Hydrogen: a new priority for the European energy sector

Attention to climate-neutrality in the world and in Europe has shown increasing common commitments: about 90% of the countries have committed themselves to emission reduction by 45% by 2030. The “green hydrogen” is one of the safest ways to practical implementation; this clean energy has become a best solutions: now, the second European Hydrogen Week takes place (29.xi-3.xii) during which the European Hydrogen Forum is organized with participants from governance, industry, research community and civil society to publicly launch the European Clean Hydrogen strategy.

First steps in the direction towards “green hydrogen” are already apparent: a new partnership with Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy Catalyst and the European Investment Bank is aimed at scaling up critical clean technologies with a very specific focus on clean hydrogen. Some new cooperative efforts of public-private entities have appeared to step up investment in clean hydrogen research: e.g. big harbors in Europe and in the Americas created new shipping corridors for clean hydrogen, dozens of countries and businesses joined a Dutch-led initiative to clean up heavy-duty road transport driven by hydrogen.
Thus, European “clean hydrogen” strategy will have a central place in a future EU climate-neutral economy: the member states have to activate clean hydrogen production, expand its applications and create a “positive circle” of demand and supply to bring down bottlenecks and increase competition in the new revolutionary sector.

Some history
In the early 16th century, the hydrogen gas was first artificially produced by the reaction of acids on metals. In 1671, Robert Boyle discovered and described the reaction between iron filings and diluted acids, which results in the production of hydrogen gas. During 1766–81, Henry Cavendish was the first to recognize that hydrogen gas was a discrete substance, and that it produces water when burned, the property for which it was later named (e.g. in Greek, hydrogen means “water-former”). It was Antoine Lavoisier who in 1783 gave the element the name hydrogen (derived from the Greek’s ὑδρο- hydro meaning “water” and – γενής genes meaning “former”), when he and Laplace reproduced Cavendish’s finding that water is produced when hydrogen is burned.
Industrial hydrogen’s production is mainly derived from steam reforming natural gas, and less often from more energy-intensive methods (e.g. the electrolysis of water). Most hydrogen is used near the site of its production, the two largest uses being fossil fuel processing (e.g. in hydro-cracking) and ammonia production, mostly for the fertilizer market. Hydrogen is problematic in metallurgy because it can embitter many metals, complicating the design of pipelines and storage tanks. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen
The energy density per unit volume of both liquid hydrogen and compressed hydrogen gas at any practicable pressure is significantly less than that of traditional fuel sources, although the energy density per unit fuel mass is higher. Elemental hydrogen from solar, biological, or electrical sources requires more energy to make than is obtained by burning it, so in these cases hydrogen functions as an energy carrier, like a battery. Hydrogen may be obtained from fossil sources (such as methane), but these sources are unsustainable.
Note: the power of hydrogen could be used in both peaceful and non-peaceful ways: in the later, it is about the so-called hydrogen bomb, or H-bomb, weapon whose enormous explosive power results from an uncontrolled self-sustaining chain reaction in which isotopes of hydrogen combine under extremely high temperatures to form helium in a process known as nuclear fusion. Reference to: https://www.britannica.com/technology/thermonuclear-bombnergy

