It goes without saying that Renewable energy has a huge part to play in getting the world to net zero. In particular, renewables will have to play a key role in decarbonizing the power sector – as electricity supply is a big source of emissions globally. Ultimately, achieving net zero and maintaining it, will undoubtedly employ a mix of energy sources. This allows for a balanced approach to risk, redundancy as well as allowing different sources - wind, solar, geothermal, hydro etc. - provide some level of flexibility to adapt to different locations with different ‘best-fit’ criteria in terms of production and commercial viability.
Critical Contributor to Decarbonization
In time, hydrogen can play its part. In addition to heavy transportation and the power sector, it adds yet a further layer to the renewable sources available to support decarbonization of National grids by providing a viable substitute for the key role natural gas plays when peak demand for electricity exceeds the production capacities of wind, solar, nuclear and hydroelectricity. It also offers a very viable option to eventually take over from gas as the most convenient way of heating our homes and offices.
Small Molecule, Big Impact
It’s the small molecule that could play a big role in lowering emissions. Hydrogen is as a critical contributor in the race to decarbonize the planet. Sounds like magic, but it’s simply science. When hydrogen (H) reacts with oxygen (O), lots of energy is released – and the only other product is water (H2O). This combination of high energy and zero emissions means we can decarbonize energy-intensive industries that are otherwise difficult or expensive to electrify.
Such industries as cement or steel production, which depend on fuels that can create intense heat are well suited. Also, heavy transport – trucks, ships and aircraft – traditionally big carbon offenders which require fuels that can meet demand while fitting into limited real estate, would be good customers for hydrogen. There are, however, still some challenges to overcome for storage and safe transition of product. Vareo are working with specialist partners to review various solutions which optimize storage and maintain process integrity.
Barriers to Scalability and Wider Implementation
At the moment, when made into fuel, hydrogen still costs more to produce at scale than other fuels, particularly when the objective is to produce emissions-free green hydrogen. Green hydrogen is made using electricity from renewable sources to split water into oxygen and hydrogen (in a process known as electrolysis). As costs gradually settle and improve over time, technical production, storage and process integrity are all also consistently being evaluated and optimized for application.
Storage and infrastructure still present challenges yet to be properly resolved. While Hydrogen can be compressed or liquefied, which helps, the cost of production and transportation is still not issue free. In addition, some of the technologies needed to use hydrogen are still expensive, such as the fuel cells required to convert hydrogen to electricity in a vehicle.
Safety is Critical
Not dissimilar to hydrocarbons, ensuring any process is safe is critical to its ability to become a reliable energy source. As Hydrogen is a small molecule, extra attention needs to be given to leak monitoring. It also ignites very easily and has a large flammable range, therefore, like any fuel source, hydrogen needs to be handled carefully with safety guaranteed. Ultimately, technical safety and process integrity is fundamental to any application utilizing hydrogen as a fuel source. Of course, international energy companies have been using hydrogen in refinery operations for decades, which means we already know a lot about it and have developed safe working practices.
Green, Blue and Grey - What’s the Difference?
Green hydrogen is produced by the electrolysis of water, the generation of which is itself powered by renewable energy. Blue hydrogen is made by breaking down natural gas (which is mostly carbon and hydrogen combined in a molecule called methane) and capturing and storing the carbon. If you don’t capture the carbon, it’s known as grey hydrogen.