Thursday, March 2, 2023
The scientific community urges governments, civil societies and companies to combine their efforts to drastically reverse CO2 emissions this decade, and thus prevent global warming from exceeding 2° Celsius at the turn of the century. In this transition towards sustainability, hydrogen is beginning to take its place in the order of priorities to turn back the clock on climate change.
Not only because it’s the most abundant element in the universe, but also because it’s clean, versatile and, above all, energy efficient. Even so, it’s so far followed an irregular trajectory, full of barriers, which has hindered its adoption as a strategic renewable source. This trend, however, is beginning to reverse. The emergence of technology with high decarbonization standards has fostered the concept that hydrogen is commercially viable and its contribution to the climate cause is indispensable to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
Up to $1 trillion in investments has already been released to advance its various industrial variants. Green hydrogen, which is achieved through the generation of clean energy, electrolysis and renewable gases; gray hydrogen, and its use through fossil fuel combustion; blue hydrogen, which captures CO2, but is generated with fossil materials; and pink hydrogen, which uses nuclear energy.
Estimates by the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) anticipate that hydrogen could reach 12% of the global energy mix by 2050 and predict that it’ll be the source with which future energy-producing nations and the sector's major players will champion their sustainable reconversions. They also point out that clean hydrogen has become an alternative adopted—under regulatory and financial impulses—by more and more countries and companies, immersed in a technological race in which its green side "has emerged as one of the antidotes with which to decarbonize the most polluting productive segments of their economies."
It’s not the only solution. But an energy mix with more than 70% renewable sources couldn’t be designed without the contribution of hydrogen, according to experts. So it’s not by chance, then, that Germany, with one of the highest fossil fuel dependency ratios in Europe, has just joined the H2Med European hydrogen corridor together with Spain, France and Portugal, which aims to be operational by 2030.
Timing is crucial. Essentially, because 2022 has been the real Year 1 of Energy Neutrality. For the first time in history, investments in renewables matched those absorbed by oil, gas and coal; in both cases, capital flows of $1.1 trillion. But also because, in times of seismic upheavals in the world order, a competitive push is being waged in which the U.S. is in the midst of an upheaval. The U.S. has committed no less than $450 billion to boost its green energy leadership.
This maneuver, with which the White House is trying to reshape its industrial policy, has stimulated the financial ambition of the European Green Deal Industrial plan, which doesn't want to lose the pace of American innovation and technology, within an energy challenge where hydrogen is destined to drive "new generation vehicles and their mobility and electrification services,” warns the McKinsey consulting firm. In addition to powering heating networks, given that it’s already "the third element, after solar and wind, in corporate sustainability itineraries," and with clear signs of ceasing to be the third wheel.
The firm's estimates forecast that the hydrogen economy could create $140 billion in annual revenue, generate 700,000 jobs by 2030, or account for 14% of U.S. energy demand. The investment bank Lazard warns that, by the end of the decade, it’ll rival this competitive advantage that distinguishes its gray variant, with a production cost of just one dollar per kilogram, by 2050, in addition to providing substantial cost savings.
In this context, the long list of countries that have announced hydrogen strategies isn't surprising. Europe proposes in its EU REPowerEU plan to reach production of 10 million tons from renewable sources and a similar amount from imports for its domestic market by 2030 and that Nord Stream 2, the gas pipeline linking Russia and Europe that was never inaugurated because of the war in Ukraine, should supply hydrogen to the heart of Europe, Canada—which supplies 27% of its primary energy needs—and Japan, which should overtake natural gas in its energy mix.
Meanwhile, Germany is already replacing its gray and blue production with green; South Korea intends to export vast quantities to Europe starting in 2025; China will change its current leadership, based on its coal-based extraction, and become a leader in Asian markets this decade, in tough competition with Australia and its hydrogen business hub; and Chile will gain status as the cheapest producer in 2030.
In the Arabian Peninsula, with huge reservoirs of black gold and gas, renewable energy fever has invaded their national energy agendas, loaded with targets for 2030. The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Qatar have flooded their territories with renewable infrastructures and, very specifically, with hydrogen projects, given the prospect of falling costs and the dispute over liquefied natural gas as a replacement source for hydrocarbons.
The Persian Gulf has spurred Spain to action, which seems to have placed political authorities, companies and employers on the same wavelength around Next Generation EU sustainability resources and digitization—with mass deliveries until 2030—and whose energy transition and its European allocations have been praised by the Spanish Hydrogen Association (AeH2).
Within this framework, Andalusia is the real backbone. As a geostrategic link between Europe and Africa and between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The first hydrogen corridor, linking the ports of Algeciras and Rotterdam, starts from the Andalusian space, which plans to transport it in 2027 with Cepsa's seal, and which will promote green hydrogen projects in this decade in this region with a value of 5 billion euros. The objective is to build the largest hub (the Andalusian Green Hydrogen Valley) of this energy source in the EU, with a production capacity of 300,000 tons per year which, in addition to contributing to the decarbonization of the industry, will also serve to produce biofuels for heavy land, air and maritime transport.