Opportunities and obstacles for a broad deployment of sustainable hydrogen
Hydrogen is currently being used in large quantities in the chemical industry, among others, for the production of ammonia and in oil refining. In these industrial sectors, hydrogen is used as an industrial gas. Driven by climate objectives, hydrogen will also be able to play a major and multifaceted role as an energy carrier in the rapidly changing energy system.
Liquid and gaseous energy carriers will continue to be needed as fuels for applications where electricity and batteries are not sufficient. This could include, for example, fuel for aviation and shipping, road traffic with energy-intensive and demanding deployment patterns and production of high-temperature heat in various industrial processes. Furthermore, in the long term, all chemical products and materials currently produced from fossil sources (coal, oil and natural gas) must be replaced by sustainable variants. Finally, liquid and gaseous energy carriers are needed for large-scale storage and transport of energy in order to balance the supply and demand of energy at all times.
In order to not only depend on the scarce source of sustainable biomass for the considerable need for liquid and gaseous energy carriers, it is crucial to be able to use solar and wind energy for this task. This is possible through the production of hydrogen from water via electrolysis (in so-called electrolysers) using renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar. So hydrogen enables the use of solar and wind energy to make the molecule part of the energy system and the raw materials for the chemical industry more sustainable.
As an intermediate solution, to kick-start the hydrogen transition, hydrogen can be produced without greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from natural gas, whereby the CO2 produced is captured and stored. This is referred to as blue hydrogen. This option, basically the decarbonization of natural gas, can also deliver a significant contribution to achieving short-term CO2 emission reduction targets.
Als tussenoplossing is waterstof zonder broeikasgasemissies te maken uit aardgas waarbij de vrijkomende CO2 wordt afgevangen en opgeslagen. Dit wordt blauwe waterstof genoemd. Om voor de aanzienlijke behoefte aan vloeibare en gasvormige energiedragers niet alleen afhankelijk te zijn van de schaarse bron duurzame biomassa is het cruciaal om voor deze opgave ook gebruik te kunnen maken van zon- en windenergie. Dit is mogelijk door de productie van waterstof uit water via elektrolyse (in zogenaamde electrolysers) met behulp duurzame energie afkomstig van zon en wind.
Hydrogen can be used as a fuel for the replacement of natural gas, for example for the production of heat for industry and the built environment. Indirect deployment takes place by using hydrogen together with especially sustainable forms of carbon for the production of synthetic liquid fuels. Furthermore, hydrogen, together with carbon and nitrogen in particular, forms the basis for almost all chemical products and materials.
Hydrogen can potentially also be stored on a large scale in the subsurface. Large-scale storage can contribute to balancing the demand for energy with the variable supply from sun and wind. An additional advantage of hydrogen, or energy carriers based on hydrogen, is that it is relatively easy to transport in large quantities and over large distances via pipelines and tankers. This also makes it possible to import sustainable energy from remote areas with large potentials and more favorable conditions for extracting renewable energy than, for example, in the Netherlands.
With the possibilities for storage, transportability, interchangeability with electricity and the wide application possibilities, hydrogen can be a source of flexibility for the energy system. The controllability of electrolysers for the production of hydrogen provides an important source of flexibility (controllable capacity for positive and negative demand-side response to be able to fit in with variable supply of solar and wind energy), and the stability of the electricity system. All in all, these components offer the prospect of a sustainable energy system that can be largely based on sun, wind and water.