Green hydrogen, derived from renewable sources via electrolysis, is a clean, versatile fuel with potential to decarbonise sectors like transportation and industry. Despite challenges, its capacity to mitigate climate change makes it a pivotal player in future sustainable energy systems.
You know, hydrogen's 30 years away and always will be, but don't necessarily agree with that. I think it's just people seem to think it's awesome to have a future where naturally we have all the technologies now everything is in place for it to happen now. It's getting big projects out there on the ground and the people can see it using it.
All of a supply chain, get the right tools, get trained up to use Hydrogen safely. And yeah, I think that's sort of for us to talk about pilot projects or innovation or innovation funding. It's more just trying to get some sort of big project, something.
Hello and welcome to Rethink What Matters, the podcast dedicated to aligning the economy with the ecology and everyone for improved business performance, stronger families and a greener, cooler planet. And today I'm joined by Lewis Farrarof Ricardo Energy and Environment. And we're going to be discussing green hydrogen.
Hi, thanks for having me on the program.
You know, it's the green green hydrogen. It's often seen as an expensive, perhaps hard to store, maybe in transport. And people are unsure whether or not it's going to be the next big thing or is it just going to be a passing phase? Obviously, we're going to start off a little bit with Riccardo Energy.
Sure. Of course. Riccardo is a is an engineering consultancy firm and we work on behalf of both public and private sector clients. And this is also a vision to help decarbonize by providing guidance to these clients as to how best they can go on their decarbonization journey. This might be by providing net zero strategies or supportive policy, or working with particular industry, setting out a roadmap for decarbonizing how much cost and how much time frames has to happen and different options that are available.
Okay. Right. So what is green hydrogen?
Sure. Hydrogen is an alternative fuel. Some people say it's a silver bullet to climate change. Some people think it's less favorable for essentially a clean fuel that can be used in either industry or in transport or in energy storage as a means to decarbonization. And the green hydrogen is produced by what's known as electrolysis, which is splitting of water into elements of hydrogen and oxygen, using green electricity, which can be from wind or solar or other green electricity methods.
And it is fuel can be used to be combusted in fuel cell in other applications.
Okay. So it seems like the only thing we need for this then is wind, water and sun.
Yeah. You'd you'd think so. Yeah. I think one of the drawbacks also has been the costs, the supply chain. So a catch 22 scenario where supply and demand need to meet each other. And it's also got a lot of positive attributes in terms of being able to use for a variety of different uses of transport for industry, for energy storage, a lot of different use cases for it.
But if all, if all we need is wind, water and sun and there are no downsides as no pollution, it is now it's just water.
That's correct. Yeah, it's just water to produce.
So what's the problem? This sounds like too good to be true.
Well, it's expensive. So if you have a wind farm and then you have electricity, that and goes to Electrolyzer, which splits the water into hydrogen and oxygen, and then you have to store the hydrogen somewhere, it's quite difficult to store a smaller atom than all the typical fuels. And then you've got to transport it wherever it's produced, whether it's used in systems of the array of challenges for us to overcome and bring the costs down and bring it more competitive with the fuels that were most useful.
We could have a future that is powered by green hydrogen. It seems like the perfect answer to all of our problems.
Yeah, on paper, definitely. But yeah, we address the challenges of what people refer to as the hydrogen economy, where, you know, transport, we fill up our cars and hydrogen or our homes with hydrogen, for example. It's got a lot of use cases. And yeah, I think over the coming years. And so innovation and projects are coming along should be competitive for other fuels.
But also remember, we have other decarbonization solutions such as electric vehicles. So you have the play offs between electric vehicles and hydrogen, or you have heat pumps versus hydrogen boilers, or you have these different sort of competition between different resources.
Okay. Okay. So is green hydrogen a good way to store energy then? Because I think storage is another one of the answers we're all looking for, isn't it? You know, when when the wind isn't blowing in, the sun's not out. We want to be storing energy for those time. So with green hydrogen be a solution for that?
