Hydrogen is one way how Europe can deliver on the Paris Agreement

Power plant. Author: Jonathan Kershaw. License: Creative Commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic.

November 29 (Renewables Now) - Norwegian scientist Nils Røkke, currently chairman the European Energy Research Alliance (EERA), is commenting on the energy and climate challenges Europe is facing and the important role of hydrogen in the future energy mix in an article he is sharing with Renewables Now readers.

Europe needs to deliver on its own accords and visions; the Paris Agreement, the 202020 targets and the new targets for 2030 on climate, efficiency and renewable energy. The Paris agreement invites parties to submit long-term strategies to reduce emissions. This helps map the current state and guide policy development. The IPCC has delivered its special report with new and daunting evidence of how bad 1.5 degrees warming will be for the planet and us. The only good news is that we can achieve it if we stopped all emissions today. With the ability to respond, it is our responsibility to implement immediate and proactive measures to help us achieve this.

The EU will allude to the status of its plan for how it will mitigate climate change on the way to 2050 at COP24. With today’s evidence and reference material the EU must be net zero emissions by 2050. The 202020 targets will most likely be met, but the 2030 targets will not suffice to become climate neutral by mid-century. That’s why the ITRE committee in the European Parliament passed a resolution to increase the target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from 40 to 55%. Based on the 11th SET Plan conference in Vienna last week, an annual gathering of the energy community in Europe, the EU must adopt a holistic approach. No one single technology or system can tackle our transition to a zero-emission society. We have to tear down the silos between the sectors and technologies.

Market incentives and market signals will make it easier to achieve. At SET’s opening session, Chaired by the European Commission Director General for Energy, Dominique Ristori, all the panellists from the IEA, EERA, Hydrogen Europe, Eindhoven University, the Austrian Climate and Energy fund and Shell highlighted hydrogen as one important enabler. This was re-iterated by the industrial sector representatives from steel and iron, oil and gas, breweries, and polymer/petrochemicals. The IPCC and the IEA must not forget to evaluate hydrogen as an important contributor to a zero emissions society.

The SET conference addressed the hydrogen concerns including that it is expensive, is dangerous and that the hydrogen value chain is ineffective.

But hydrogen can be made affordable and at scale both from electrolysis and from natural gas with carbon capture and storage (CCS). There will be an increasing cost for emissions and legislation will make this an attractive proposition.

With a future energy system dominated by intermittent electricity production we will need weekly to seasonal energy storage, which hydrogen can provide at scale with it being produced from natural gas with Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS).

A hydrogen society can be made a safe society. Hydrogen has been proven to be as safe as or even safer than other flammable fuels such as gasoline or natural gas.

However, hydrogen gas has a few unique properties which we need to design for and to take into consideration- as we do with all combustible fuels.

Transport is one of the sectors which can benefit from a hydrogen economy. Heavy duty vehicles, trains and marine transport can use hydrogen when electricity is not an option and combined with biofuels and / or batteries. Batteries and hydrogen powered mobility are both needed and complement each other perfectly. For once we are talking in practical terms about a cross sectorial enabler- as hydrogen can be used to offer many societal services. Clean industry – using hydrogen as a raw material – transport, clean power and heating/cooling/cooking. And storing energy for longer periods.

Transport of hydrogen is tricky, it liquifies at -253 degrees Celsius (20K) and when it is pressurised it requires a lot of steel and equipment to contain it. There are possibilities in transporting it admixed in natural gas pipelines. Metal hydrids are also promising storage and transport technologies, and at scale it can be stored in underground salt caverns - a practice which has been used for natural gas storage for a long time.

Granted, hydrogen production will involve energy losses as it is not an energy source, but a carrier of energy. But how do you store surplus electricity at scale? Hydrogen electrolysis offers a flexible solution to this problem. And we need to stop comparing losses in energy conversion between the sustainable and the unsustainable solutions. The unsustainable solutions come with a heavy loss: global warming which is more expensive for society.

But the job is far from done and the window of opportunity is wide open for Europe to make a real impact on a global scale for the hydrogen economy. Taking this opportunity would make Europe a leader, rather than a follower. Europe should team up with Asia and in particular Japan to get hydrogen technology, production and cross-sectorial use up to speed. It will be exciting to see how much expectations EU has for the hydrogen economy in Katowice in the long-term emission reduction strategy. We are far from reaching our longer term climate and energy targets and we need the momentum that hydrogen can provide for our industry and society at large. It is mission possible – armed with the smallest molecule we know- H2.

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About the author

Nils Røkke is a Norwegian scientist and business leader. Currently he is Chairman of The European Energy Research Alliance and Executive VP Sustainability at independent research organisation SINTEF.

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