If we had to choose the product that has acquired the most value in 2020, this would be the hydrogen (from now on h2). There is a classification based on the origin of the raw materials and their production, with a different cost for each case. There are three major products: Grey, blue and green hydrogen. Grey Hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels by steam reforming, producing CO2 that is not recirculated within the CCS technologies. This provides the h2 with the lowest prices.
The price will increase if you introduce the cost of the CCS technologies, avoiding CO2 emissions and contributing to reduce the carbon footprint. This is the case of Blue Hydrogen. And finally, if you produce h2 by water electrolysis using renewable energy sources for the electricity needed, the cost will be higher, but the potential and forecast will be promising. This is the case of Green Hydrogen.
These two images display nowadays h2 production processes. It is clear then that a mix of traditional technologies with new and disruptive technologies will be the pathway the industry will or should follow in the short term period. The nature of the feedstock and the source of the energy needed within the process will be the tipping points of this production. Within BACTOFUEL project, we aim to produce h2 directly from sunlight, avoiding the dependency of electricity or gas that other methodologies might have, increasing the potential of scaling up and reducing the cost of the production.
The processes to obtain hydrogen are multiple depending on the raw materials, reactions involved, temperature, pressure, and other conditions of reaction and preparation of raw materials.
The main advantages and disadvantages are summarized in the table below:
Low efficiency, cost and subproducts are the main disadvantages of the projects. More research and development and fund should be done in the short term period to boost the wide range of disruptive technologies that implement the classic methodology joining green technologies (CCUS technologies) to decarbonise and reducing cost at the same time.
Global hydrogen production by technology in the Sustainable Development Scenario, 2019-70
If we rely on the data provided by the IEA (International Energy Agency) in their Sustainable development scenario, a huge increase on electricity technology will lead the h2 production, unseating the SMR+ CCUS (steam methane reforming + Carbon Capture Use & Storage) to the second position. This increase is observed in 2050, when the EU should reach net zero emissions. Indeed, this is another support for disruptive technologies where innovation and green energy methodologies are behind the processes. Photocatalytic processes should have more support from policies and industry to could get the target of zero emissions.
Hydrogen production costs by technology in the Sustainable Development Scenario, 2019 and 2050
Hydrogen use today is dominated by industry, namely: oil refining, ammonia production, methanol production and steel production. Virtually all of this hydrogen is supplied using fossil fuels, so there is significant potential for emissions reductions from clean hydrogen.
In transport, the competitiveness of hydrogen fuel cell cars depends on fuel cell costs and refuelling stations while for trucks the priority is to reduce the delivered price of hydrogen. Shipping and aviation have limited low-carbon fuel options available and represent an opportunity for hydrogen-based fuels.
In power generation, hydrogen is one of the leading options for storing renewable energy, and hydrogen and ammonia can be used in gas turbines to increase power system flexibility. Ammonia could also be used in coal-fired power plants to reduce emissions
As it is shown in the Sustainable Development Scenario, if all the policies and strategies presented, organised and agreed by governments and industry from now to 2070 reached their goals, by 2070 transport, industry and power would be the main users of the h2 produced.
This is aligned with the idea of reducing CO2. As we see in the chart, power industry and transport will reduce their CO2 emissions.
Global final energy demand for hydrogen by sector and share of hydrogen in selected sectors
As we see in the chart above, transport hydrogen will have a huge impact from 2050, aligned with the policies of getting the objectives marked for 2050 by the EU. If we compare these numbers with the current numbers, wide and open field of innovation should be provided.
As quoted in the Sustainable Development Scenario, “at first, biofuels play an important role, but they are eclipsed in the 2040s as electric powertrains, hydrogen and synthetic fuels become more available and competitive. The destination of the biofuels also changes: biodiesel is redirected towards shipping in the medium term, later complemented by biomass-to-liquid for jet fuel, while ethanol is used to produce biojet fuel for aviation. By 2070, 30% of final energy needs in the transport sector are met by electricity (up from 1% in 2019), with biofuels providing 36% (up from 3% in 2019), and ammonia, hydrogen and synthetic fuels almost one quarter of transport final energy demands”.
Renewable energy met around 3.7% of transport fuel demand in 2018, with around 4 exajoules (EJ) of consumption. Biofuels provided 93% of all renewable energy, the remainder being renewable electricity. Biofuel output expands 24% (0.9 EJ) over the forecast period (2019‑24), while renewable electricity in transport is anticipated to increase 70% (0.2 EJ) with greater use of electrified rail as well as electric vehicles, combined with higher shares of renewables in electricity generation. The biofuel share of renewable energy in transport in 2024 decreases slightly to 90%.
If you enter into discussion with scientists that have been working in the field for years, they will tell you that h2 was discovered 100 years ago but still no one is able to produce it in a cost effective and efficient way. But what is clear now, is h2 has come to change the market. Policies, industry and stakeholders have bet this time for the h2 to stay and be developed, so, why not?