Hydrogen: clean energy’s future
Most important is that hydrogen is a clean fuel that, when consumed in a fuel cell, produces only water. Hydrogen can be produced from a variety of domestic resources, such as natural gas, nuclear power, biomass, and renewable power like solar and wind. These qualities make it an attractive fuel option for transportation and electricity generation applications. It can be used in cars, in houses, for portable power, and in many more applications.
Hydrogen is an energy carrier that can be used to store, move, and deliver energy produced from other sources. Today, hydrogen fuel can be produced through several methods. The most common methods being the natural gas reforming (a thermal process), and electrolysis; other methods include solar-driven methods and biological processes. Thermal processes for hydrogen production typically involve steam reforming, a high-temperature process in which steam reacts with a hydrocarbon fuel to produce hydrogen. Many hydrocarbon fuels can be reformed to produce hydrogen, including natural gas, diesel, renewable liquid fuels, gasified coal, or gasified biomass.
Generally, there are three main processes to produce hydrogen:
= electrolysis’ process, in which water can be separated into oxygen and hydrogen; electrolytic processes take place in electrolyzes, which function much like a fuel cell in reverse, i.e. instead of using the energy of a hydrogen molecule, like a fuel cell does, an electrolyzer creates hydrogen from water molecules.
= Solar-driven processes, which use light as the agent for hydrogen production; there are a few solar-driven processes, including photo biological, photo electrochemical, and solar thermo chemical. Photo biological processes use the natural photosynthetic activity of bacteria and green algae to produce hydrogen. Photo electrochemical processes use specialized semiconductors to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen. Solar thermo chemical hydrogen production uses concentrated solar power to drive water splitting reactions often along with other species such as metal oxides.
= Biological processes, on the other hand, use microbes such as bacteria and microalgae and can produce hydrogen through biological reactions. In microbial biomass conversion, the microbes break down organic matter like biomass or wastewater to produce hydrogen, while in photo biological processes the microbes use sunlight as the energy source.
However, presently, about 95% of all hydrogen is produced from steam reforming of natural gas.
Source: official site of the US Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office at: https://www.energy.gov/eere/fuelcells/hydrogen-fuel-basics

EU’s hydrogen strategy
There are the following main directions in the strategy: first, strong public investment to innovate and scale up; second, international cooperation to build a global market for hydrogen; third, partnership with the private sector and researchers. For the EU, the following issues concerning hydrogen shall be vital; high-level European policymakers, industry experts and stakeholders in the member states shall be ready for new prospects (and complexities) in the EU’s attempts to boost hydrogen supply as part of a complex green transition measures. The latter include: deep analysis of the hydrogen’s role in the European green transition, measures in the member states towards increase attention to the so-called hydrogen economy, effect of the EU’s “fit for 55” legislation for hydrogen’s expansion, and renewed cooperation on hydrogen use between the EU institutions and the member states. For example, among seven new projects worth over €1 billion to be financed from the EU’s Innovation Fund four are hydrogen-related, from green steel in Sweden to carbon capture in France, noted the Commission President.
By the end of 2025, the Northern Netherlands will introduce a complete “green hydrogen” value chain: i.e. two electrolysers will use this renewable energy source, which then will power up industries, public transport, heated homes, and could be stored underground.
For example, the EU Emissions Trading System may be extended to new type of residential and office building heating, as well as “green transport”, which would provide for positive hydrogen position in numerous economic sectors hydrogen to be used in comparison to traditional electricity. Source: Commission press release in
https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_21_6421

In line with the EU’s hydrogen strategy objective to deliver 40 GW of renewable hydrogen electrolysers in 2030, the Commission proposed to include, in the Renewables Directive, binding targets for the use of renewable hydrogen in transport and industry. According to industry projections, the majority of these projects is expected to be implemented by renewable electricity resulting in an estimated volume of 6.7 Mt of renewable hydrogen and of 2.3 Mt of low-carbon hydrogen by 2030 within the EU.
The European Recovery and Resilience Plans will contribute to scaling up investments in renewable and low-carbon hydrogen by approximately € 9.3 billion. Supporting and boosting the production and greater use of hydrogen in transport, is a priority reflected in the EU plan for ReFuelEU program for aviation and maritime. More in Commission Communication in COM (2020) 301final in: https://ec.europa.eu/energy/sites/default/files/state_of_the_energy_union_report_2021.pdf

During 2021-22, the EU intends to elaborate a comprehensive legislative package designed to decarbonise European gas market and establish the market for hydrogen. This also allows the member states to assess the liquidity, transparency and flexibility of the gas market in general and look into issues around storage, joint procurement and consumer empowerment.
More in: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/SPEECH_21_5595

