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PE Live: Approaches to hydrogen may diverge

The green hydrogen approach increasingly favoured by the EU and some western US states may not be suitable for other regions

The production and uses of hydrogen are likely to take many forms around the world depending on local circumstances including climate regulation and energy storage needs, according to an industry expert on the PE Live 7 webcast last week.

Michael Ducker, vice president, renewable fuels & western region, at manufacturer Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems, says that while most of the industry’s focus is on green hydrogen, which is created using renewable power, this may not be suitable for all countries and regions. 

“The simple answer is it is very regional,” says Ducker. “What works in Australia is going to be different to what works in parts of Europe, and will be different to the US. Even within the US, what works in the west may be different than what works on the Gulf Coast.”

He says green hydrogen is particularly suited to the west of the US, from both a regulatory standpoint and because of the region’s growing use of renewables. Conversely, the US Gulf Coast, as well as other countries “may take a different tactic”, he says. “And that could be in the form of blue hydrogen.” 

“Carbon capture and storage (CCS) has not been the predominant form of meeting climate goals—that has really been renewables,” says Ducker. “The question going forward for CCS… is will it come to fruition in certain regions and countries versus a pure renewables approach? At this point, that is something that remains to be determined.”

"On the regulatory front, the key question is whether there is a regulatory and policy framework to promote zero-carbon targets" Ducker, MHPS

He notes that hydrogen can be created from many different methods, even by using nuclear power, a form referred to as yellow hydrogen. 

“It represents another opportunity to create a carbon-free resource. At the end of the day, I think approaches are going to be regional as there is not necessarily one silver bullet for the way to produce hydrogen. It is going to depend on each region's tactics to achieve their decarbonisation goals.” 

Building blocks

Ducker says that four key attributes determine whether green hydrogen is likely to be the best approach for power generation: regulation; storage needs; the costs of production and storage; and the technology to convert hydrogen back to electricity.

“On the regulatory front, the key question is whether there is a regulatory and policy framework to promote zero-carbon targets,” he says. “Particularly in the western US, we have seen very aggressive decarbonisation targets really trying to achieve deep cuts in carbon emissions. And these are legislatively required anywhere between 2030 and 2050.” 

The need for energy storage is determined by the reliance on renewable power as solar and wind generation is intermittent and unlikely to match to demand.

“As we installed more and more renewables on the grid, the technical challenge we ran into was the issue of curtailment,” says Ducker. “We have to shut down effectively free energy, importantly carbon-free energy, that otherwise could have been produced. We are already seeing this today in California, where we are curtailing hundreds of thousands of megawatt hours worth of renewable energy just because of the mismatch between supply and demand.”

He notes that curtailment occurs in the state even though it relies on renewables for only 30pc of its energy needs, meaning that moving towards 100pc would obviously exacerbate the problem. He says using green hydrogen for storing this energy—especially for long durations, even across seasons—is already becoming economic. 

He also says that the technology for turning hydrogen back into electricity is proven and falling in cost. “Gas turbines have also been operating with hydrogen for decades. We see an opportunity for gas turbines to be a cost-effective and scalable solution to convert hydrogen back to electricity,” says Ducker.

Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems was recently selected by US power generating cooperative Intermountain Power Agency to construct a new natural gas combined cycle unit that is hydrogen capable. “By 2025, we will be operating on a blend of 30pc hydrogen and 70pc natural gas,” he says. “And by 2045 we will get to 100pc green hydrogen.”

A recording of  PE Live 7: Is the world now ready for hydrogen? can be heard here.

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