Green hydrogen. Image: Alexander Kirch – Shutterstock.

If deployed on a commercial scale, green hydrogen could be the “holy grail” of renewable energies, combining efficiency and decarbonization.

According to experts, it’s time to focus on green hydrogen.

Fatih Birol, director of the International Energy Agency (IEA), said that green hydrogen is “ready for its big moment”, and called on governments to channel their investments for the recovery in what is considered cleaner and more efficient alternative to fossil fuels.

The idea of ​​hydrogen as a sustainable fuel for vehicles and power plants has been a subject of debate since the 1970s. However, the biggest problem since then has been the cost of its production, which does not allow its use at all times. a commercial scale. Despite this, supporters of green hydrogen have always argued that investments in infrastructure, along with increased demand from transport, gas networks and industry, could lower their costs.

Some countries, including the Netherlands, Australia and Portugal, have already started investing in this technology. Now, during the coronavirus crisis, investors and businesses are pushing for the European Union to define a post-crisis recovery plan to support green hydrogen in sectors such as transport and heavy industry.

If today most of the hydrogen is extracted from natural gas, by a process that produces carbon emissions, there is the possibility of produce a “green” version of fuel by electrolysis. This technique, if it is exploited on a commercial scale, represents for experts the “holy grail” of renewable energies.

Green hydrogen could solve many problems. The political interest in this source is due to the possibility of simultaneously achieving high energy efficiency and decarbonisation.

Jesse Scott, consultant of the Agora Energiewende think tank

Over the past year, various governments, including those of Germany, England, Australia and Japan, have announced hydrogen production strategies. Australia has already allocated $ 191 million and Portugal plans to build a solar-powered electrolysis hydrogen production plant by 2023. The Netherlands presented a hydrogen strategy at the end of March, outlining plans for a capacity of 500 megawatts (MW) by 2025.

The European institutions also seem to be moving in this direction.

We could use the coronavirus pandemic, in which a lot of public money will be needed for the energy system, to move towards a hydrogen economy.

Diederik Samsom, head of the climate cabinet of the European Commission.

In fact, while one of the main drawbacks of green hydrogen is the demand for a large amount of renewable electricity for its production, the good news is that green energy prices have fallen dramatically in recent years. Therefore, the lower costs of renewable energiesCoupled with an increase in demand, it could reduce the price of hydrogen from $ 6 per kg to $ 1.7 per kg by 2050. In addition, an increase in carbon market prices could be a major stimulus. .

However, any attempt at large-scale deployment – in industry or transportation – would also require a significant investment in infrastructure. For example, energy from an offshore wind farm would have to be connected to an electrolyser that produces green hydrogen, which would then have to be transported to end users. Europe has around 135 MW of electrolysis capacity but, according to McKensey, the green hydrogen projects currently underway could increase it to 5.2 gigawatts.

Royal Dutch Shell and the Dutch gas company Gasunie have revealed their intention to build a gigantic hydrogen wind power plant in the north of the Netherlands, capable of producing 800,000 tonnes of green hydrogen by 2040. In Germany, the refinery Heide Oil Company launches a project that uses wind power and harnesses the country’s abundant water supply to produce hydrogen, then uses it to produce kerosene.

But a big fear for companies in the green hydrogen sector is that they will not be able to seize the unique opportunity offered by large economic stimulus packages, fearing that governments will favor traditional fuel sectors with high demand collapse. of energy.