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Pursuing the potential of hydrogen

By Dorothy Lozowski |

Hydrogen’s potential for playing a significant role in the global search for clean, secure energy sources is garnering much attention from a growing number of industries and governments. Driven by concerns about climate change, investors as well as policy makers are pushing for aggressive carbon reductions.

As a fuel, hydrogen offers the advantage of producing no greenhouse gases upon combustion. The bulk of the world’s hydrogen supply, however, is produced from fossil fuels and is currently being used industrially mostly for the petroleum refining and fertilizer industries. According to the International Energy Agency1 (IEA; www.iea.org), the production of hydrogen generates about 830 million metric tons per year of CO2 emissions. There is, however, a surge in projects to create “green” hydrogen from water via electrolysis.

 

‘Green’ hydrogen

Renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar energy, or nuclear power, can be used to generate hydrogen by electrolysis, making it an attractive option for storing the variable output from these sources. According to Dave Wolff, eastern region manager at Nel Hydrogen2 (www.nelhydrogen.com), electrolysis equipment prices are dropping, and that combined with decreasing costs of renewable energy makes the green route to hydrogen more economically attractive than it has been in the past.

Last month, voestalpine AG (www.voestalpine.com) and partners commenced operation of what is currently the world’s largest pilot plant for green hydrogen production in Linz, Austria, with a capacity of over 6 MW. The project receives €18 million in E.U. funding and will test whether the technology is suitable for industrial scale, as well as the potential to compensate for fluctuations in the power grid.

In another project, Salzgitter Flachstahl GmbH (www.salzgitter-ag.com) is planning to build a 2.2-MW electrolysis plant, which is expected to cover the company’s entire hydrogen demand for steel-making. Seven wind turbines will generate the needed electric power. The plant is due to start operations in the 4th quarter of 2020.

 

Mobility and more

Hydrogen also has the potential to play a significant role in power generation and transportation. Air Liquide (www.airliquide.com), Engie and the Durance, Luberon, Verdon urban area (DLVA) entered into a partnership last month on a project that will develop the technological and economic conditions for producing 1,300 GWh of solar electricity together with the production of green hydrogen. The ambitious plan anticipates eventual large quantities of green hydrogen that could be produced for uses including energy, industry and mobility applications.

Last year, Anheuser-Busch placed an order with Nikola Motor Co. for up to 800 hydrogen-electric powered semi-trucks. The company expects to start integrating the vehicles into its fleet beginning in 2020, and to convert its full long-haul fleet to renewable-powered trucks by 2025.

While hydrogen has received attention as a clean energy source in the past, the current momentum fueled by decarbonization goals and improved technologies shows greater promise for realizing its potential. ■

Dorothy Lozowski, Editorial Director

Dorothy Lozowski, Editorial Director

 

1. IEA, The Future of Hydrogen: Seizing today’s opportunities, June 2019, www.iea.org.

2. Nel Hydrogen, Webinar presented on November 19, 2019 by Dave Wolff, www.chemengonline.com/webinars.

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