Yeah, of course. So hydrogen can be used. So you got wind. Wind and off the wind where the wind blows doesn't line up with when the without just is most in demand. And the same solar power for example one way of energy storage is to use the electricity when it's produced. So a wind farm, for example, and then uses electricity to make hydrogen and store it for a long period of time.
You can store from the ground or you can store it in big containers. And then when the hydrogen is needed and you can use it. And so if you use long term energy storage to match electricity or the fuel consumption or energy demand when it's required. So that's one of the big advantages. But then also this is in competition with electric battery storage and hydro storage, for example.
So thinking if future use needs a mixture of different solutions to our storage needs, I think a moment hydrogen mainly uses cases of transport so people sort of realize hydrogen will be used for heavy goods, vehicles, busses, shipping maybe in aviation as well. So the thing that comes to mind is the obvious solution also an industry. So for high temperature processors, whether it's glass, whether it's distilleries for example, or use of high temperature processors which need these temperatures, which you can't reach with other decarbonization options.
Right. Okay. And I remember reading somewhere that, you know, we can't the 20th century won't be able to survive without cement, plastics, ammonia for fertilizers, for steel production. So with green hydrogen help in those forecasts.
Yes, of course. So I think the the some analysts forecast suggests the hydrogen is best used. And these are chemical feedstocks. You mentioned ammonia, for example. So I think most hydrogen today is produced gray hydrogen, which is very produced from natural gas, fossil fuels through a reaction. And you get your hydrogen. I mean, this is used as a feedstock in refineries, the ammonia production that there are sort of chemical processes.
So if we sort this out for hydrogen, which is green, and then that's going to go a long way to decarbonize these industries. So, you know.
Can you just explain the difference between the different types of hydrogen because there's green, blue and green, I think.
Yeah, of course. So the main three are gray, as I mentioned, blue and green. So green hydrogen is preferred to hydrogen that is produced using fossil fuels. And as I said it a reaction produce with the methane then produced, which is hydrogen. And this is obviously not a decarbonization option. This is definitely the route which is most used used today.
I think over 90% perhaps of of hydrogen produced today is gray hydrogen than blue hydrogen is decarbonized method, but also uses fossil fuels. So it's where you take natural gas and you a reaction of steam methane reforming or different reactions such as ultra thermal reforming or partial gas observation. And this produces a mixture of carbon dioxide and hydrogen.
And then two, then you add on carbon capture element the process and this captures the carbon dioxide. And then you can take that. You can use it for other use cases as long as it's stored permanently or can be stored permanently on the ground. And therefore it can point as carbon neutral. And then green hydrogen is one which I mentioned before from from a new world just to air.
And you can also have hydrogen produced various different colors produced by nuclear power, for example, or bioenergy is different, which bio hydrogen or biogenic hydrogen, a mixture of different pathways to produce produce hydrogen.
Right. But green hydrogen, hydrogen produced by electrolysis. That's what everybody is thinking of is the future of that, right?
Yeah, I think everyone thinks or a mixture between both green and blue. I think in the UK they go for ten gigawatts of hydrogen. By 2030, at least half of this will be green hydrogen. So, so a mixture between both by which of blue hydrogen we use as our existing knowledge with oil and gas expertise and would use large volumes of blue hydrogen using fossil fuels.
So I think it'll be a mixture of a mixture of both.
And they're looking at trying to make the electrolysis process more efficient and so less expensive. Is that possible?
Yeah, of course. I think typical electrolysis is about 50 to 70% efficient, of course, through the whole hydrogen production process for looking at green hydrogen every step of the way that's going to be on losses. So you've got to go through that process and you lose some energy. And then when you go to the storage and transportation and then when you use it in the final phase, whether that's in a fuel cell or in employment, for example, that it's going to lose more useful energy.
