The urgent need to cut harmful emissions is spurring governments and industry into action. Critical targets for decarbonization are the electric-power, heating, and transportation sectors, which together account for over 73% of global CO2 emissions. No single technology nor energy source today can achieve net-zero emissions alone. Nonetheless, hydrogen, alongside clean renewable energy sources for power, has the potential to make a significant contribution towards a viable green energy future.
In the Dutch part of the North Sea, a pilot project is underway to repurpose a gas platform as a green hydrogen production site. ‘Green’ hydrogen is hydrogen gas produced using renewable sources of energy. As this project demonstrates, existing pipelines can conveniently send produced hydrogen fuel back to the mainland for distribution. The presence of massive offshore wind farms in the area alongside more oil and gas platforms shows promise for a sustainable future of large-scale green hydrogen production.
Hydrogen’s Part in the Energy Transition
Hydrogen, like electricity and fossil fuels, is a secondary source of energy that can be used both as a fuel or stored for later use. Hydrogen today is mainly supplied to specialist sectors such as refining, chemical manufacturing, and space rockets. However, to reduce harmful air pollution, some cities and towns are now utilizing hydrogen to power buses and generators and to provide heating and energy storage.
Hydrogen is expected to play a significant role in decarbonizing the transportation sector, and industry leaders are investing accordingly. Some train manufacturers like Alstom and Siemens are already testing hydrogen fuel cell trains to replace diesel on local, regional, and rural routes. Ship engine manufacturers like ABB and Wärtsilä are devising engines suited to hydrogen for barges, car ferries, yachts, and even cargo ships. Also, major power sector manufacturing companies are working with others to develop new power plant turbines for hydrogen in place of natural gas to compete with rival technologies such as batteries, liquified natural gas (LNG), and ammonia.
Renewable Energy and Seawater: The Keys to Offshore Hydrogen
In most European countries, land-based green hydrogen factories rely on fresh water and offshore wind farms. Germany’s $8.35 million (€7.4 million) Westküste 100 project in Schleswig-Holstein near the German-Danish border is a prime example. Likewise, the Scottish Orkney Island’s hydrogen hub is powered by a combination of offshore and onshore wind plus wave power.
Offshore hydrogen production can avoid straining freshwater resources by instead making use of seawater and the power of offshore wind farms. Denmark recently announced plans to build an artificial island to serve as the world’s first wind energy hub in the North Sea. This ambitious plan, which also includes capacity for a gigawatt-sized onsite hydrogen factory, is a substantial step towards leading Europe’s clean energy transition.
Pilot Project Tests the Multi-Use of Platforms
The Dutch PosHYdon pilot is the world’s first offshore green hydrogen electrolysis project placed on a working gas platform. Electrolysis powered by wind will separate filtered sea water and produce a maximum of four hundred kilograms of green hydrogen per day. The hydrogen would then be exported to the mainland via existing subsea gas pipelines that connect with the Netherland’s gas distribution grid.
The project has received a $4.2 million (€3.6 million) subsidy from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency (RVO) and attracted investment from a host of energy utility, production, technology, and exploration companies. The project’s backers are confident that it will be much cheaper to use the existing offshore gas infrastructure to produce hydrogen rather than to lay new subsea power cables that link to onshore hydrogen factories.
This pilot will be a critical test of those estimates. Patrice Hijsterborg, Neptune Energy Corporate Affairs Manager, realistically notes, “This pilot project finds out what the real-life costs are.”
Promising Trends for Future Energy
The greening of transportation, heating, heavy industry, and power would make a substantial dent in the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Work is already underway to explore the practicalities and impact of diluting natural gas with hydrogen in pipelines for heating and cooking. Meanwhile, the transportation sector is more amenable to decarbonization through the use of alternative fuels, batteries, hydrogen, and LNG. Decarbonizing heavy industrial processes such as making cement, chemicals, and steel is a formidable task that will continue to require substantial investment.
The urgency of reducing emissions should strengthen the demand for growth and application of green hydrogen. In fact, key governments of nations including the UK, the European Union, China, Canada, the United States, Russia, and South Africa are working with major energy companies such as BP, Total Energy, Shell, Saudi Aramco, and Gazprom to develop hydrogen-friendly policies that promote the production, distribution, and usage of hydrogen.
Because of growing interest and support from governmental and industry leaders, the market for hydrogen is expected to more than double in this decade.
Currently, green hydrogen is about three and a half times as expensive as ‘gray’ hydrogen—which is produced with fossil fuels. The only sure way for green hydrogen to compete on price at this time is through scaling up production. Currently, there are around ten such ambitious projects under development including northern Germany’s 10 GW AquaVentus venture. Securing cheap renewable energy, water resources, and scalable electrolysis are the crucial ingredients to bring down the cost of green hydrogen.
Global hydrogen production is expected to increase from 71 million metric tons (78 million tons) in 2020 to 168 million metric tons (185 million tons) by 2030, according to a recent report by research firm Frost & Sullivan. Because of the growing interest in hydrogen around the world, the market for hydrogen is expected to grow in value from $177.3 billion in 2020 to $420 billion in 2030. To put these numbers into perspective, Navigant Research valued the global energy market at over $1.6 trillion in 2019. Though it has a long way to go, the future of hydrogen is looking green.
*Nicholas Newman is an energy, technology, and business journalist, content writer, and editor based in Oxfordshire, England.