Hydrogen energy in the last ten years has acquired a huge popularity in the world of science, economics and politics in connection with the problem low oil prices, environmental problems and depletion of non-renewable energy sources — hydrocarbons. The article analyses different research programs and the production of hydrogen, highlight the main driving ideas of each of them and critically assess the state at the moment. Some technological advances can have a significant impact on the further development of renewable energy, as well as programs for the development of hydrogen technologies in the leading countries of the world and by the largest companies.
The historic drop in oil prices, forcing many energy companies to stop drilling new wells and close the old, can lead to a drop in oil production in the U.S. and other countries by 20 % and leave thousands of employees without work.
The US shale industry faces a crisis. In the near future production cuts may be approximately 1.75 million barrels per day. Operators shut the wells taken out of service every third rig fired about 51 thousand workers, reduce wages and declare themselves bankrupt, and this happens just six weeks after the start of falling prices. Pandemic coronavirus Covid-19 has fallen off the demand for raw materials and the storages were completely filled in a few weeks. All these factors are forcing American companies to reduce production.
The international agencies characterize the current crisis as a rapid and brutal end to the shale gas revolution in the United States, despite more recent statements by Donald trump on «the American energy dominance» . Debts in the energy sector of the U.S. surged to $ 190 billion, an increase of more than $11 billion in less than a week. Analysts predict that American companies can remove about 40 % in average daily production of oil. Energy analysts forecast a drop in US oil production to 10.1 million barrels per day by the end of 2020 and believe that the collapse will be even tougher in 2021 or 2022. Some argue about the need to identify news objectives for the energy industry. These objectives should focus on enabling widespread access to reliable, affordable and sustainable energy sources .
In this regard, many experts again started talking about the decline of the oil era and the need to find new sources of energy, primarily for transport.
Hydrogen as a ”green” energy source
Ongoing continuous oil and gas prices made the possibility of replacing the most common power unit of a modern car — an internal combustion engine/ Today, the most promising large-scale applications of hydrogen technologies exist in the world. The concept of clean hydrogen energy, often called the “hydrogen economy”, includes: 1) the production of hydrogen from water using non-renewable energy sources (hydrocarbons, nuclear energy, thermonuclear energy); 2) hydrogen production using renewable energy sources (sun, wind, tidal energy, biomass); 3) reliable transportation and storage of hydrogen; 4) widespread use of hydrogen in industry, in transport (land, air, water and underwater), in everyday life; 5) ensuring the reliability of materials and the safety of hydrogen energy systems/
At the moment hydrogen remains in a low demand among energy sources. By 2018 the total production of hydrogen has not exceeded 70 million tons, which is literally a drop compared with 4.4 billion tons of oil and 3.86 trillion cubic meters of methane.
But in the future hydrogen is destined to become a real fuel. It is the most common element not only on Earth, but throughout the Universe. Its calorific value is 120 MJ/kg its nearest competitor – methane, at the expense of natural gas, is three times less – 56 MJ/kg. The combustion of hydrogen formed is pure water, making it the most environmentally friendly fuel. This is fully concede with the global climate agenda, requiring a radical energy reduction.
The features of combustion of hydrogen make it stand out among other alternative sources of energy, such as biofuels. For example, the boom of biofuels in Europe was over before it began, including because the combustion of ethanol produces carbon dioxide, although this type of fuel has become a great alternative to diesel in some countries, especially in Brazil.
The long-term strategy for a carbon neutral economy to 2050 and the European Green New Deal have been developed in accordance to the Paris Agreement objective to limit the rise of global temperature to well below 2 °C and pursue efforts to keep it 1,5 °C . In the National Energy Plans presented by Member States on how to achieve these targets, hydrogen has emerged as a relevant option to deliver a clean energy transition .
According to some experts, using hydrogen will be able to overcome global warming and radically reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. The report of the analytical center of the World Hydrogen Council that has 20 member-states and about 60 corporations, including energy, that say in order to slow the increase in warming to 2 degrees by 2050 it will be enough to take the 400 million private cars, 15-20 million trucks and 5 million units of public transport into hydrogen fuel .
While this transition is just beginning, the traditional scope of application of the hydrogen remains rather limited and seldom go beyond the factory fence.
Hydrogen is mainly has demand in the refining, chemical industry, metallurgy, and, in part, in the production of rocket and car fuel. However, this demand gradually but grows, but even just 30 years ago global production of hydrogen does not exceed 20-25 million tons.
