Tailwind for Hydrogen. Hydrogen – a substance with a future
“THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE TO GREEN HYDROGEN”
Professor van Wijk, green hydrogen is regarded as the key to the energy system of the future. What is it that makes this gas so special?
Van Wijk: There are two main reasons why green hydrogen is important. First of all, renewable energies are normally produced in regions where demand is low. Take the example of offshore wind parks. Hydrogen is an excellent and inexpensive storage medium for the transport of electricity to consumers around the world. It can also be imported at low cost. Second, green hydrogen can be used directly, for instance as truck fuel, in industrial processes, and to heat buildings.
Transport, industry, buildings: Green hydrogen is used for decarbonization in many areas. Where do you see its greatest potential?
Van Wijk: There is great potential in all these areas: For example, if processes in the chemical industry are to be decarbonized, there is no alternative to green hydrogen, be it for the produc- tion of fertilizer or plastics. Interesting projects have also been launched in the steel industry. In Austria, for example, hydrogen is used in steel production.
Which role do you think green hydrogen will play in achieving the EU’s climate neutrality target by 2050 and the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement?
Van Wijk: By 2050, green hydrogen must have become an essential part of the energy mix, which I think will consist of 50% electricity, mainly from solar and wind power, and 50% hy- drogen. We must not forget that green hydrogen is produced from clean electricity. The energy system will be electricity-based, but part of the renewable energy will be converted into hydrogen for transport and storage reasons.
A massive increase in the use of green hydrogen is part of the EU’s strategic vision. What needs to be done to reach this goal?
Van Wijk: Currently, hydrogen accounts for 2% of the global energy consumption. The primary sources of energy are fossil fuels, such as natural gas. However, things are beginning to change. Five years ago, nobody would have thought that we would be able to transport renewable energy all over the world, simply because it was so expensive to produce. Today, the cost of solar and wind energy has decreased drastically. On average, the most cost-efficient options are roughly between 1 and 2 cents per kilowatt hour. This is the reason why green energy is becoming more and more relevant.
Now the time has come for the next step: There are regions on this planet, such as the Sahara Desert, that have enormous potential for renewable energy. This resource must be tapped in the coming years. We have to abandon the idea of generating renewable energy solely in our immediate environment.
What will be needed in the upcoming years in terms of political conditions and technological developments?
Van Wijk: As a professor at a university of technology, I can tell you that the necessary tech- nology has already existed for 100 years. However, electrolyzers are currently being used for the production of chlorine from salt dissolved in water. We have to adapt them specifically for hydrogen production. And we have to convert the existing natural-gas infrastructure to an in- frastructure for hydrogen. That’s not something a company can do; it’s a task to be taken on by governments. Now is the time to do it, given the need to stimulate the economy after the Covid-19 pandemic.
What is your personal vision of the energy system of the future? What are your hopes and expectations?
Van Wijk: We still have great challenges ahead of us. I am currently involved in the European Union’s work on hydrogen legislation. If we deal with hydrogen merely in a subparagraph of major energy regulations, there will never be a system change. Apart from the energy targets, we also have to bear in mind the opportunities offered by green hydrogen. For example, step- ping up the production of hydrogen in Northern Africa will create jobs and generate economic growth. This could be a way to reduce emigration from that region. Europe, for its part, has the potential to become the global leader in industrial electrolysis. If we succeed in creating the appropriate political framework for these developments, a sustainable energy future will come within reach.