So every step about the terminal round trip efficiency, which is sort of the overall efficiency from from a wealth take from from a production all the way through to its use case. And on the other side, this is one of the sort of downsides of hydrogen is by the end of the process, your efficiency is quite, quite low and therefore so one of the challenges is to improve so that reduced energy losses at each of these steps and so yeah, this is what the innovation aspects of it is now.
So there's real competition, I think, between these renewable energies and different ways of storing this energy as well.
So I know that, you know, Musk thinks that it's a very expensive way, I think, of producing electricity that compared to batteries. So what is the competition like between green hydrogen and batteries? How is that looking?
I think most progress to date, it's definitely been on the batteries electrification front with electric vehicles and battery energy storage, something that you hear a lot about in the media, as you mentioned, Elon Musk, Tesla, a lot of these companies. But I think there's a role for both, particularly for heavy goods. People transport this high high loads transport options.
We've got a few good vehicles are traveling in cross countries or a lot of busses or refuse collection vehicles, for example. We've got these high loads of the use case for hydrogen. Could be non road mobile machinery. So on construction sites for example, we've got very picky loads and demand which can always be met by, by electrification. So yes, these are also the use cases for hydrogen will fit in.
I think definitely in the short term we'll see a lot more of electrification comes with batteries for passenger transport, but might be a little bit of hydrogen. I think mostly it'll be on the realms of of electrification. Yes, I think yeah.
I guess is the application to a certain extent which also defines which which which energy's most most suitable.
Yeah. Also the batteries for heavy. Yeah. Take a long time to charge. It's also some concerns about the materials that are used from, from the mine. They're a finite resource and from some countries where they're exploiting resources I guess would be improvements to the battery technology as well, recycling the components to make it more of a circular economy and of course hydrogen's going to improve over time.
In terms of the costs in the supply chain, the skills, you know, can will project from the ground. But I think off but as I said, it's in competition. I think if it's just competition and competition between post electrification, but also between hydrogen and heat pumps, for example, in terms of heating applications or versus bioenergy. So there's not just one solution for our challenges, but a mixture.
And I think the key message really is the hydrogen is one of these solutions, but it's sort of one of our weapons or tools that we can use rather than a solution for all our needs. I think of exaggeration. Some people might say that, but I think it's more a balanced approach.
So can green hydrogen be produced in like small quantities locally? Was it was something which has to be done on a large scale.
So yeah, it can be done small scale. See more of a in my my own industrial site in a rural area and you've got some access to a wind farm or wind turbine or some rooftop solar PV which has high experience, high levels of curtailment and you could use that to produce small amounts of hydrogen and then use it when you need to.
But on the whole, I think it's going to be sort of this large scale multi megawatt gigawatt project which produces hydrogen in large quantities, and then the offtake it to various users might be in the pipeline and might be true for Jupiters. This is the way in which transportation by road or might be injected into the natural gas grid or dedicated pipelines sort.
So the different ways in which it can be of taking to use this I think sort of centralized hub approach where you have lots of such a beautiful place and then taking off to various uses is sort of the future answer.
So combining it with natural gas is another way for whatever the yes.
Some proponents for blending, blending hydrogen natural gas grid and the UK government's going to make a decision on that later this year, early start. So the up to 20% volume in natural gas grid to achieve all without any sort of major changes. And that's sort of the same with most current boiler technologies that can to 20% by volume hydrogen.
And so projecting into the gas grid is one way to stimulate the production of hydrogen. So create a market for for producing hydrogen and then selling it to the natural gas grid. But one thing to note that 20% by volume is only six or 7% by decarbonization, just owing to the fact that oceans got a lot lower volumetric energy density than natural gas.
So 20%, you might think 12% by volume is by decarbonization, but it's actually only 7%. That's one thing to bear in mind there.
So that means you've got to put, you know, three times as much. You've got to put three times more down the pipe as well.
