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INTERVIEW: Hydrogen spot markets a decade away, but costs falling fast: Hydrogen Council


Production costs are coming down dramatically

Hydrogen can catch up with battery technology

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  • Energy Transition Environment and Sustainability Hydrogen: Beyond the Hype

The scale of ambition in nascent hydrogen markets was huge but spot markets for the energy carrier were at least 10 years away, the head of the Hydrogen Council told S&P Global Platts.

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"The learning curve rates we are seeing within the industry are echoing what we saw in wind and solar," Hydrogen Council Executive Director Daryl Wilson said, noting a "very significant acceleration" in the past five years for renewables.

"There is nothing stopping those kind of learning rates and evolution happening again with hydrogen," he said in an interview April 12.

Over $2.5 trillion of investment in hydrogen was planned globally through to 2050, Wilson said. The Hydrogen Council is a global CEO-led initiative of leading companies aiming to develop hydrogen's use in the clean energy transition.

"The sense of urgency today is much higher than it was even in the period that spanned the latest growth of wind and solar, which was more from a business and economics point of view."

Hydrogen trade was already developing globally, with ammonia a prime candidate as a hydrogen carrier, Wilson said. The first vessels would be in transit this year from exporters such as Australia.

"I think that we are going to have a lot of point-to-point and project-based infrastructure development in the coming years. It is difficult to say when that will be intensified to the point where there are open competitive markets. That is going to take more than 10 years," Wilson said.

Carbon content

To get to that stage markets would need a mechanism for assessing the extent to which hydrogen had been decarbonized, Wilson said.

The Hydrogen Council in January published a report detailing projected life cycle CO2 emissions for various hydrogen production pathways and applications.

Hydropower coupled with a proton exchange membrane electrolyzer achieved the lowest life cycle greenhouse gas emissions, at 0.3 kg CO2e/kg of hydrogen in 2030 for a generic plant.

Onshore wind-powered PEM -- a typical green hydrogen pathway -- is projected at 0.6 kg CO2e/kg H2, with pipeline natural gas-fed steam methane reforming with carbon capture and storage -- known as blue hydrogen -- at 1.5 kg CO2e/kg H2.

Greenhouse gas emissions values for global average grid electricity plus PEM are 11.1 kg CO2e/kg H2 and 9.2 kg CO2e/kg H2 for coal gasification with CCS in 2030, but fall by 2050.

The carbon intensity of hydrogen production pathways has come under intense scrutiny in Europe, where the EC is due to set out its emissions taxonomy threshold by April 21.

Emissions from current production pathways are higher, and wind and solar generators are lobbying for a lower threshold of 2.256 mt CO2e/mt H2, while a group including several major utilities is calling for a higher threshold of 3 mt CO2e/mt H2.

Deploying blue hydrogen has an initial cost advantage of 4:1 over green, pathways, Wilson said, but by 2030, production costs for green, blue and grey hydrogen pathways should converge at around Eur2/kg ($2.4/kg).

First movers

France and Germany were leading the way in Europe in terms of hydrogen policies, with China, Japan and South Korea the leaders in Asia, Wilson said.

"What we find in those jurisdictions is a very clear national strategy" involving industry and ministries of energy, transport and environment. "Those strategies contain definitive targets and substantial funding has been allocated" for scaling up production.

The first applications of renewable hydrogen are already emerging, Wilson said, citing the ammonia, steel and heavy transit sectors. Depot-based transport infrastructure such as buses, trains and trucks would be the easiest to implement after an initial investment hurdle.

"What is notable about hydrogen infrastructure, though, is it scales very well," Wilson said. "If we want to move from fueling 100 vehicles to 500 vehicles to 1,000 vehicles, the scaling of the refueling facilities is very similar to what we have seen with liquid fuels or gaseous fuels already."

The Hydrogen Council was not concerned about the head start battery technology had over hydrogen in competing sectors, with hydrogen solutions viewed as having a significant weight advantage in the heavy transport sector.

"We are in the very early days for all these solutions," Wilson said. "The penetration of battery electric vehicles into the transportation space is still very small. There is lots of time for the cost reduction to happen. I do not think we are behind the point of not being able to catch up."

Social license

Another sector association, Hydrogen Europe, said while gas transmission and most distribution pipelines could accommodate pure hydrogen, compressors and flow meters would need to be adjusted or replaced.

Overland transport via pipeline would be easier where infrastructure already existed, Wilson noted, with natural gas pipeline operators comfortable with hydrogen blending rates of up to 20%.

"The development of a social license to have energy infrastructure is increasingly challenging. And when there are existing pipeline corridors, the ability to put either an additional pipe or to change the purpose of pipelines within those corridors is a major head start, where already the social license has been achieved and the pathways are already established."