Hydrogen for the energy transition

The hydrogen

Hydrogen, the most common element in the universe, is key to decarbonisation.

Hydrogen, the first element of the periodic table and the most abundant in the universe, is a colorless and odorless gas. Hydrogen is very light, up to 14 times lighter than air, and can be found combined with other elements in compounds such as water or mineral substances, hydrocarbons and biological molecules. In addition to forming about 75% of matter, it is the primary component of the Sun, which it makes up about 90% of.

With just 1 kg of hydrogen, it is possible to move a fuel cell car for 130 km, provide heating to a house for two days, and produce 9 kg of steel from raw iron.

Towards green hydrogen, the energy game changer

Hydrogen is not present in nature in its essential form. However, it can be produced through a wide range of chemical and physical processes. Currently, it is mainly obtained from natural gas for industrial uses, through a thermochemical conversion process with CO2 production (so-called "gray hydrogen"). CO2 capture and storage (CCS) technology can be added to this to obtain decarbonised hydrogen, or "blue hydrogen".

Another way to produce hydrogen is through water electrolysis, in which electricity is used to "break down" water into hydrogen and oxygen without producing CO2, to obtain "green hydrogen". To date, approximately 4 to 5% of global hydrogen is obtained in this way. However, in light of the progressive reduction in the cost of solar and wind power and electrolysers, this mode of production could prove to be a game changer for energy transition.

According to a recent Bloomberg New Energy Finance study, green hydrogen production costs could fall by more than 70% over the next ten years. As noted by the IEA (International Energy Agency) in its study drawn up for the G20 in Japan, there has never been such an opportune moment to exploit the potential of hydrogen to build a safe, clean and sustainable energy mix for all consumers in the future.

Easy to transport and store

A key feature of hydrogen is its ability to act as both a source of clean energy (for a variety of uses), and an energy carrier for storage. Hydrogen can be transported through existing pipelines, mixed with natural gas, and through dedicated pipelines in the future. It offers an energy storage solution that costs ten times less than batteries (20 $/MWh vs 200 $/MWh).

Hydrogen is already widely used for industrial purposes across the steel, petrochemical and food sectors, but it is now also being used in mobility. In the future, it could also replace natural gas to heat residential and commercial buildings. Hydrogen can also be transformed into clean electricity by injecting it into fuel cells.

The most interesting thing about hydrogen, is that it does not generate carbon dioxide emissions or other climate-changing gases, nor does it produce emissions that are harmful for humans and the environment. For this reason, it will play a key role in ensuring that European and global decarbonisation objectives are achieved by 2050.

Hydrogen: fast facts

  • Does not emit CO2 or other pollutants
  • Can be produced from renewable sources, with significantly lower costs for both solar and wind energy as well as for electrolysers
  • Has a lower transportation cost than electricity
  • Can be stored for a long time in a reliable, safe and convenient way
  • Can effectively decarbonise so-called "hard-to-abate" sectors such as steel and refinery
  • Can be used in sustainable mobility, through the use of fuel cells located in vehicles
  • Can promote “sector coupling” (integration between energy production and consumption), leveraging its role as a bridge between electricity and gas
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08 October 2019 - 17:46 CEST