Yes, correct. And you have lots of the pipework for the sun. In some places. They're all about talking about repurposing the gas through to higher volumes of hydrogen. But I think sort of in the short term or the next decade, I think up to 20% will be the will be the threshold is other countries were quite higher but in the UK.
So yeah, a sense of events stimulate that sort of sort of demand for hydrogen and more production budget.
Does it help us with the agriculture then green hydrogen in helping to be more regenerative in the way that we farm?
Well, so as you mentioned earlier, mentioned about ammonia systems might not know if ammonia is the main source of ingredients or fertilizers. And if you can swap out the. So I'm more spooked by the process if nitrogen and hydrogen combine to make ammonia and it's three. And obviously one of the biggest things there is hydrogen. A lot of the fossil fuels derived hydrogen swapped out for green hydrogen, which has got zero or an extra zero carbon emissions then, yeah, I mean you have to make fertilizer and nuts that to be a useful use case for hydrogen.
Well I and so we've got we've really you know it's really seems to have an answer to all of our problems whether that's in industry, transportation, energy. And so the downsides are what we've mentioned, that it's cost, it's the difficulty of storage, it's the difficulty of transportation, it's the fact that it doesn't contain a lot of energy, does it?
I think, you know, I think if it is wind, water and sun, you know, to power ourselves, we'll probably find a way around that.
Yeah, I think the challenges are achievable. I think one thing to mention about the safety aspects, I guess hydrogen has different properties than natural gas in terms of safety assets. It's got a sort of more propensity for safety. But I think UK, it's got a strong track record and usually hydrogen safely across various industries, whether the chemical industry for feedstocks for example, and the guidelines out there for any and the industry wants to use hydrogen to talk about it safely.
So I think it's got the sort of hype of some risk associated. I think things can definitely be managed carefully and there's definitely guidelines out there for for that. I think that is the major challenge, really.
What's your biggest frustration? Would you say that you know, working in the industry for as long as you have there?
Yes, I think probably we've seen a lot of innovation aspects of sort of small pilot scale projects, a lot of talk about hydrogen, of road maps. And this I think it's about time. It's not like it's a big project, but there are some big ones to showcase. Hydrogen can be useful, useful in different spaces I mentioned rather than just always it seems to be people say hydrogen 30 years away and always will be.
But I don't necessarily agree with that. I think it's just people seem to think it's all something in the future when actually we have all the technologies now everything is in place for it to happen. Now, just let's get some big projects out there on the ground and the people can see it and get experience using it to up a supply chain, get the right people, get trained up to use hydrogen safely.
And yeah, I think it's a bit frustrating if you're talking about pilot projects or innovation or innovation funding. It's more just trying to get some some big projects out there.
Are there any projects out there we can talk about or look at or any case studies?
Yes, I think a lot of the the new Scotwind leasing round, the hub for wind, offshore wind in Scotland, all of the developers are considering green hydrogen as a production route. So blue hydrogen projects in development in England and that and also in Scotland, ACORN and projects coming along. One use case I've been looking at recently is the case for distilleries sort of a thing called the Green Distilleries Innovation Fund and some distilleries which are now going down the route of hydrogen to meet their process needs, whether that's onsite production of hydrogen or third party supplier.
So the sort of approach where oceans produce centrally and take the role of takers, which distilleries, and then you start way so some of our projects come along for these escapes.
That it sounds like you might need to go to sort of gray or blue hydrogen first before green. Then it needs to be a process because the green hydrogen is going to be too difficult to explain.
Yes, definitely. The developers are struggling to get a secure and reliable supply of functional moments. So in the short term, I think definitely blue hydrogen has a role to play, a bridging solution or have more of more green hydrogen out there. But yeah, I think any movement in the right direction is a good solution.
Once somebody is up and running with blue hydrogen, for example, is it just a natural next step to go to green hydrogen? It's just a question of expense.