The Hydrogen Council they see the mission of the hydrogen not just as a secondary reagent in the workplace, and as a key element of the energy revolution in the global economy . If gas, as a rule, tipped to replace oil and coal, hydrogen, that can replace all of them, considering its almost theoretically inexhaustible reserves derived from conventional energy sources and the main source of life on the planet – water. Hydrogen is capable of work of thermal power plant, hydroelectric power station, steel plants. Everywhere, where there is already natural gas. According to the IEA, nearly 25% of the world’s electricity is produced in thermal power plants from natural gas, in Russia, this figure reaches 47 %.
The international renewable energy Agency (IRENA) released a report «Hydrogen from Renewable Electricity. Technological Forecast for the Energy Transformation», which examines the role of hydrogen in the energy system of the future .
Here a distinct advantage of hydrogen over traditional elements – the ability to ensure energy supply in isolated territories, where you can’t reach the network.
Hydrogen is already being actively used in the processes of refining and petrochemicals. With it, processes of hydrocracking and hydrotreating. In the future, it will be possible to use hydrogen for oil refining. It is argued that hydrogen, in some sense, is compatible even with coal and gasoline. Co-incineration of ammonia and coal can reduce the carbon intensity of existing traditional coal-fired power plants, and mixing of hydrogen to gasoline is to neutralize harmful emissions.
Moreover, hydrogen can be used not only as a source, but also energy storage. In the form of compressed gas, ammonia and synthetic methane, hydrogen can become a battery. In the reverse process, when hydrogen reacts with oxygen from the air, we can get electricity, heat and water.
In terms of producing hydrogen will probably be one of the most flexible energy source. Currently, the most profitable, productive methods of hydrogen are coal gasification and steam reforming of natural gas. Hydrogen can be obtained at least in three ways – by using the pyrolysis oil, water electrolysis and thermochemical decomposition. Of course, such technologies are very interesting for leading countries of the world, that at the same time are the largest consumers of primary fuels. The most success in this direction was achieved in Germany, Japan and the United States that consistently perform its own program for the development of hydrogen energy.
Modern technology and the development of hydrogen energy
According to the European Commission, leaders in the development of hydrogen energy are USA, Japan, EU countries, South Korea and China.
The European Union and Japan focus primarily on improving the ecological qualities of this fuel, while the United States, primarily aim to increase energy security and usability. China, largely, develops hydrogen technologies in order to achieve global technological leadership.
According to analysts, by 2050 hydrogen technology can meet about a quarter of all the fuel needs of Europe and 20% of world energy Needs. They technologies will provide sufficient energy for charging 42 million passenger cars, more than half a million trucks and a quarter of a million buses . In order to fully exploit the potential of hydrogen, the EU has included it in a list of six strategic areas of priority policy decisions and investments.
Despite the huge potential of the sector, development of infrastructure for the hydrogen economy remains an arduous task. To intensify efforts in this direction is brought the joint technology initiative on fuel cells and hydrogen «Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Joint Undertaking», established with the participation of the European Commission, industry and scientists.
In the energy debate, the hydrogen is increasingly seen as the key to the success of the energy transition. Experts from the International energy Agency (IEA) has estimated that the admixture of only 20% of hydrogen in the European natural gas network will reduce CO2 emissions by 60 million tons a year .
When talking about environmentally friendly, «green» hydrogen, usually means its receipt by electrolysis based on renewable electricity. However, there are other new technological developments. Researchers from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany has developed an effective process of pyrolysis of methane. The pyrolysis of methane will allow the use of fossil natural gas without harm to the environment: the methane will be separated into hydrogen gas and solid carbon, which is a valuable raw material for various industries and also can be safely stored.
In Germany the program for hydrogen appeared in 2006. It was a plan to achieve 1000 hydrogen fueling stations by 2030. The first notable achievement, however, appeared in September 2018 the engineering company Alstom launched in North-West Germany the world’s first train running on hydrogen fuel cells, Coradia Lint. Rolling was a success, and now the technology is being finalized.
And yet a pioneer of the transport tracking is Canada, the world’s first hydrogen country that has integrated into the urban transport fleet. The Canadian company Ballard supplied the first cell buses Vancouver in 1995, and it is still working properly. Since 2005, the same technologies are actively used in the Netherlands, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg and Iceland. The only problem they face is a small reserve that is inferior to the internal combustion engine. Hydrogen cylinders are relatively compact and have a lower efficiency at smaller scales than the gas tank.
