Question of the summer: blue hydrogen yes or no?

The last three weeks have been putting hydrogen under the spotlight. The discussions are getting livelier, if not more polarising. This might be a hinder for the hydrogen market, as there are three supporting factors still missing: solid political agreements, social licence(s), and a clear scientific guidance. This process will take anyhow time, but early signs seem to suggest that there will be a strong opposition and a simultaneous strong support for blue hydrogen.

Cornell and Stanford University researchers believe blue hydrogen may harm the climate more than burning fossil fuel. According to the paper published earlier this month, the blue hydrogen production is particularly dangerous due to the release of fugitive methane. “For our default assumptions (3.5% emission rate of methane from natural gas and a 20-year global warming potential), total carbon dioxide equivalent emissions for blue hydrogen are only 9%-12% less than for gray hydrogen,” reads the paper by Robert Howarth, and Mark Jacobson. While carbon dioxide emissions are lower, fugitive methane emissions for blue hydrogen are higher than for gray hydrogen because of an increased use of natural gas to power the carbon capture. The analysis assumes that CCUS technologies can store carbon indefinitely, which is defined by the researchers as “an optimistic and unproven assumption.”

The United Kingdom, the country betting on blue hydrogen the most in Europe, is also witnessing some internal opposition. Christopher Jackson, CEO at Protium Green Solutions, quit as chair of the UK Hydrogen & Fuel Cell Association (UK HFCA) after more than a year. "I believe passionately that I would be betraying future generations by remaining silent on that fact that blue hydrogen is at best an expensive distraction, and at worst a lock-in for continued fossil fuel use that guarantees we will fail to meet our decarbonisation goals. As Chair of the UKHFCA, my role has been to represent the interests of all, even when I disagree. And I can no longer in good conscience do that," he wrote in a post on Linkedin.

On the other hand, earlier this month, UK Business and Energy Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng set out the long-waited British hydrogen plans, arguing that the move gives the UK a strategic advantage. Main message: the British government wants to support multiple technologies, collaborating with the industry; CCUS will be a crucial technology for the British plans.

With respect to blue hydrogen, CCUS technologies are less of a controversial idea - logically, these applications could/should also be used in other energy fields, and not just for blue hydrogen production - but still they are not making it to the political agenda.

In my conversation with David Reiner, senior lecturer in technology policy at Cambridge, and Myles Allen, head of the Climate Dynamics group at the University of Oxford's Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics Department, I came to the conclusion that the scientific community will support CCUS technologies, at least in the UK.

It does not come as a surprise that BP agreed Memoranda of Understanding (MoUs) with a series of new potential customers for its proposed blue hydrogen production facility in Teesside in north-east England.

Similar story for countries with a long oil and gas history, like for instance Norway.

More nuanced and uncertain story for the EU. Oliver Geden, head of the EU/Europe Research Division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), said that Germany does not have a position on CCUS yet. But we should expect some changes soon.

The real deal for climate technologies, not only at the German level but more broadly at the European level, will be the coming elections (26 September). According to Politico Poll of Polls, since the floods in Germany, the CDU/CSU alliance is losing ground (24%), while the SPD is warming up for the final race (20%), followed by Die Grüne (18%). 

As finance minister and candidate for chancellor, Scholz had recently toured steel production facilities, speaking mostly of green hydrogen. In other words, Germany might remain standoffish with respect to CCUS and blue hydrogen in general, especially considering Die Grüne clear opposition to CCUS.

Hydrogen developments in the last month

Quite a few. Probably too many to be quickly wrapped up. But. One report and three take-away messages.

"Nearly everything has doubled already this year in the world of clean hydrogen, and we expect the momentum to continue in the months ahead… More than 90 projects are being planned worldwide to use hydrogen in industry. Electricity generators have almost doubled their planned hydrogen-fired turbine capacity since January," commented Martin Tengler, lead hydrogen analyst at BloombergNEF, said in the outlook recently published.

And the three message.

Firstly, some important technological and commercial announcements took place.

- SSAB manufactured the first fossil-free steel in the world and delivered it to a customer.

- Denmark’s A.P. Moller-Maersk will team up with REintegrate for carbon-neutral methanol.

- ITM Power officially opened its new factory at Bessemer Park in Sheffield, calling it company the world's largest electrolyser factory.

- Melbourne-based Monash University is investigating ways to produce hydrogen energy through repurposing wastewater.

Secondly, national collaboration is taking off in Spain (Repsol and Talgo to jointly develop a renewable hydrogen-powered train ), and Italy (Fincantieri and Enel Green Power Italia to develop an integrated solution for green hydrogen in port areas and long-range maritime transport).

Thirdly, and even more importantly, countries are stepping up their hydrogen ties.

Japan and Australia for instance. Eneos and Neoen teamed up for a joint study on a Japan-Australia green hydrogen supply chain in South Australia (as reported by H2view).

Japan has also been speaking with companies in the US and Netherlands.

Mitsui and CF Industries, North American manufacturer of fertilizers, signed a MoU for the development of blue ammonia projects in the United States.

The Port of Rotterdam Authority and Japanese companies (Chiyoda Corporation and Mitsubishi Corporation) decided to conduct a joint feasibility study for a commercial-scale import of hydrogen from overseas sources to one of Koole’s terminals in the port of Rotterdam utilizing Chiyoda’s hydrogen storage and transportation technology.

But it was not just about Japan.

For instance, Iceland’s geothermal power company HS Orka and UK-based Hydrogen Ventures Limited (H2V) announced joint plans.

Germany, which is eying collaboration opportunities with USA, Australia, Chile, and Argentina, is reaping benefits of its climate diplomacy. Emirati Helios awarded a contract to thyssenkrupp.

NJSC Naftogaz of Ukraine and German energy trading company RWE Supply & Trading have signed a MoU. The two companies agreed to explore cooperation opportunities along the full value chain of green hydrogen and its derivatives like ammonia produced in Ukraine.

National developments

There have been quite a few local/national developments in Korea, Japan, Colombia, Oman and especially United States (US DOE awarded $1 million to advance next-generation clean hydrogen technologies, and a $2 million grant to Nikola Motor; California Energy Commission offered a $4m grant for a multi-modal hydrogen refuelling station in California), China (Inner Mongolia is moving forwards with its plan to use solar and wind to produce green hydrogen), India (a few days after Maruti Suzuki said it should pay more attention to hydrogen, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi stated "the thing that is going to help India with a quantum leap in terms of climate is the field of green hydrogen”), and Russia. The country unveiled its hydrogen strategy, which hinged on pilot projects for low-carbon hydrogen and the creation of Russian consortia.

In conclusion, to go back to the UK, the British government said it expects to produce hydrogen from nuclear. “A Call for Evidence, published today (29 July), sets out the government’s suggested approach to building the first advanced modular reactor (AMR) demonstrator. This will specifically explore high temperature gas reactors (HTGRs) as the most promising model for the demonstration programme, which ministers are investing £170 million into delivering by the early 2030s.”

Background

The 6th IPCC report has been released, providing clarity on climate warming, extreme weather events, sea level, and acidity. To read.

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