Yeah, it's just just so even though they've got different colors, it might sound like the actual component of the hydrogen is different, but it's identical. Just the way in which it's produced are different. So anyone who's using Blue Origin of green hydrogen or whatever, they can use it on what it collects the other with no, no difference. Knowing the way in which the fuel interacts.
With a gas that they blended as well, wouldn't they presumably could say that. Yeah.
You can blend it with if you've got a boiler for example on a blend of, of a certain percentage of hydrogen with natural gas or bio gas. And then as your technology matures or availability of the fuel increases and you can sort of switch in favor of people for the low carbon fuels, which I think, yeah, it's a way to transition from one to the other, not just stop one and then start something else.
You can you can transition over a period of time.
But what they blend, for example, green and blue hydrogen.
Yeah. If it has no, no reason why you couldn't, I think most cases why concentrate on one rather than the other. I think be my opinion. But yeah, there's no reason why I can blend the two identical different way, which they're what they are produced.
Is a Senate that has 20% green energy. And that.
Yellow, yellow and blue is even though it's called blue, it is still green in the sense that it's still a zero carbon option. So I suppose assuming that there's no methane leakages upstream, that's one thing. So good hydrogen is upstream When you get the natural gas in the first place, the feedstock, whether there's any methane or not, that was be.
But assuming there's no methane leakages and you get the near 100% carbon capture rate than the carbon option. So yeah, in terms of policy, most people, most countries of the same likes of not favoring one over the other.
Right. And maybe the government will come in and provide some subsidies to, you know, to encourage use of hydrogen, green hydrogen.
Yeah, perhaps that's what they think it would be written to just be policies in a way to incentivize people to use it. They're definitely not sort of encouragement, although a long way of incentivizing industry to go into sort of Yeah, track record of momentum.
Is there a surplus of green hydrogen anywhere where it could be perhaps exported to other countries?
Well, I think certain countries which have a strong sort of appetite for producing hydrogen, they've got a lot of offshore wind resource, for example, or of solar resource. They can perhaps use access, which they don't use in terms of it, but occasional hydrogen that export to other countries where there are more demand. So one case could be, for example, Scotland has a lot of offshore wind, a very constrained network.
And if you access hydrogen and they could sell it back to Germany, what is the appetite for using hydrogen? I think was definitely maybe it's a lot of cases across the world, but not on ourselves. But definitely Scotland and Germany is one that you mentioned.
Is there liquid hydrogen?
There is liquid hydrogen. That's the one different ways in which you can store, which you can transport hydrogen either and I guess it's form or in a liquid form. Yeah.
And if it's in liquid form is a very cold.
Yeah, it's cold. And it's also another one where you can combine the hydrogen to form a liquid organic hydrogen carrier, low HFC, which is where you can buy the hydrogen to another compound as a means of transportation. Then what you need to use it. You release hydrogen from this organic compound as a different way to health.
And that would presumably brew quite, quite a lot of energy though to keep it.
Yet turn off energy to produce the the by the hydrogen with the organic material that's released again so I'm sure the sort of cost benefit analysis whether it's better or worse than the gaseous form or on.
Right and how is green hydrogen used to create synthetic fuels. I think it's the gasoline and the methanol.
Yeah. So you have this sort of, for example, synthetic aviation fuel. So that's something we have not touched on is aviation. So in terms of synthetic fuels, you can combine hydrogen, which you produce by electrolysis and then combine it with carbon dioxide or carbon compounds that produce synthetic fuels. Then combustion engine. So in Formula One, for example, there they want to decarbonize and they're not, but they've done that some route.
So that's one way they're going to try to synthetic fuels. They still very early stages. It's all about the sort of supply of of carbon dioxide that you can use to make fuels and hydrogen as well. And you've got to consider the the competition between housing use for transport or for fuels or for making ammonia. So it's all these sort of trade offs to think about playing off international.
Shipping in the same way then.
