The fight against global warming and climate change is a challenge that affects everyone – in all countries and in all sectors. Many nations have already committed to reducing energy consumption and have agreed to ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions.
The European Union has pushed in this direction for many years, but real attention was ignited after July 8th, 2020, when the European Commission announced its plan for the energy system of the future and for clean hydrogen production.
First of all, let’s clarify a common and, unfortunately, widespread misunderstanding: hydrogen is not a natural source of energy, but a energy vector. Hydrogen, in fact, is not available in nature, like the sun or the wind or like oil or gas – which are natural sources of energy. Hydrogen must be produced – usually through the electrolysis of water – and energy is needed for this. But once hydrogen is produced, it can conserve a part of this energy and make it subsequently available, in large quantities, when and where necessary, for many different purposes.
Italy has a PNRR (“recovery and resilience plan”) which foresees a 2 billion Euro investment for hydrogen development.
This plan originally foresaw the contribution to blue hydrogen technologies (with industrial partners such as Eni and Arcelor Mittal) but the European Commission has not accepted this “gradualness” so that only green hydrogen projects will benefit from Government funding, even if in different manufacturing sectors.
At the same time, the potential of hydrogen-based technologies is also increasing in the energy transition of the US market:
According to recent estimates by FCHEA (The Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association), by 2030 these technologies are destined to generate approximately 140 billion dollars a year in turnover and over 700,000 jobs.
“Hydrogen City”, the largest green hydrogen production and storage hub in the world, will be born in Texas (from “Green Hydrogen International”)
It will build an integrated green hydrogen production, storage and transport hub that will grow to 60 GW and produce 2.5 billion kg of green hydrogen per year.
Hydrogen, as an energy vector, represents a fundamental enabling factor for the transition to renewable sources. In fact, no transition is achievable in the absence of an effective energy storage system: storage neutralizes RES intermittency and makes the production of photovoltaic and wind powers compatible with the current models of energy consumption, which are the basis of the structure of the contemporary society and cannot be ignored.
Batteries do not, in fact, provide a solution to this problem – mainly due to the use of the raw materials and the relatively low energy density.
WHAT CHALLENGES IS THE HYDROGEN TECHNOLOGICAL ECOSYSTEM FACING?
There are many challenges that the hydrogen industry faces and will have to face in order to produce and distribute it on a large scale. These challenges derive from the current state of renewable energy production technologies and from the nature of hydrogen itself.
Today 95% of hydrogen (so called “grey Hydrogen” is produced through the reaction of hydrocarbons and water vapour and then used in industrial applications – a process that creates an abundant emission of CO2.
The growing demand for hydrogen will consequently lead to a reduction of this CO2 footprint in order to represent an effective solution for energy sustainability and contribute to achieving climate change mitigation goals.
With an increasing demand for green hydrogen, the current technology used for the production of hydrogen (electrolysis) will see a surge and move from the current small-scale technical “demo” projects to large-scale industrial plants.
Albeit encouraging, the development of the hydrogen industry is accompanied by enormous challenges for all the parties involved. Several different aspects are involved:
To be competitive, the costs of hydrogen production must be reduced and the investments required for the development must be safe.
The required level of efficiency – also in term of reliability and flexibility of the operations – are still to be wholly achieved.
|TYPE OF HYDROGEN||TODAY* (USD/KG)||2030* (USD/KG)|
|GREEN HYDROGEN||3 – 8||1.3 – 3.5|
|BLUE HYDROGEN||1 – 2||1 – 2|
|GREY HYDROGEN (natural gas)||0.5 – 1.7||0.7 – 2.3|
*Stime IEA, International Energy Agency, Global Hydrogen Review 2021
“Today, green hydrogen production costs c. 7 euros / kg. When the cost will be less than 4-5 euros / kg, we think that it will become very competitive”, says Professor M. Baricco of the University of Turin.
“According to a recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance study, green hydrogen production costs could drop by more than 70% over the next 10 years. As remarked by the IEA in a study prepared for the G20 in Japan, there has never been a better time to exploit the potential of hydrogen to build a future energy mix that is safe, clean and a sustainable for all consumers”, statement issued by the Snam press office.