Our Hydrogen Future: Decarbonizing without deindustrializing
“There’s no time for watching Netflix, but I’m living Netflix every day.”
Probably not something you would expect to hear at a conference of industry leaders, academics, and regional government representatives. But that was how Jorgo Chatzimarkakis, CEO of Hydrogen Europe, opened his presentation at the second Our Hydrogen Future annual roundtable hosted by EthosEnergy in June.
In this article, you can read a snapshot of Jorgo’s talk and discover why he is so excited about what’s going on with the energy transition and the journey toward a hydrogen economy.
Who is Hydrogen Europe?
Hydrogen Europe is one of the leading organizations representing European-based companies and stakeholders committed to moving toward a (circular) carbon-neutral economy. Its members include more than 350 hydrogen companies, 20 EU regions, and 30 national associations.
EthosEnergy is a member and our Vice President of Engineering, Massimo Valsania, was recently appointed Co-Chair of Hydrogen Europe’s Skills working group.
From niche interest to Netflix-level excitement
Two years ago, hydrogen energy was a niche issue. Of interest to enthusiasts, but beyond those circles not seen as particularly important.
Then, with the Covid-19 pandemic and the fall of the price of renewables, hydrogen experienced its first boom.
Decarbonizing without the threat of deindustrialization
On many levels, the pandemic was an unprecedented shock. It led policymakers, particularly in Brussels, to turn their thoughts to a technology that helps decarbonize without the need to deindustrialize.
People began to see hydrogen as one of the core parts of the energy transition, although not yet a large part.
That changed with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Now hydrogen is bang at the center, beside electricity.
But what of the future?
Ramping up the hydrogen economy
There are a number of challenges – or, as Jorgo put it, “bottlenecks” – for the energy transition and the ramp-up of the hydrogen economy. But there are also opportunities in those challenges.
Equipping people with the necessary skills is a super-important topic and one that’s being discussed across Europe. Indeed, it was the subject of an earlier discussion at this year’s Our Hydrogen Future roundtable.
Another “bottleneck” is critical raw materials.
Have you noticed the price of copper has shot up? In part that’s down to the war in Ukraine. But it’s also because of a growing demand for copper to be used in electricity infrastructure.
We can’t live without electricity. So we need to find ways in which hydrogen technology and electricity can complement each other in infrastructure. Achieving a working balance between the two technologies will help make sustainable energy more affordable.
How much cheaper?
This is where things get exciting. Hydrogen technologies require as little as 20 times less critical raw material.
Opportunities for active regions
Hydrogen technology’s critical raw materials are mainly platinum and other platinum-group metals.
Platinum, which comes largely from South Africa, is also used in catalysts, especially in diesel cars. As part of its decarbonization commitment, the European Parliament has recently voted to endorse a ban on the sale of cars with internal combustion engines from 2035.
Hydrogen Europe sees great potential for regions such as Piemonte, Italy with its abundance of skills in the automotive sector, to recycle these catalysts and transfer the platinum to electrolyzers or fuel cells in other vehicles.
And there are opportunities for other regions to play an active role. To invest in catalyst recycling and become big sellers of platinum.
Three concrete challenges
REPowerEU is the European Commission’s plan for saving energy, producing clean energy, and diversifying Europe’s energy supplies.
Renewable hydrogen energy has a key role to play. But, as Jorgo recognizes, it’s going to be challenging.
REPowerEU requires 20 million tonnes of hydrogen to be produced by 2030. To put this into perspective, that will need 300 GW of electrolyzer capacity. Globally, we currently have a maximum of just 3 GW.
So within eight years we need to ramp up from 3 to 300 GW – a factor of 100. Jorgo believes that’s not impossible, but it reveals the massive challenge ahead for us.
We also need to find new ways to transport the hydrogen that’s produced.
One exciting possibility is the prospect of bringing cheaply produced hydrogen from north Africa to the heart of Europe via an Italian pipeline.
And in recent months, the Algerian and Italian heads of state have overseen a series of agreements strengthening Algeria’s energy supply to Italy. These include energy companies Sonatrach and Eni agreeing to study new opportunities focused on green hydrogen.
We also need to establish who’s going to consume those 20 million tonnes of hydrogen.
Targets have been set by the European Commission. By 2030:
- Seventy-five percent of the hydrogen used by industry is to be green hydrogen – that’s about 6.8 million tonnes.
- Five percent of all fuels in the European Union are to be hydrogen based – that’s about another 7.5 million tonnes.
So, we need to find offtakers for the remaining five million tonnes or so. But Jorgo is confident we will.
Solving a chicken-and-egg dilemma
Producing hydrogen and finding consumers is a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. But through clear production and usage targets, we’re overcoming that dilemma.
We’re now fine-tuning the ways in which hydrogen is produced and how it’s brought to consumers.
Be part of Our Hydrogen Future
Listening to Jorgo speak, it’s clear how energizing he finds the challenge of the journey to a hydrogen economy. And how inspired he is by the progress being made across Europe.
Governments, universities, and hydrogen companies – we all have our part to play.
So why not join the discussion?