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Oil & gas sector belief, investment in hydrogen future grows: report

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London — Half of senior oil and gas professionals expect hydrogen to be a significant part of the energy mix by 2030, with a fifth of surveyed oil and gas companies already active in the hydrogen market, according to a report published Thursday by consultancy DNV GL.

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More than half of respondents in Asia-Pacific (56%), the Middle East & North Africa (54%) and Europe (53%) agreed hydrogen would be a significant part of the energy mix within 10 years. North America (40%) and Latin America (37%) were less convinced.

Meanwhile, the proportion of oil and gas companies intending to invest in the hydrogen economy doubled from 20% to 42% in the year leading up to the coronavirus-induced oil price crash, DNV GL said.

Now greater industry and government collaboration is needed to enable market growth, with a near-term focus on proving safety, scaling carbon capture and storage and incentivizing value chains through policy.

"The challenge now is not in the ambition, but in changing the timeline: from hydrogen on the horizon, to hydrogen in our homes, businesses, and transport systems," said DNV GL's Oil & Gas CEO, Liv A Hovem.

The report, Heading for Hydrogen, surveyed over 1,000 oil and gas executives.

"While hydrogen gas produced from renewable energy (green hydrogen) is the industry's ultimate destination, analysis shows that the sector can only realistically scale up to large volumes and infrastructure with carbon-free hydrogen produced from fossil fuels combined with CCS technology (blue hydrogen)," it said.

Blue vs green

As interest in hydrogen increases as a route to decarbonizing heat, industry and transportation, so the debate intensifies over whether green or blue hydrogen pathways should be prioritized.

The discussion falls into predictable camps – with electrolysis manufacturer ITM Power leading a charge for green hydrogen.

"Hydrogen produced from fossil fuels is not 'carbon-free', with or without CCS," ITM Power CEO Graham Cooley told S&P Global Platts.

"Natural gas reformation combined with CCS is characterised by residual GHG emissions due to methane leaks upstream of the reformers and the inefficiencies of CO2 capture facilities downstream. Blue hydrogen therefore has a carbon footprint and so it is not compatible with achieving the Net Zero target," he said.

The blue hydrogen pathway served to increase total natural gas consumption, with additional energy required for reformation and CO2 sequestration processes.

"This may be commercially attractive to the oil and gas sector, but governments should not allow CCS to be employed simply as a cloak for enabling natural gas providers to disguise their product as hydrogen," he said.

Life-cycle emissions

DNV GL's Jørg Aarnes, global lead, low carbon solutions, agreed blue hydrogen was not net zero carbon, "but neither is green hydrogen."

The H21 North of England project report provided a life cycle analysis of hydrogen production from natural gas with and without CCS, he said.

This indicated hydrogen production from natural gas with CCS would have a carbon footprint in the range of 0.8-2.5 kg CO2 per kg of H2 produced, depending on the life cycle carbon footprint of the natural gas supplied.

This compared to a typical footprint of conventional hydrogen (made from natural gas without CCS) of about 10 kg CO2 per kg H2 produced.

"Hydrogen production by electrolysis does not have direct carbon emissions from production," Aarnes said.

"However, from a life-cycle perspective you need to count the emissions associated with the electricity consumed. The life-cycle emissions of wind power is in the range 8-20 g CO2/MWh whereas the life cycle carbon footprint of solar power is in the range 35-75 g CO2/kWh. Taking the efficiency of electrolysis into account, this implies that you need to multiply these numbers by ~3/2. So the carbon footprint of completely green hydrogen using power from solar or wind may be in the range 0.3-3 kg CO2 per kg H2 produced, so comparable with blue hydrogen," he said.

Hydrogen production by electrolysis will not always use 100% renewables, he added.

Hydrogen produced via electrolysis using the UK electricity mix, or the average European electricity mix, would produce a life cycle carbon footprint higher than conventional hydrogen produced from gas without CCS, Aarnes said.

System costs

The least cost option to society was a mix of blue and green hydrogen, Aarnes said.

"There is reasonable consensus, even in the oil and gas industry, that what we aim for as a long-term solution is green hydrogen production," he said. "Getting there has, however, several challenges that are hard to address in the short term."

Hydrogen production from gas already occurred at scale today and could be expanded with available gas infrastructure. Of course blue hydrogen production required deployment of CCS, so this infrastructure needed to be built, he said.

"But large-scale green hydrogen production requires both expansion of renewable generation capacity and significant upgrades and build-out of transmission capacity. These system costs are often not (fully) reflected in estimates of green hydrogen cost," he said.

While it had been projected that green hydrogen might compete with conventional hydrogen at a pure cost of production level in the 2030s, system costs imply significant investments need to be made in electricity infrastructure to enable green hydrogen production at the required scale. This would push back the timing of cost-parity, he said.