Clean hydrogen, a real alternative?
Clean hydrogen is presented as the fuel of the future, promising to provide carbon-neutral energy. However, it is not the first time that hydrogen has been hailed as the energy of the future only to run up against high production costs and difficulties with transport and storage, delaying its market introduction. Is it here to stay?
Hydrogen produced from fossil fuels, usually by the process of reforming with natural gas, is mainly used in the chemical and refining industry, and its production is responsible for the emission of 830 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. Yet it is less toxic and more easily dispersed than natural gas.
While clean hydrogen will largely avoid this pollution, there are still drawbacks to be addressed. Currently, hydrogen storage requires extremely high pressure and is therefore too expensive and inefficient for widespread use in the automotive industry.
China, known as the Asian giant and the world’s leading producer of hydrogen made from hydrocarbons, and other countries such as Australia, Saudi Arabia, Germany, Spain, and Chile are beginning to make the transition to clean hydrogen with multi-million dollar projects that suggest green hydrogen is here to stay.
What is green hydrogen?
Although hydrogen is the most abundant chemical element in the universe, and the third most abundant on the Earth’s surface after oxygen and silicon, it is not a primary energy form per se, but a chemical compound, which exists in combination with other elements, and which can have energy uses.
Just as conventional hydrogen obtained from hydrocarbons requires large amounts of energy and is a costly process, clean hydrogen, also known as renewable hydrogen or e-hydrogen, is generated from electricity from renewable energy sources, through a process called electrolysis of water. Electrolysis is a chemical process that uses electricity to separate hydrogen from oxygen in the water.
The fact that it emits no pollutant gases when produced makes it 100% sustainable, but the production costs are higher than with traditional hydrogen. Despite this, energy experts expect the price of clean hydrogen production to drop considerably over the next few years to match that of hydrogen produced from hydrocarbons.
The European Union does not want to be left behind
Europe wants to avoid losing its leadership in green hydrogen to China, as happened with solar panels. To this end, it has launched an industrialisation plan within the framework of the Horizon Europe project, to promote and accelerate research and development of green hydrogen with an initial investment of 2 billion euros.
The aim of the project is to scale up green hydrogen electrolysers, which are used to split water into hydrogen, and thus reduce the cost of a technology that is currently too expensive to compete in the market. The goal is to build hydrogen clusters deployed across Europe, and to bring together hydrogen-related infrastructures, as has been done with the electricity grid.
The introduction of new renewable energy sources in the coming years will be crucial for the environment. We, the common people and the planet, can now welcome the geopolitical competition between the major global economic powers to lead this new energy source.
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