A program appeared even in Britain, the major consumer of gas in Europe in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. The country decided that in the future, it would be possible to use hydrogen in the gas industry. In the report by the British Institution of Engineering and Technology “Transition on Hydrogen” published in June 2019, it is noted that by 2030 a large part of the British gas network, which now consists of metal pipes, will turn into plastic. This will allow without massive investment to put in a network of hydrogen. Technology in hydrogen production, probably should reach a considerable development by this time.
While some countries worked in transportation at the other end of the world, in Chile in 2017, the company “Enel Green Power Сhile” launched the world’s first hundred percent pure commercial mini site of electricity. The network provides a complex hybrid drive system, consisting of solar power, and system hydrogen, and lithium batteries.
Unlike EU countries, the USA in the development of hydrogen generation focused on the technologies and methods of producing hydrogen. However, the significant breakthroughs in this direction are not publicly recorded.
The most ambitious program, perhaps, has Japan, put the hydrogen in the rank of the primary fuel of the future for the whole country. The program is based on the three pillars of energy efficiency, energy security and reducing the load on the environment. Today 2.5 thousand cars with hydrogen fuel cells go along the Japanese roads and a large network of hydrogen filling stations works here properly. There are several thousand residential Autonomous hydrogen stations in this country. In order to ensure the energy security Japan is considering multiple scenarios for the development of hydrogen energy in the future, does not exclude the buying hydrogen from other countries, for example Australia.
However, the lack of source for hydrogen production remains a major stumbling block for wider distribution of hydrogen in the world. Due to the fact that in its pure form in nature, hydrogen does not exist, we need to allocate it. While the synthesis of hydrogen from the same natural gas remains the most available – from both technological and economical way of producing hydrogen. Thus, one source of energy goes into the production of another.
Today, the share of hydrogen produced from natural gas in petrochemical and chemical industries the industrial sector in the EU, reaches 80-95 % of the total produced hydrogen.This forms a significant amount of carbon dioxide emissions, which, in essence, contradicts with the concept of hydrogen energy, which should contribute to solving environmental problems. In addition, various impurities, sulfur, which, when released into the atmosphere, also harm the environment, are not removed from the gas.
Such “little things” has become a big stumbling block for potential investors in hydrogen technologies. Moreover, a cautious, conservative attitude towards the problem of global climate is changing and the idea to take serious commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions still prevail among many. If we are not talking about individual investors, but about countries, then not everyone is ready to spend significant funds on preferences for manufacturers of hydrogen technology. Especially countries with large oil and gas processing facilities.
In 2019 the Chinese hydrogen Association released a White paper about the Chinese hydrogen energy. It is planned that by 2025 the volume of production of the hydrogen industry will reach $148 billion
Russia on the way to hydrocarbon production
Russia’s role in the development of hydrogen technology is more than modest, despite the well-known achievements in the relatively recent past. In the USSR in the late 1980s the first plane with one of the engines on hydrogen fuel was created on the basis of the TU‑154 airliner. In addition, liquid hydrogen was actively used as fuel for American (Space Shuttle) and Soviet (Buran) space programs.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the emphasis naturally gave way to more commercial projects, especially those that are «under the wing» of the major producers of primary energy.
According to former Chairman of the Board «Gazprom» Alexander Medvedev the decarbonization of natural gas-based hydrogen technologies, using the technology of power to gas are the technologies of tomorrow for oil and gas industry. To stop seed carbon dioxide to seep into the atmosphere and reduce pollution to zero would be enough to add only about 10 % hydrogen to natural gas, and this initiative fits perfectly into the logic of the Paris climate agreement – the basis international Agreement on the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere .
But such initiatives are hardly a reflection of the full potential of Russia as one of the world’s largest producers of natural gas, the main and most available source of hydrogen. To realize this, since last year the Russian Ministry of Energy has been working to establish a private National program of hydrogen energy development. In the future, the program will be discussed at the strategic sessions of the Infrastructure of the center EnergyNet. According to the statements of the Ministry, it should include scientific-technological and regulatory challenges on the way to the championship of Russia in new energy technologies. Under condition of participation in the technology race, Russia is noticeably superior to its neighbors not only for raw materials but also accessible to the greatest potential customers.
According to experts of the center EnergyNet infrastructure, the development of hydrogen energy in Russia in the period 2025-2035 years could potentially create a market in the country amount to $ 2.2–3.9 billion and bring in $1.7 to 3.1 billion profit a year at the expense of net exports to 2 million tons of hydrogen.
