Muscat Daily

Powering the future: Global race for ‘green’ hydrogen

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Paris, France - It’s seen as the missing link in the race for carbon-neutrality: ‘green’ hydrogen produced without fossil fuel energy is a popular buzzword in competing press releases and investment plans across the globe.

Europe in particular is anxious to get a handle on the new and still costly fuel, having missed the boat on solar and battery technology, which is dominated by China.

Clean burning hydrogen - its combustion produces water vapour - could give a renewed lease on life to polluting heavy industry.

Hydrogen-powered fuel cells could also solve the key problem with battery electric vehicles - the long recharge times - as filling up a tank with hydrogen takes just a bit longer than putting in petrol.

But countries face more than just the engineerin­g challenge of producing emissions-free hydrogen. They also have to develop the demand for the fuel and the infrastruc­ture to transport it.

The world’s richest countries have announced various strategies - producing ‘green hydrogen’ using electricit­y from solar and wind. Others plan to use electricit­y from nuclear plants.

Still others plan to generate it as a byproduct of natural gas, which is ‘gray’ hydrogen, or ‘blue’ if the CO2 produced is somehow captured and stored.

“We are referring to this as the Hydrogen Wars,” said Gero Farruggio, co-founder of Sustainabl­e Energy Research Analytics at Rystad Energy.

He said of the 76GW of production projects they are tracking, 40 were announced in 2020.

“Government­s are racing to incentivis­e projects for domestic and export green hydrogen markets - working hard to attract the billions of dollars expected to be invested over the coming years.”

The United States has a hydrogen road map. Germany plans to invest € 9bn while for France and Portugal the figure is € 7bn each.

Britain plans to spend £12bn, Japan US$3bn, and China US$16bn by 2020 to green up their industries, according to consultanc­y Accenture.

Asian domination?

With their huge energy needs and reliance on imported fossil fuels, Asian industrial heavyweigh­ts China, Japan and South Korea are keen on the prospect of green hydrogen.

“Given China’s needs, it’s trying everything including hydrogen, especially when it comes to mobility,” said Nicolas Mazzucchi of France’s Foundation for Strategic Research.

China is working on a hydrogen production model that relies on electricit­y from its growing number of nuclear reactors, although its current supply is produced using coal, which releases lots of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Its hydrogen is being bought up by fuel cell and filling station builders from all over the world, from Canadian firm Ballard to French companies Symbio and Air Liquide.

Rystad Energy’s Farruggio said China’s desire to decarbonis­e its economy and its ability to lower costs means it could come to dominate the manufactur­ing of electrolys­ers - devices that use electricit­y to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

But Europe isn’t throwing in the towel yet.

Charlotte de Lorgeril, of management consultanc­y Sia Partners, described Germany as being ahead in using hydrogen in transporta­tion, France in production, while the Netherland­s already has strong gas infrastruc­ture thanks to its natural gas fields.

The European Union is aiming to push hydrogen’s share of its energy supply from 2 per cent currently to 12-14 per cent by 2050 and is encouragin­g cooperatio­n.

Mazzucchi said he worries that the European Union will pay for its lack of a global energy strategy which risks turning hydrogen into nothing more than a momentary ‘pet project’.

Energy industry actors meanwhile are trying to gain a foothold by acquiring startups or developing consortium­s.

French petrol giant Total and electricit­y provider Engie have come together to develop the country’s largest green hydrogen production site.

“Their strategy is to compete with historical hydrogen actors who are trying to become energy providers,” said Mikaa Mered, a lecturer at the HEC business school in Paris.

New energy pathways

As the euphoria takes hold, hydrogen could upend the world’s energy map with new alliances and interdepen­dencies already taking shape.

Germany is approachin­g Morocco to use solar power to make hydrogen.

The Green Spider and Green Flamingo projects are developing maritime highways for hydrogen and gas pipelines to link Spain and Portugal to northern Europe.

“It is the creation of those new logistics chains that will allow imports from the Chilean or Saharan deserts where there is a lot of solar power,” said Sia Partners’s Lorgeril.

Mikaa Mered said the ‘question of the decade’ is whether the developmen­t of hydrogen will result in a decentrali­sation or a new set of dependenci­es like with oil exporting and consuming nations.

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