Where will the clean hydrogen come from?

Hydrogen Sector 03.11.21
Written by: HYCAP

When the sun sets on the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (aka COP26) in Glasgow, we’re all hoping for meaningful action from governments that appear to be taking their climate change responsibilities increasingly seriously.

With more countries signing up to net zero pledges the question rapidly coming into focus is how these goals are going to be achieved.

International Energy Agency (IEA) Executive Director Fatih Birol said that investment in clean power needs to triple in the next decade if the world’s 2050 net zero target is going to be met.

As outlined previously, clean hydrogen has a major role to play in almost every part of the decarbonisation process from power generation to transport, home heating to industry.

So how much hydrogen needs to be produced, and where is it going to come from?

Last year, the IEA released a review of the low carbon hydrogen industry, concluding that a lot more needs to be done to reach the almost 8 million tons per year that needs to be produced by 2030 under the sustainable development scenario. The world is currently set to break through the one megaton per year mark in 2023.

Some ambitious plans have already been announced to make that happen. Perhaps none more so than construction giants JCB who, in partnership with pioneering UK hydrogen firm Ryze Hydrogen, on the eve of COP26, inked a deal with Australian firm Fortescue Future Industries to become the biggest supplier of green hydrogen to the U.K.

The announcement was followed up by JCB Chairman Lord Bamford.  JCB have developed a hydrogen combustion engine for which it has just been awarded the prestigious Dewar Trophy for technical achievement, and is looking likely to shift the landscape forever.

“I am now convinced hydrogen, more so than electric battery power, holds the key to bringing our global climate crisis under control.

And yes, we can keep driving, keep building, keep flying, keep heating our homes — all without pumping any carbon dioxide or other toxic emissions into the atmosphere.

It is perhaps no exaggeration to say the hydrogen engine could turn out to be the most important invention of the 21st century.” said Lord Bamford.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson refuels the new zero-emission hydrogen JCB digger alongside JCB Chairman Lord Bamford.

Last month INEOS, the world’s largest multinational chemical producer, committed to invest €2 billion (£1.7 billion) in green hydrogen production across Europe as it seeks to decarbonise its operations and enter new markets.  The first unit will be a 20 MW electrolyser in Rafnes, Norway, followed by a 100 MW plant in Koln, Germany. Belgium, France and the UK are in line for future projects, according to the company, founded by British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe.

It represents a hugely significant investment from one of the world’s biggest chemical companies. It’s also a potentially important moment for the commercial viability of the sector. INEOS wouldn’t be making this investment if it didn’t expect to make money.

The INEOS hydrogen announcement coincided with ‘The UK Hydrogen Roadshow’, a joint venture with Ryze Hydrogen and zero-emission hydrogen bus manufacturer Wrightbus.  The event saw a hydrogen bus travel over 600 miles from Tate Modern in London to COP26 in Glasgow, visiting the Prime Minister and numerous UK companies along the way, to learn how they’re innovating with hydrogen in their different sectors, to lower emissions and create skilled, green jobs in the process.  A series of films were made throughout the event and can be seen at www.ukhydrogenroadshow.com

In July 2020, the EU published its hydrogen strategy and roadmap in which it outlined plans to install at least 6 GW of green hydrogen electrolysers and produce up to 1 million tons of renewable hydrogen by 2024. That goal rises to 40 GW of electrolysers and 10 million tons of renewable hydrogen by 2030, after which it will be deployed at a large scale across all hard-to-decarbonise sectors.

The UK’s hydrogen strategy, released in August of this year, has targeted 5 GW of low carbon hydrogen production capacity by 2030, likely a mix of green and blue hydrogen (details promised in early 2022). It also set a goal of mixing 20 percent hydrogen into the natural gas supply and a prediction that a UK-wide hydrogen economy could be worth £billions by 2030 and create 9,000 jobs, rising to £2 trillion and 100,000 jobs by 2050.

The biggest low carbon hydrogen projects in the UK today are blue, i.e., they rely on carbon capture and storage to make them carbon neutral, such as a 1 GW facility being studied by BP for Teesside.

We’re happy to see blue hydrogen projects being developed as a bridge fuel, because it can help replace natural gas, but the future is green hydrogen produced by renewable energy and electrolysis, and we urge the UK government to commit to a 5 GW green hydrogen target for 2030, not just “low carbon” hydrogen.

The technology for producing green hydrogen at a competitive price is there; the final piece of the puzzle is scale. So far, electrolyser deployments have been relatively small, but that is beginning to change.

UK renewable energy companies Octopus Energy and RES have recently announced they plan to invest £3 billion in green hydrogen production across the country by 2030, using surplus solar and wind energy to help industrial businesses to decarbonise.

In September, renewable hydrogen company Protium announced a partnership with Petrofac to deliver 1 GW of green hydrogen production capacity by 2030 with the first projects set to begin operations by 2023.

Earlier last month, Siemens Gamesa and Orsted said they had picked Grimsby for a megawatt-scale pilot project to integrate offshore wind energy with green energy production.

The largest announced green hydrogen projects in the UK are both 20 MW: ScottishPower’s electrolyser at Whitelee, outside Glasgow; and a plan to decarbonise the Port of Immingham by Uniper, Siemens Energy, Toyota Tsusho and Associated British Ports. ScottishPower’s project is aiming to produce hydrogen before 2030, while the Port of Immingham development is targeting 2025.

If the UK is to become a self-sufficient hydrogen economy, a lot more investment is needed. Otherwise, it could become entirely dependent on foreign sources of the fuel.

The world’s largest announced green hydrogen project was announced in February of this year. HyDeal Ambition intends to build 96 GW of solar and 67 GW of electrolysis capacity in Europe by 2030, enough to produce 3.6 million tons of green hydrogen a year. 

Kazakhstan revealed in July plans to develop 45 GW of wind and solar to power 30 GW of electrolysers. Also in July, a group of international energy companies unveiled Western Green Energy Hub, a $100 billion site covering 15,000 sq km in Western Australia that will generate 50 GW of wind and solar and 28 GW of green hydrogen.

The list of green hydrogen megaprojects goes on – there were 11 of 5 GW or more globally as of August, according to Statista – and more are announced every week.

Lord Bamford adds “If the Government doubts that hydrogen could be immeasurably better than battery power, think about this: fuel tax is currently worth tens of billions a year to the Exchequer.

If, somehow, we all switch to charging our cars with mains electricity, the Government will lose that income. If, on the other hand, we switch to hydrogen combustion, a replacement source of taxable energy becomes easily available. So, what are we waiting for?

You might well be thinking this is all too good to be true. The sheer elegance of the idea, is too ‘easy’ a solution. But actually, it’s really just an opportunity too good to miss.

Climate change may be the biggest problem humanity has ever faced — but hydrogen engines could well be mankind’s greatest solution yet.”

COP26 has made it abundantly clear that the global market for truly clean hydrogen is developing very quickly. The UK must not get left behind.

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