Until recently decarbonization has not become mainstream in the Russian energy policy, a transport sector of the economy may be a driver for development of the demand for hydrogen. Hydrogen electric transport has every chance of becoming more profitable than battery-powered, which its efficiency. For example, BM Power is already working on hydrogen fuel cell production.
So far the first hydrogen transport that has proved to be effective has so far not been a car or a truck, but a tram. In November 2019, Petersburgers could observe a red hydrogen tram, which had been tested on the rails of the northern capital for several weeks. Its experimental model was created by specialists of the state-owned enterprise Gorelectrotrans and the Central Research Institute of Marine Electrical Engineering and Technology of the Central Research Institute of Electric Networks. Among the obvious economic advantages of such a “hydrogen” tram are a significant reduction in the cost of contact and cable networks, as well as traction substations, which translates into 25-30% savings in maintenance.
Another successful project – a small plane «Sigma‑4» hydrogen-powered represented by the Central Institute of Aviation Motors. The hydrogen engine of this aircraft is not burned, but enters into an electrochemical reaction with oxygen, producing electricity for the rotation of the screw. Although the developers succeeded to prove the energy efficiency of a hydrogen plant e was 2.8 times higher than the combustion of kerosene, hydrogen propulsion is very big, at least one passenger seat.
Second, but no less promising direction of development of hydrogen energy in Russia is a self-contained generation on the basis of fuel cells in remote locations such as cell towers, equipment that serves the main gas and oil pipelines.
The largest Russian energy companies «Gazprom» and «Rosatom» – are already working on technologies to produce hydrogen with minimal carbon footprint. Several research centers and companies, including the Institute of problems of chemical physics RAS, MIPT Center of Power, “Rosatom «TVEL» are together developing fuel cell technology.
For example, “Rosatom” is working on the development of two main methods of hydrogen production – electrolysis and steam reforming of methane. In the future, the successful testing of technologies and new clean fuel can be carried out at the railway transportation company in the Sakhalin region . In the future, the Russian hydrogen in waiting in Japan.
The Russian gas company is working to create innovative technologies for the decomposition of natural gas into hydrogen and carbon without carbon dioxide emissions, as well as the use of hydrogen in transportation and its storage. To do this, «Gazprom» has patented and is testing a private method of producing hydrogen from methane with the use of adiabatic conversion when using methane-hydrogen mixture on the needs of the compressor stations.
Today in Russia the rate of development of hydrogen technologies is low . This is because of the climate agenda and decarbonization that are still playing a minor role in the energy strategy of Russia, which significantly hinders of the development of not only hydrogen, but any low-carbon technologies. Despite this, Russia has its own technological development and promising domestic demand for hydrogen technologies.
The developing hydrogen market, obviously, will compete with hydrocarbon markets. This is one of the global challenges of the hydrocarbon economy of Russia, which will create high risks of a slowdown of the national economy.
The answer to these challenges may be the integration of hydrogen technologies in the Russian energy strategy and low-carbon development strategy, which will be the support of technological development, long-term demand and as well as encouraging international investment.
The development of hydrogen technologies and fuel elements are determined by the Russian government as a priority for further development of the national economy, which means the development and funding projects at the state level and at the level of large commercial structures.
In accordance with the energy strategy of Russia has entered a phase of investment in innovation, and the gradual replacement of obsolete equipment in production, followed by a phase of innovation-based growth . Further development of the energy sector of Russia is characterized by the gradual formation of a new low-carbon energy.
In December 2018, the state Corporation «Rosatom» took the decision to include hydrogen in the list of priority directions of technological development in the sectoral composition of the national project and the preparation of a comprehensive R & d programs for its implementation . It was suggested to create on the basis of VNIIAES center responsible for the integrated ordering of technical solutions for the atomic-hydrogen energy.
In VNIIAES developed technical proposals and performed technical and economic assessment of the creation and use as part of a separate nuclear power stations, autonomous modules for the production and accumulation of hydrogen for future use in energy supply, industry and transport. We may say about about the creation in Russia of the foundations for atomic-hydrogen energy, the new strategic direction of technology development. The world market for commercial hydrogen and hydrogen technologies is rapidly growing. As shown by preliminary calculations, by 2050 year, the consumption of hydrogen as a source of energy will increase tenfold, and the hydrogen should occupy 15-20 % and in the global energy balance . One of the primary difficult tasks is to develop pilot projects for possible generating capacity of several nuclear power plants for the production and sales of commercial hydrogen. Hydrogen can be used for charging of freight transport on hydrogen fuel elements as the coolant in the Autonomous production of electricity and heat for remote areas.
