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Present and future of hydrogen

Published 6.12.2021

In this third edition of our podcast, Martín Scalabrini Ortiz and Francisco Grosse take an in-depth look at what the present and future hold for hydrogen.

As the Corporate Manager of Process Design in the Engineering area of Techint E&C, Martin Scalabrini Ortiz is constantly involved in the processes used to produce hydrogen process and is very much up to speed with the different technologies used to obtain it. Although by no means a new resource for industry in general, as it’s used to refine and manufacture fertilizers, for instance, he explains that, "the idea of using hydrogen as a clean energy source is really new and the uptake has been extremely significant.” 

In conversation with Martín, Francisco Grosse, Development Manager of hydrogen and carbon capture projects at Tecpetrol, offers his view of how these initiatives are developing: “Green hydrogen is the buzzword of the moment. The challenge is how to lower costs and focus on the uses where it really is the best option.”

What is hydrogen?

Hydrogen is the first element in the periodic table, and in its natural state is a gas. When combined with oxygen and combusted, it creates water—as well as energy.

Uses, possibilities for development, and its sustainable potential

Although hydrogen lends itself to many things, its uses can basically be divided into two areas: as raw material involved in different processes (ammonia production, refineries, steel mills) and directly as fuel.

Understanding the evolution of hydrogen production requires an analysis of each case prior to deciding whether it is the best option, compared with alternatives such as lithium batteries, electricity, or natural gas, for instance.

What are the types of hydrogen produced?

Gray hydrogen. This is conventional hydrogen production, which is currently being carried out as the most common process at the moment. It’s generated from natural gas or other fossil fuels, through a process called “steam reforming” which also emits CO2, one of the contributors to global warming.

Blue hydrogen. Although the production process is the same, the CO2 emitted during the manufacturing process is captured and stored (carbon capture and storage - CCS) usually underground, thus considerably reducing the emission of greenhouse gases causing global warming.

Green hydrogen. Also referred to as “clean hydrogen”, as it’s produced by using energy from renewable sources, such as solar or wind power, the process involves separating the hydrogen and oxygen atoms making up water (H20) through a process called electrolysis, thus obtaining hydrogen without producing any type of carbon dioxide emission.

Pink hydrogen. Generated by electrolysis powered by nuclear energy sources.

Turquoise hydrogen. This involves a process called methane pyrolysis, which produces solid carbon, meaning that there is no need for CCS.

What challenges does this hydrogen boom entail?

Today, world demand stands at about 80 million tons, mostly all produced using gray hydrogen processes which produce CO2 emissions. "Today it’s a problem, but if hydrogen could be produced in a clean way, then it could be a solution."

Another challenge is to give green hydrogen new uses. Although at this stage, it’s a given that its use will gradually replace gray hydrogen, the volume of additional demand is still uncertain. There are currently studies underway to look at hydrogen combustion in turbines and engines. Such a solution could be a widespread scalable development, creating a kind of new fuel to replace the ones currently in use. But hydrogen is also a molecule that stores energy, and as an energy vector, can be used to transport energy and thus be a way of storing solar or wind energy.

What does the global green hydrogen map look like?

Several countries are funding incentives and strategies to develop green hydrogen, always in line with the needs of the energy matrix in each region. Europe is seeing a rush of new projects and plentiful funds to finance these initiatives. On the other hand, in Latin America, Chile is in the process of rolling out a strategic plan at the national level with the goal of installing 5 GW of electrolyzers by 2025 and 25 GW by 2030.

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