Reducing city air pollution: fuel-cell transport
In the last 15 years, both fuel cell buses have improved greatly and hydrogen fuel efficiency has increased threefold. Fuel-cell buses are an attractive solution for public transport: they can travel long and minimize transportation’s environmental and health impacts; trials are starting in numerous EU states: from cities such as Zagreb with hydrogen buses and/or hydrogen-fuelled taxis in Copenhagen; some experiments have been taken in Latvian capital Riga too.
Hydrogen-driven or fuel-cell buses (FCEB) can use presently cost-effective shifts before being refueled quickly at bus depots; they are quiet and produce no carbon or particulate emissions, thus minimizing their environmental and health impacts. The buses are powered by electro-chemical cells that combine hydrogen stored in high pressure tanks with oxygen from the air to generate electricity, heat and water. Performance compares use more established diesel, trolley (tram) and battery bus technologies, turning them into FCEB-like buses.
Managers for some transport projects, e.g. Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking (FCH JU), which is a public-private partnership that is funding research and demonstration projects, are seeking to enable the commercialization of fuel cell technologies. These buses are clean, smooth and easy to drive. Thus, a fuel cell bus can drive for 300-450 kilometers before it needs to be refueled, says an FCH JU report. This gives the technology an edge over most established battery buses, which have more limited ranges.
The FCH JU now supports 67 of the buses in Europe; it published a call for proposals for a trial of at least 100 buses; the project which would increase confidence in investing in fuel cell bus fleets. Existing interest from bus operators could expand Europe’s fleet to over 500 buses, with a potential European market worth €1.5 billion.
Some predict that fuel cell buses could catch up to battery bus production and technical levels in 5-10 years. European efforts could develop a fully competitive market using hydrogen-based zero-emissions urban transport; the implications are enormous in terms of the environment, job creation and economic development. In the last 15 years, fuel cell buses have improved greatly. Hydrogen fuel efficiency has increased threefold to around 8-9 kg H2/100 km, while refueling times have more than halved to under 10 minutes.
Source: https://www.fch.europa.eu/sites/default/files/150909_FINAL_Bus_Study_Report_OUT_0.PDF

However, only about 100 fuel cell buses are operating in Europe: part of the reason is that they are still a young technology, bus fleet operators are reluctant to invest in the new vehicles without concrete evidence of the risks and returns involved, while low demand makes them expensive to build and limits post-sales support. Small-scale demonstration trials of fuel cell buses have been taking place in commercial fleets in the EU to provide data on costs and good operational practice, on improving economies of scale and supply chains, and give operators a say on how to develop bus models, and raise public awareness of the technology.
Source: https://www.fch.europa.eu/studies

Clean Hydrogen Partnership
With the new “hydrogen initiative”, the Commission has launched a Clean Hydrogen Partnership, CHP bringing together the European Commission, the hydrogen industry, researchers and innovators as well as policy-makers from the member states. The CHP is built on years of cooperation promoted by the Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking, representing a new step forward in bring together innovative technologies from the laboratory to the factory and, ultimately, to the European businesses and consumers.
Cooperation in this new hydrogen agenda is vital among international partners, the EU states and the business community; therefore the Commission has created the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance, which already includes more than 1,500 members with a noble task of revealing viable investment projects in clean hydrogen. Thus, for the first time in the EU history a clear picture of all hydrogen-related initiatives in Europe, linking the ideas with potential investors will be available.
In the beginning of November 2021, the EU officially launched the Global Methane Pledge, a joint EU-US initiative which has mobilized over 100 countries to cut their collective methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030, compared to 2020 levels. Reducing methane emissions is vital as it is widely regarded as the single most effective strategy to reduce global warming. The European Commission also kicked off the EU-Catalyst partnership with Bill Gates and EIB President Werner Hoyer. Europe is in the leading position globally: more than 200 new hydrogen projects have been announced in the world during 2021; over half of them is in the EU states.
On “global methane pledge” in: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/statement_21_5766

A number of laboratories, both in Europe, e.g. in France, Germany and Greece, as well as in the outside world, e.g. in Japan and the US are developing thermo chemical methods to produce hydrogen from solar energy and water. Elemental hydrogen from solar, biological, or electrical sources requires more energy to make than is obtained by burning it, so in these cases hydrogen functions as an energy carrier, like a battery. However, increasing importance of clean hydrogen in the energy mix provides both several opportunities and raises numerous questions; important is that the entire clean hydrogen value chain can support sustainable socio-economic development in the states, increase growth and provide long-term employment. Source: https://s3platform.jrc.ec.europa.eu/en/w/the-key-role-of-european-regions-in-kick-starting-and-advancing-the-clean-hydrogen-economy

 

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