In October 2019 at a meeting in the Energy Ministry with the participation of “Rostec”, «Gazprom», «SIBUR», «Rosatom» there was decided to develop a National program of hydrogen energy development. According to the report, large-scale development of the export potential of hydrogen is forecasted. The EnergyNet provides the scenario of accumulation of electricity in the hydrogen cycle, and the possibility of receiving the export proceeds in the amount of $1.7–3.1 billion due to lower prices by 2025. This will allow to claim 10-15 % of the world market of hydrogen in the perspective of 2030.
According to the calculations of Acil Allen Consulting and its EnergyNet, Russia will be able to offer Japan as the most likely importer of hydrogen at $ 3,38/kg against us $ 4.6/kg from Australia and Qatar, and $ 5,2–5,4/kg from the USA and Norway. According to the authors of the report, «a pilot project can be deployed on the basis of hydroelectric or wind power capacity in the far East, for example, using the construction of the East-Srednekanskaya or wind turbines on the island of Sakhalin“ .
Hydrogen can also improve the efficiency of generating capacities in Russia, and to solve the problem of locked capacity. The experts of the EnergyNet believe that the average level of installed generating capacity of load reserves for hydrogen production will grow by 5-7 % compared to 2017 and the costs of energy supply to remote and isolated areas will decrease by 27-30 %.
Currently, Russia hydrogen energy has moved to the second stage of its development: from the development of components and experimental installations up to 10 kW to stage demonstration samples of more power (100 kW) and the gradual commercialization.
Russian economist S. Glazyev and most other scientists of the world claim that we are now entering the sixth technological order. Each order corresponds to the main source of energy firewood, coal, oil, gas. Hydrogen will absolutely correspond to the sixth way, because it may replace oil and become the main fuel of the 6th order. The one who will be the first to enter this very way will be on the crest of progress. Despite the fact that the role of the scientific component in the development of hydrogen energy is large, in the short term that is the commercial success of a pilot hydrogen technology will determine its fate.
According to experts, the development of hydrogen technologies still requires annual investments in $ 20-25 billion Such a high cost casts doubt on the reality of all the announced projects and achievements. These findings, as believe the experts of the analytical center Hydrogen Council, are actively lobbying hydrogen technologies.
The developer still has the right to life at least due to the growing demand for hydrogen, which by 2030 may reach 18-27 million tonnes, and by 2050 – already 27-160 million tons, assessing the profitability and environmental friendliness of new technologies. China intends to invest in hydrogen filling stations and the development of hydrogen transport more than $ 17 billion through 2023.
In Russia, hydrogen could be rather only a symptom of changes in the structure of energy demand, including the substitution of hydrocarbons with other types of energy with the advent of renewable energy and one of the future sources of green energy.
The global hydrogen market will certainly compete with the markets of hydrocarbons. The best response to such challenges will be the integration of hydrogen technologies to the Russian energy strategy and, in general, in the low-carbon development strategy. Hydrogen fuel itself is unlikely to be a panacea for carbon emissions, but it is only one of many ways to a more efficient and safe use of energy and addressing global environmental challenges and meet the growing energy needs.
At a global level, the development of an integrated international hydrogen market will need to involve not only producer and consumer countries, but also international organizations such as OPEC, IEA and IRENA. From this perspective, a higher degree of interdependence could foster cooperation and contribute to strengthening the global effort against climate change
There is an understanding in the world that renewable energy produced from wind or solar power by electrolysis hydrogen in the future will occupy an important place in the economy. The use of hydrogen for «interim storage» of excess of electricity produced by variable renewable energy sources, in many models is considered to be an essential element of the power system with a large e share of renewable energy sources. Current areas of hydrogen energy development are dictated by the economic needs of the global market and the requirements of improving the environmental responsibility of energy.
The key point of the successful implementation of the concept of «hydrogen economy» is the availability of a cheap, environmentally acceptable and feasible methods of hydrogen production.
Techno-economic assessment of possible large production of electrolytic hydrogen may be useful for improving the economic efficiency of a number of existing power plants. Hydro and steam power stations can work on basic mode and with maximum utilization of installed capacity using acidity-oxygen steam generators and metal hydride hydrogen storage.
Major consumers of hydrogen may be many foreign companies interested in exports of liquefied hydrogen in the countries of Eastern Asia (Japan, China). A new commercially available hydrogen energy will be required within 1-3 years to provide the rapidly growing energy demand in the Asia-Pacific region.
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