Green Hydrogen: Aspiring Towards 2050 Zero Emissions Energy Production

COMMODITY CAPERS: Opening the book on ‘Green Hydrogen’ a reader would most likely be surprised to read of the collaboration between former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and mining magnate Andrew ‘Twiggy’ Forrest.

The two gents are co-founders of the Green Hydrogen Organisation (GH20), which advocates clearer boundaries between green hydrogen made using renewables, and supposedly ‘clean’ H2 as a by-product from the fossil fuel sector, such as blue hydrogen, which is made from fossil gas linked to carbon capture and storage (CCS).

H2, also called molecular hydrogen, is a gas which forms when two hydrogen atoms bond together and become a hydrogen molecule.

It is the most common form of Hydrogen because it is stable with a neutral charge.

The thinking behind the formation of GH20 is to provide green hydrogen with its very own organisation for representation around global energy table talks.

This is because the emerging technology requires a different set of policy settings and investment decisions, as opposed to fossil fuel hydrogen.

Speaking at a Clean Energy Council webinar earlier this year, Forrest said Australia needs to set a target for green hydrogen as a contributing factor in the Nation’s quest to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

“This is our last chance to slow, then stop, the planet cooking,” he said.

“I am not in the doomsday business; I’m an optimist, and I am in the solutions business.

“My answer is renewable green hydrogen.

“The answer isn’t to stop mining iron ore, which is critical to the production of steel, and to humanity.

“The answer is green zero-emissions energy to make all iron ore and steel.

“If it is not renewable green, don’t be fooled by any other colour-coded spin.

“Any other colour than renewable green is dirty hydrogen.”

The potential for hydrogen as a potential source of clean energy is well-founded, especially when you consider one kilogram of hydrogen contains about 2.4 times as much energy as natural gas.

The only input needed to release this energy is oxygen and the only output is water, the consequences being that, as an energy source, hydrogen produces zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

However, to be able to utilise it as a source of energy, hydrogen must be in its pure form, which means it must be extracted from another material.

Depending on the source material used, the hydrogen produced is graded into colours to acknowledge the GHG emission profile.

The brighter, more user-friendly members of the rainbow spectrum, such as green, blue, even turquoise and pink, have lower emissions, while the gloomier colours of grey, brown and black produce higher emissions.

Green hydrogen is extracted using a method that does not produce GHG emissions and as a result is considered sustainable and environmentally friendly.

“Green hydrogen is most commonly produced using a device called an electrolyser,” Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) said in a CSIROscope article.

“Electrolysers use electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen.

“The key to this method of producing green hydrogen is that the electricity that powers the electrolyser comes from renewable sources, such as wind, solar, which have no associated GHG emissions.”

Blue hydrogen is produced using a process called ‘steam reforming’, which uses steam to separate hydrogen from natural gas.

Production of blue hydrogen does produce GHGs, however carbon capture and storage technologies can be used to capture and store those emissions.

“Hydrogen has exciting potential as an emerging source of clean energy,” CSIRO said.

“But not all hydrogen is the same.

“Colours help to differentiate between the types of hydrogen.

“The colours, however, can be distracting from the main game.

“Hydrogen will only achieve its goal of being a clean source of energy if it does not generate emissions during production.”

CSIRO is not the only body with a positive outlook for the role hydrogen from renewable energy could potentially play in the global energy transformation.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has said in its Hydrogen: a renewable energy perspective report, “hydrogen from renewable power, so called green hydrogen, could translate into eight per cent of global energy consumption by 2050.”

At this time, IRENA anticipates some 16 per cent of all generated electricity would be used to produce hydrogen by 2050.

“Green hydrogen could particularly offer ways to decarbonise a range of sectors where it is proving difficult to meaningfully reduce CO2 emissions.”

According to the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER) Hydrogen is a priority low emissions technology for Australia.

DISER said producing clean hydrogen under $2 per kilogram (H2 under 2) is a priority stretch goal under the federal government’s 2020 Low Emissions Technology Statement.

In the statement, Minister for Energy and Emissions, Angus Taylor outlines the government’s intention to continue to invest in mature technologies, such as coal, gas, solar, and wind via its Technology Investment Roadmap research and development strategy.

“The Government’s efforts will focus on new and emerging technologies with the potential for transformational economic and emissions outcomes, in Australia and globally,” Taylor says.

“Getting these technologies right will create jobs, and preserve and expand our energy-intensive export industries.

“We will beat our 2030 emissions reduction target, with a platform for future emissions reductions beyond the next decade.

“This technology-led approach won’t compromise energy affordability or reliability, and will position Australia as a global technology leader.”

DISER outlined the aims of the strategy to include:

Delivering more affordable, clean and reliable energy to households and industry for transportation, heating, production and power;

Expanding production and increasing productivity, creating jobs and substantially reducing emissions from Australia’s primary industries;

Preserving and expanding onshore manufacturing of energy-intensive products and capturing new export markets for low emissions commodities; and

Scaling geological and biological sequestration such that we provide globally significant permanent sequestration of CO₂.

Hydrogen hasn’t featured very high on too many top ten lists of interesting things in recent times, despite it being the most common chemical in the universe.

This is a bit unfair, especially given Hydrogen is a multi-talented chemical, which in musical theatre terms would be described as a ‘triple threat’, in that it can be produced as a gas or liquid, or made part of other materials, enabling it to be used in myriad forms, including as fuel for transport or heating, a way to store electricity, or as a raw material in industrial processes.

The government is now talking up the green credentials of hydrogen, by highlighting it can be produced using renewable energy or processes, enabling it to be stored as a form of renewable energy for use at a later time when it is needed.

The strategy was supported this year when government agency, Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) announced funding to support a feasibility study by Rio Tinto to investigate the potential to partially decarbonise its alumina refining operations using renewable hydrogen.

Historically, alumina refining has used natural gas to achieve the high temperatures necessary in the calcination process.

The Rio Tinto study will investigate the technical implications of displacing natural gas with renewable hydrogen at the company’s Yarwun alumina refinery in Gladstone, Queensland.

“If we can replace fossil fuels with clean hydrogen in the refining process for alumina, this will reduce emissions in the energy and emissions intensive refining stage of the aluminium supply chain,” ARENA CEO Darren Miller said.

“Exploring these new clean energy technologies and methods is a crucial step towards producing green aluminium.

“This study will investigate a potential technology that can contribute to the decarbonisation of the Australian alumina industry.

“If successful, the technical and commercial lessons from Rio Tinto’s study could lead to the implementation of hydrogen calcination technology, not only in Australia, but also internationally.”

IRENA noted the falling cost of renewables is advantageous to the potential of green hydrogen.

This is particularly for so called ‘hard-to-decarbonise’ sectors and energy-intensive industries and the global desire to clean them up and to limit CO2 emissions.

“Large-scale adoption of hydrogen could also fuel an increase in demand for renewable power generation,” IRENA said.

“In total, IRENA sees a global economic potential for 19 exajoule (EJ) of hydrogen from renewable electricity in total final energy consumption by 2050.

“This translates into around 4-16 terawatts (TW) of solar and wind generation capacity to be deployed to produce renewable hydrogen and hydrogen-based products in 2050.”

As IRENA says, the introduction of hydrogen-based solutions will not happen overnight, and the technology is more than likely to be at the rear of the global pack, unless governments start to get super serious.

“Green hydrogen could make a substantial contribution to the energy transition in the long run,” IRENA said.

“(The Agency’s Report)…recommends acknowledging the strategic role of hydrogen in the transition and at the same time calls on governments and private sector to better understand energy system benefits, cost-reduction and investment requirements to tap into the potential of a hydrogen future.”