The global energy market has become even more unstable and uncertain. To meet future demand, sustainable and affordable energy supplies are a must.
Recently, hydrogen is leading the debate on clean energy transitions. It has been present at an industrial scale worldwide, offering a lot of uses but more so in powering things around us.
In the US, hydrogen is used by industry for refining petroleum, treating metals, making fertilizers, as well as processing foods.
Petroleum refineries use it to lower the sulphur content of fuels. NASA has also been using liquid hydrogen since the 1950s as rocket fuel to explore outer space.
This warrants the question: is green hydrogen the energy of the future?
Using Hydrogen to Power Things
Hydrogen (H2) is used in a variety of ways to power things up. Hydrogen fuel cells produce electricity. It reacts with oxygen across an electrochemical cell similar to how a battery works to generate electricity. But this also produces small amounts of heat and water.
Hydrogen fuel cells are available for various applications. The small ones can power laptops and cell phones while the large ones can supply power to electric grids, provide emergency power in buildings, and supply electricity to off-grid places.
Burning hydrogen as a power plant fuel is also gaining traction in the U.S. Some plants decided to run on a natural gas-hydrogen fuel mixture in combustion gas turbines.
Finally, there’s also a growing interest in hydrogen use to run vessels. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 considers it an alternative transportation fuel because of its ability to power fuel cells in zero-emission vessels.
Once produced, H2 generates power in a fuel cell and this emits only water and warm air. Thus, it holds promise for growth in the energy sector.
The IEA calculates that hydrogen demand has tripled since the 1970s and projects its continued growth. The volume grew to ~70 million tonnes in 2018 – an increase of 300%.
Such growing demand is driven both by the need for ammonia and refining activities.
76% of the hydrogen comes from natural gas and 23% stems from coal. Only ~2% of global hydrogen production is from renewable sources. Thus, the need to shift to a sustainable input and production method is evident.
Investments to Scale Up Green H2 Production
Fulfilling the forecast that green hydrogen will be the energy of the future requires not just billions but trillions of dollars by 2050 – about US$15 trillion. It means US$800 billion of investments per year.
That’s a lot of money! But that’s not impossible given the amount of capital poured into the sector today. Major oil companies have plans to make large-scale investments that would make green H2 a serious business.
For instance, India’s fastest-growing diversified business portfolio Adani and French oil major TotalEnergies partnered to invest more than US$50 billion over the next 10 years to build a green H2 ecosystem.
An initial investment of US$5 billion will develop 4 GW of wind and solar capacity. The energy from these sources will power electrolyzers.
Also, there’s another US$36 billion investment in the Asian Renewable Energy Hub led by BP Plc. It’s a project that will build solar and wind farms in Western Australia. The electricity produced will be used to split water molecules into H2 and O2, generating over a million tons of green H2 each year.
Other large oil firms will follow suit such as Shell. The oil giant decided to also invest in the sector and build Holland Hydrogen I that’s touted to be Europe’s biggest renewable hydrogen plant.
If the current projections of green hydrogen become a reality, it has the potential to be the key investment for the energy transition.