Tension, Bottlenecks and Concerns within the Hydrogen Transformation

The Hydrogen transition story is still in its early days of becoming a sustainable part of the solutions we need to decarbonize the planet.

Although the use of Hydrogen has been around for years, it is the potential to replace other energy sources at an industrial scale that is exciting. The execution of Hydrogen solutions is a real imperative for this decade to validate and demonstrate.

We need Hydrogen solutions across so many industrial applications as well as a significant contributor to reducing heat in buildings or powering up our vehicles.

What I can see in the Hydrogen story is all technically feasible, but I am having several concerns on the pathway to delivery.

Let’s look at some of the present and future issues that will need to be resolved for Hydrogen to realize a greater future and play its part in the energy transition. I want to here summarize a few of my present concerns over Hydrogen.

Let’s be clear, the energy transition is a twenty to a thirty-year project, but my present concerns or points of ignorance relating to hydrogen center around the following for starters.

Before we climb into these, this post is a further part of my Hydrogen series. It is my learning journey shared with you, hopefully, a patient listener and reader.

Here are a few of my present concerns over Hydrogen

Sequestering is the massive Elephant in the Hydrogen Room.

What I struggle with and so far, I just cannot get my head around, is this sequestered CO2 and where all this storage is going to appear magically.

Who is going to pay for this long-term storage of something we do not want with pushing the Blue Hydrogen solution? The insurance companies will love this risk of CO2 leaking out and the pollution charges. Methane is ten times more lethal for greenhouse gases, and we still are burning fossil fuels in this Blue solution. In any natural-gas solution alongside CCUS, we must fully decarbonize the processes for delivering the Paris Agreement and beyond.

I need to understand the accelerated deployment of CCUS technologies and the required infrastructure. The “simple” idea of geological storage development or suggesting forming CCUS hubs seems theoretical. Are we not merely burying or delaying our decarbonization needs? We need to rid ourselves of as much man-made carbon dioxide at least.

 It is the C02 use opportunities that need to become more explicit in my mind as commercially viable.

I need to get into CCUS a little more, that is for sure. If we look harder at the circular carbon economy and waste incineration or material recovery, this might form a backbone needed to build out a sustaining CCUS approach. I have also read we need to develop “nascent” technology solutions.

I remain uncomfortable on the Blue Solution with CCUS at present as it might be deflecting our focus away from making Green Hydrogen the absolute choice, no option!

Blue versus Green is going to become highly contentious, politically, and lobby intensive.

The problem with pushing the Green solution today is it is merely not commercially ready, at scale. Green Hydrogen is produced by electrolysis of water. The whole concept of “green” is it is powered by the renewable energies of solar or wind power. It is the clean energy we talk about, 100% from sustainable resources.

The need today is that the cost of renewable energy must keep falling, but it the Electrolyser that is fast becoming the “bottleneck.” The full understanding of the Electrolyser is another of my issues I am failing to get my head around.”

The Electrolyser is our “green” hydrogen bottleneck.

As the Electrolyser is the only viable solution for Green Hydrogen, it then is the ‘solution on the ‘block.’ Today it is expensive and not scaled to handle the job of replacing other energy sources. Until the Electrolyser comes down in price, can be scaled up, Green Hydrogen is arguably simply caught in being in “pilot purgatory.”

Electrolyzers are like wind towers or solar panels, it needs ‘massive’ support in technology breakthroughs, scaling up, bringing the learning curve down. The debate on which Electrolyser solution is also another battle of technology.

We rely today far more on the use of Alkaline Electrolysers for Hydrogen production, as it is already at a mature, entirely accepted technology understanding, versus PEM (polymer electrolyte membrane), a solution still regarded as an emerging technology. The PEM, though, is expected to be the prime choice of Electrolysers by 2030.

Today’s battle is replacing grey Hydrogen irrespective, and this is where blue hydrogen seems to have a short-term edge. Should it?

Still, with claims building to stop the push of blue and switching entirely to green Hydrogen, we are getting into some future heated debates. Blue is championed by many, but specifically by existing fossil fuel suppliers (oil and gas sector) and Green pushed by the clarity of our real need of having only clean energy solutions.

The debate is only going to change when the Electrolyser becomes scaled significantly. The urgent need is to focus on the race for price reductions of the Electrolyser, so the cost of producing energy comes down to a comparable level to existing energy sources.

The timeframes to build the scale needed, the real need for larger Electrolysers, and finally determining if blue (including storage) is really green? Well, it is not if it is sequestering carbon. Recently the CCS has moved to CCUS where utilization (of the coal) comes far more into the solution requirement. The only net-zero solution is green Hydrogen, even with that CCUS concept.

Whatever the outcomes of the type of Hydrogen, it must become a significant clean energy carrier. Will it if it supports fossil fuels?

Hydrogen has such a broad field of applications due to its versatility as an energy carrier.

Hydrogens certainly have a future pathway ahead of it. The key is putting the synergies in place, removing the barriers, and ramping up the technology solutions to commercial levels.

The concern becomes one of recognizing all the elements that can push it off course, to derail it or force it along in a less than optimal way are the very forces of any transitional change acting against it.

The battle of our sources of energy

Any transition from well-established energy sources such as coal, oil, and gas (we can say the fossil fuel gang) are fighting the new guys on the block (the renewable kids) of wind and solar. Variable energy has a new friend in Hydrogen; it bridges the gap in providing clean green energy to offer a complete energy system based on renewables of wind, sun, and water.

Of course, it does go beyond “head-to-head comparison” it has a real source of abundance, water that can provide energy security, allow for a set of new energy players in energy supply to create new jobs, and different approaches. Hydrogen is an absolute necessity for achieving the energy transition.

Looking beyond today, we need to make this the Hydrogen Decade.

The future of hydrogen energy is wrapped up with the prospect of natural gas, renewable energy sources and carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) working together. It is the flow and synergies between them that need to be managed at political, economic, and technology complexity levels.

The battle comes only when there is a more apparent momentum on the certainties of the hydrogen solutions. Much needs to be done before any conflicts surely to prove the solutions are commercially ready, fit for global scale-out, and purpose?

Hydrogen’s potential is now necessary to be realized as urgently as possible. As we move from grey, through blue Hydrogen, the end game is to get us to deploying green Hydrogen solutions as soon as possible.

The search for greater clarity and validation

The understanding of the Hydrogen Pathway needs even more articulation. It does seem much is “still to do and deliver.” We need even more clarity, in my opinion.

We need to rise above the tensions within any change debates. Irrespective of the time frames, there is a likely thirty years of progressive validation and investments. In this time, competing solutions will evolve or fall away. Decisions will be made on political, energy security, geological, and geography conditions as well as commercially viable ones.

All these present vested interests that seemingly are bubbling to the surface in this energy transition change are both healthy and dangerous. Let us not get too sidetracked that green Hydrogen, if commercially viable to replace existing energy options, is the only final, final solution to support a decarbonized world based on renewables


Author: @paul4innovating

A transition advocate for innovation, ecosystems, and digitalization for the energy and IIoT systems

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