factors such as energy security, the existence of well-established trade and diplomatic relations, existing infrastructure, greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. The stability of the political system will also have a major impact on the trading partners each country chooses. Therefore, it is very important to be aware of the potential for hydrogen trade and make use of the resource, which is based on dynamic and variable parameters by nature.

Source: dailysabah
Anand Gupta Editor - EQ Int'l Media Network