What is the deficiency symptom of hydrogen

Hydrogen in short supply: what now?

Hydrogen has the potential to play a key role in the energy transition. Refineries, chemical and steel companies in particular look expectantly at research and development. They depend on enormous amounts of H2 to replace crude oil and natural gas.

Hydrogen promises to be the solution for the decarbonization of industrial processes. But to date there has been far too little of this, and moreover only at high cost. In addition, not every hydrogen source is green and sustainable. As with electricity, it depends on the source and type of production. But that is precisely what it is about: Industry needs green energy and alternative hydrogen sources in order to be able to produce in a CO2-neutral manner.

The EU wants to reduce its CO2 emissions by 60 percent by 2030 and be climate neutral by 2050. As the most recent measure, the CO2 price in Germany was increased from 10 to 25 euros per ton on January 1, 2021. Despite this taxation, gray hydrogen, which is produced on the basis of fossil raw materials, remains cheaper, but the pressure to produce in an environmentally friendly way is growing - and with it the risk of further higher taxation. How do the manufacturing companies get “green” hydrogen?

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This requires regional hydrogen ecosystems with several participants, e.g. energy suppliers, converters and consumers, who combine economic and ecological interests. One example of this is the “West Coast 100” real-world laboratory in Schleswig-Holstein - a region with high levels of wind. Here, energy producers, technology providers, refineries and cement works have come together to convert electricity from a wind farm into green hydrogen and oxygen by electrolysis and then to transport it to the production facilities.

The plan: The refinery is to process the green hydrogen and feed the oxygen into the cement plant, which could significantly reduce the plant's nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions. The CO2 produced during cement production is to be processed with green hydrogen to make synthetic kerosene, which at Hamburg Airport helps to reduce CO2 emissions from aircraft.

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However, ecosystems such as the “West Coast 100” are still at the project stage. In the foreseeable future, green hydrogen cannot be produced competitively and in sufficient quantities in this country, so the amount of renewable electricity is currently too limited. Therefore, the import of hydrogen will continue to play an important role. When purchasing, companies would inevitably have to use multiple tracks and temporarily also use hydrogen sources that are not 100 percent climate-neutral.

Another option is to import green hydrogen from electricity from photovoltaic systems in southern Europe and North Africa - via existing natural gas pipelines. Germany has already concluded strategic partnerships as part of the hydrogen strategy. Due to their strong solar irradiation, Morocco and other North African countries can already offer cheap electricity prices of four cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) and may even lower them to two cents per kWh by 2050.

As an alternative to pipeline transport, there is the option of converting green hydrogen into ammonia and methanol. The high energy density compared to gaseous hydrogen makes it possible to transport it economically in shipping containers. Both products can be used as raw materials for industry or directly as an alternative fuel, for example for shipping. It is quite conceivable that more distant regions such as the Middle East or South America will become interesting as a supplier of climate-neutral energy.

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The lack of green energy sources is also a problem when importing green hydrogen. Producing hydrogen in large quantities and independently of renewable energy sources - this option is already offered today by decarbonised hydrogen, which is produced on the basis of natural gas. The climate-damaging carbon content of the natural gas is permanently removed from the atmosphere.

There are two processes: In the case of so-called "blue" hydrogen, the carbon dioxide in the natural gas is separated from the hydrogen content in the steam reforming process and stored underground where fossil fuels were previously extracted. In the case of “turquoise” hydrogen, natural gas is thermally split and the carbon is deposited in solid form. If this is then permanently bound, for example as a material, this process can also be regarded as CO2-neutral.

Conclusion: So that the potential of climate-neutral hydrogen for the decarbonization of industry can be raised, all questions relating to production, import and transport must be clarified. This requires cross-border partnerships and a functioning hydrogen infrastructure. Building a successful hydrogen economy can only be achieved through joint efforts by industry and politics. In order for the existing European funding sources to be exhausted, clean concepts and relevant H2 know-how are required.