May 04, 2024

Why green hydrogen energy is more in focus now than ever before

Renewable energy sources are vital in making the ambition to reach net zero by 2050 a reality. Green hydrogen comes from renewable sources like wind and solar power.

It is a clean and viable solution recognised by the UK Government, which recently doubled national targets for low carbon hydrogen production capacity to 10 GW by 2030 for use throughout the economy.

The level of hydrogen produced could be equal to the yearly gas consumption of more than 3 million UK households. It’s unsurprising, therefore, that the UK has huge potential to become a leader in the world’s hydrogen economy, worth an estimated £2 trillion by 2050.

Green hydrogen transforms energy from renewable sources into a gas that can be used to store, transport and use as a feedstock in industry, transportation, heating fuel, or generating electricity in various applications. Not to be confused with other types, making and using green hydrogen only produces oxygen and water as by-products.

Grey hydrogen energy is mainly produced from natural gas and generates significant carbon emissions. Blue hydrogen involves capturing carbon emissions to be stored or reused. Yellow hydrogen is produced using electrolysis from the grid, which can still be fossil fuel generated, but is often not the most efficient use of electrification.

Like other energy carriers, green hydrogen energy still has hurdles to overcome. In the UK, the Government’s Hydrogen Strategy highlights some of these, including the high cost of hydrogen relative to existing high carbon fuels, technological uncertainty before broader deployment, and policy and regulatory uncertainty as hydrogen is a developing energy policy.

They must also change public opinion about hydrogen’s explosive properties and its safety as a fuel.

Another challenge is the legacy of the industrial use of hydrogen energy produced using natural gas or coal, contributing to climate change. Today, the success of hydrogen energy use closely aligns with the future of renewable energy, natural gas, plus carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.

While green hydrogen is the energy industry’s primary destination, the UK Government is betting that the sector can only scale up to large volumes and infrastructure with carbon-free hydrogen from fossil fuels combined with CCS.

The need to identify and secure cheap renewable power generation sourcing and secure demand for it is well known. The UK Net Zero electric system target is 2035 and any company with more ambitious targets needs to look at different options, such as hydrogen energy.

Fortunately, the UK has a unique spot with a hydrogen opportunity to address these challenges and make the green switch.

The UK’s competitive advantage comes from its geography, infrastructure, and capabilities – providing an opportunity to demonstrate global leadership in low-carbon hydrogen.

There are well-developed supply routes and use cases for hydrogen gas with decades of experience in gas production, distribution, storage, use, and regulation.

Additionally, the UK has favourable geology for large- scale hydrogen storage and long-term seasonal storage. The notorious British weather and its combination of windy and sunny days mean excess renewable electricity can be stored for winter when the demand is higher and less renewable electricity generates. Hydrogen is already stored in salt caverns and could potentially end up in the disused oil and gas fields of the North Sea.

Meanwhile, in April this year, the UK backed hydrogen technologies with a £400 million government-backed loan given to Johnson Matthey as just one example of the appetite for green investment.

Finding the way toward efficient green hydrogen production requires new technologies and thinking. The challenges with large-scale green hydrogen production can be largely resolved through using new digital technologies. The green hydrogen industry is racing from pilots and small-scale production to extensive facilities – finding a solution to accelerate this will be essential.

Using a dynamic process simulation model and digital twin accelerates the project’s conceptual stage by streamlining the process of selecting the type and size of electrolyser(s) and renewable farm needed. It provides insight into requirements for associated static, process, and electrical equipment like pumps, motors, tanks and piping.

The model uses available data to simulate renewable power generation, water treatment, and other process parameters to thoroughly analyse the variations expected in operating a facility. A complete model includes storage considerations and downstream industrial usage simulation based on project development goals.

Engineering tools help streamline engineering processes across multiple stakeholders and facilitate interaction with external parties. These tools rely on digital twin technology for the complete lifecycle of the hydrogen production facility, from conceptual design to engineering to operation and maintenance. Technologies will allow green hydrogen project design and operations to be optimised from strategy through operations and expedite the transition to renewable energy.

Despite the uncertainties surrounding hydrogen energy’s future, there are indicators that it may become a necessary component for industrial applications to achieve the net-zero emissions goal.

Major energy providers and distributors are currently looking into green hydrogen as part of their efforts to decarbonise, promoting natural gas production rather than oil and coal as part of their green agendas.

Capitalising on sustainable energies would help to accelerate demand for green hydrogen energy as a viable alternative within a multi-layered energy revolution.

It’s time to take advantage of green hydrogen’s opportunity and switch.