More time needed for green hydrogen to replace fossil fuels in power plants

According to the International Energy Agency, 40% of all energy-related emissions worldwide last year came from power plants. The majority of the rise in worldwide emissions from the power and heat industry between 2019 and 2018 came from China.

The market is already capable of upgrading machinery to allow power plants to economically function on 30% hydrogen and 70% natural gas.

Before power companies, their lenders, and insurers feel comfortable financing mass adoption, it may take another five years for pilot plants to demonstrate it is safe and effective to run, the expert warned.

International pilot plants that use renewable energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen are now producing so-called green hydrogen.

Major equipment manufacturers have been making gas turbines that can burn some hydrogen with natural gas for years.

For instance, the American industrial giant GE claimed to have developed more than 100 of these gas turbines, which are currently in use all over the world.

The large turbine makers have suddenly recognized a significant market to switch out [natural gas] for hydrogen, and are undergoing a fast-track technology development program to… transition to hydrogen use.

The first retrofitting project for a US gas-to-hydrogen power plant was declared a success by GE in April. It is based in Ohio and initially includes 15–20% hydrogen in the fuel mix, with the potential to go to 100%.

One power plant in Lombardy, Italy, which can run with up to 30% hydrogen when finished in 2025, is one of several power plants currently under construction that will be partially or entirely hydrogen-fired. Siemens of Germany is providing the equipment for these power plants.

At a client’s upgraded power plant in Georgia, the US, Mitsubishi of Japan successfully tested a 20% hydrogen, 80% natural gas fuel combination in June. According to Mitsubishi, this can cut carbon emissions by 7% compared to natural gas.

Hydrogen is seldom ever used in power plants in China. Multiple pilot plants are being created as the first step toward their application.

To create a decarbonization roadmap for deploying hydrogen at its gas-fired power generation facilities, Hong Kong’s energy provider CLP Power is collaborating with GE.

The Singaporean government unveiled a plan last month that could have hydrogen supply up to half of the country’s anticipated electricity needs by 2050.

According to S&P Global’s Asia hydrogen analyst Ankit Sachan, natural gas powers about 87% of Singapore’s power generation capacity.

Engineers must, however, deal with the difference between the combustion properties of hydrogen and natural gas in order for the changeover to take place.

To ensure safe operations, it means they must assess the burners’ design and the materials used to construct them.

Another issue is the impact on the environment

A research paper published by the UK’s Royal Society of Chemistry last year stated that the benefit, which is frequently asserted, that only water is discharged as a product, is only true when it is employed in fuel cells. “The combustion of hydrogen can produce nitrogen oxides.”

Air pollutants called nitrogen oxides to have a role in the production of ozone, fine particulate matter, and acid rain. Controlling the combustion conditions in boilers and engines can help minimize them, but doing so may reduce power generation, according to the report. Post-combustion removal is technically feasible, but costs and design complexity must be taken into account, it noted.

Another obstacle is the requirement for facilities for mass-producing hydrogen as well as for transportation and storage in order to ensure a sufficient, dependable, and economical supply of fuel. The transition from natural gas to hydrogen is challenging because of all these issues, they raise supply chain risks.