The fact that research teams have effectively divided natural saltwater to make sustainable hydrogen has garnered attention on a global scale. Also, the seawater was not pre-treated in any way.
It may sound complicated, but using the most plentiful resource on earth, saltwater, to transport and store massive amounts of renewable energy, is essential for realizing one of the cornerstones of the climate transition.
While hydrogen ambitions are currently at a highly uncertain level, the breakthrough is also being widely explored during International Energy Week 2023 in London, which is coordinated by the Energy Institute.
A substantial majority of the Danish Parliament has voted to create two energy islands in the North Sea and close to Bornholm, where significant amounts of electricity from offshore wind turbines would be utilized to make hydrogen through electrolysis starting in the 2030s.
“Only fresh water that has been cleaned and treated can be used with modern electrolyzers. Because freshwater resources are becoming increasingly scarce and hydrogen is destined to play a significant role in the phase-out of fossil fuels, it is imperative to be able to use seawater “The University of Adelaide’s Professor Yao Zheng describes the research breakthrough in the journal Nature Energy.
“With current conventional electrolyzers, it is always necessary to purify water to a high level of purity, including desalinating seawater,” he continues.
Until commercially feasible facilities for the production of hydrogen are created on the scale mentioned in connection with the climate transition, a very long way still needs to be traveled from Adelaide’s research labs.
Also, it must be specified how to bring hydrogen produced on energy islands to shore, store it, and put it to use.
The framework for the generation of renewable hydrogen has recently been proposed by the European Commission, which will help, among other things, to lower the risk involved in long-term investment decisions.
The proposed regulations will also aid in meeting the EU’s goal of producing 10 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen annually by 2030. It is necessary to import a comparable amount from another nation.
The 10 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen are expected to require around 500 terawatt hours of power to create, which is 14% of the EU’s total electricity usage.
Renewable energy puzzle
According to the EU’s plan, renewable hydrogen must be created using either extra power generated by existing capacity or new renewable energy. Also, the facilities that will produce the new renewable energy starting in 2028 will be nearby those that produce the renewable hydrogen.
The hydrogen industry does not have to compete with other industries for the same renewable energy, let alone create a situation where the need for electricity becomes so great that it has to be met from natural gas and coal-fired power plants, which is why it is necessary to use electricity from new wind farms or solar installations.
The European Commission advises that the hydrogen industry use the current power generation capacity until 2028 as this will allow for the construction of large-scale hydrogen production plants. The hydrogen sector will thereafter need to source its energy needs from brand-new renewable projects starting in 2028.
Hydrogen to be defined
Another aspect of the proposal is that hydrogen will be designated as a renewable fuel source, or so-called “green hydrogen,” provided that the production facility is linked to a grid where renewable energy sources account for 90% of the electricity or where the grid’s CO2 intensity is low, as in France or Sweden, countries that use significant amounts of nuclear power.
The European Parliament and Council of Ministers will get the hydrogen proposal, which they will consider in the ensuing months.
According to Martin Lambert, head of hydrogen research at The Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, “meeting the ambitious targets set out in different hydrogen strategies will require many actors across the energy industry – the private sector, regulators, and consumer groups – to work together to drive the necessary policies and behavior.
“Understanding that there is a large energy loss in the manufacturing of hydrogen is at least as crucial, and many nations where hydrogen is being discussed don’t seem to be aware of the additional infrastructure needs. Who should put up the required transportation and storage facilities? When will the cost of hydrogen drop to a level where it is competitive?”
He also brings out the difficulty and expense of long-distance hydrogen transportation. Liquefied natural gas is substantially less expensive and easier to transport when compared to other fuels when it comes to energy content.
One kilogram of hydrogen can be produced by electrolysis using around 50 kWh of electricity and a little over 10 liters of clean, pure water. With current technology, using seawater results in higher energy usage because desalination and subsequent water purification are required first.
One of the numerous problems with hydrogen is that, while 1 liter of diesel holds 10.7 kWh of energy, 1 liter of hydrogen that is not under pressure has just 0.003 kWh. One kilogram of hydrogen carries 33.6 kWh of energy compared to 12 kWh in one kilogram of diesel. The energy content increases to 1.4 kWh per liter at 700 bar of pressure.
As a result, hydrogen is more expensive and complex than traditional motor fuels. Another consideration is price.
If sustainable hydrogen is ever available in bigger quantities, it costs about € 11.42 per kilogram, compared to € 2.02 for hydrogen made in the USA from natural gas.
“Everyone is searching for hydrogen’s economic potential. Although everyone can see the promise, there are now significant investment risks due to the lack of viable business models for hydrogen and the lack of a sector that is eager to move to hydrogen “According to Mike Hemsley, deputy director of the research tank Energy Transitions Commission.
“Is the birth attendant supposed to be the road transport system? or possibly the maritime, aviation, or steel sector? Without knowing the cost of operating the fuel cell or the price of hydrogen, no hauler will invest in a fuel cell truck. In the same way, that battery power is a more well-known alternative, and biofuels or synthetic fuels may also be more desirable, “He continues.
Under the Inflation Reductions Act, the US will offer major governmental assistance for renewable hydrogen in the upcoming years, and stakeholders in Europe’s nascent hydrogen industry are also looking for financial advantages.
“In order for electricity to be economically viable with respect to hydrogen, the price must fall to 10 euros per MWh. This is undoubtedly feasible, but not during Europe’s current energy crisis. Moreover, research into new energy technology needs to be intensified; however, without government involvement “affirms Hemsley.
Like others, he is concerned that the only source of hydrogen generation beyond 2028 may be brand-new renewable energy.
Because the power loss in hydrogen production can reach 70%, if the hydrogen industry can purchase energy in the next five years in competition with everyone else on the market, including private users, prices may rise. As a result, the hydrogen sector must purchase approximately twice as much electricity as the final hydrogen product will have in terms of energy content.
“Because there won’t be enough renewable energy available to power the hydrogen industry until 2028, more electricity will need to be produced at coal and natural gas-fired power plants, which will result in more CO2 emissions. Unlike the climate goals of the EU, “the Oxford Centre for Energy Studies’ Martin Lambert notes.