Shipping. Yeah, I think that's important sector for hydrogen, especially in the Yeah. In the shipping sector and as ammonia as well storing it as ammonia as ammonia on. Yeah. Shipping definitely. I big the key sector. I don't think my opinion hopefully electrification will do this heavy heavy goods transport or shipping. So I think hydrogen definitely going to fit in in that sector.
Yeah. So we've talked about aviation, steel I think we've mentioned as well because it takes a lot of a lot of heat to create steel.
Yes. Anything any high process temperature sensor, whether it's glass, paper, steel and it's these high temperature processes where it's difficult to do it for a sprint or steam or any direct combustion of flame, which is why these are such as well for hydrogen can come from two to operation.
Right. Right. And refineries to sort of helping to the oil companies are investing in green hydrogen and to help them with their own footprint.
Yes, of course. Yeah. They're trying to repurpose their assets. The same with the gas network operators. They want to repurpose their assets for the South Korean economy and hydrogen as a route that the fossil fuel industry can keep alive. But we've got to be mindful that they're not just lobbying to produce hydrogen for the sake of keeping their assets going, but for the environment and for actual green credentials rather than for any form of greenwashing.
So, yeah, Yeah. What's your personal view then, Lois, on the future of green green hydrogen?
Yes, I think as we've mentioned, the key takeaway really is that a lot of people see as the answer to all of our all of our challenges. I think we've got to be realist can say we've got a variety of different tools at our disposal, whether certification, bioenergy, hydrogen, whatever, and therefore it's just picking the right solution at the right time.
The right challenge, I suppose, to taking into consideration all the pros and cons cost of hydrogen will be. Some people don't like hydrogen told. I think it's a waste of time, but I think it has a role to play in amongst these other solutions. And we'll see a hybrid hybrid scenario where some some busses are on hydrogen, some are on electrification, some industries are electrification, some of them are hydrogen.
Maybe not one size fits all, not one size fits all, but yeah, a more varied and balanced approach.
How certain can you be when you're providing a quote on this technology today?
Yeah, one of the difficulties of hydrogen is just uncertainty. So for example, if we're doing a zero roadmap for flying, we might suggest different pathways to decarbonize and then that will include hydrogen. Hydrogen as an option in amongst or heat pumps or electrification or bioenergy approach. And for the aforementioned technology, you can easily give the numbers and time frames the cost, the sort of thing.
When it comes to hydrogen, there's a bit more uncertainty as to what figures we can provide, whether that's in terms of availability, can they actually get hold of a secure supply of hydrogen, How much is going to cost for the equipment? How much is going to cost the storage, how much it cost for the further distribution? So it's quite a challenge to give them concrete numbers and certainty of confidence.
I think that's where people are more inclined to go. The other solutions because give them more certainty, more security for the long term than hydrogen provide at the moment. But basically over time this may change. Hydrogen may be lot more. We can give the motion no range.
So it's really about supply there. There's just not enough green hydrogen about to be able to, you know, provide a solution. And know that it's actually going to be there when you come to deliver.
Yeah, that's not enough. This is a common thing that we get from our experiences in the sector is that there's just not really enough to go around and some competition people want it, but when they try and solve a project or to try and get hold of it right, this is a real challenge. But really about sort of perspective, the point about read more big projects, more producing hydrogen, find the off takers, and a lot of policy is going that way.
So we have the net zero hydrogen fund, for example, the hydrogen production business model. It's different sort of incentives are coming out of the UK government to sort of drive this forward.
So that's good. It's good to know that there is investment there, is there incentives there, But it doesn't sound like the government is investing specifically in building sort of green hydrogen installations like they might with nuclear, for example.
Yeah. So they're sort of expecting the industry to develop on its own, on its own accord with the government support. Yes, they are on about these hydrogen allocation rounds for various projects which are coming first, at least we announce at the end this year. So yeah, I think this is going to happen just a matter of time. I think at this point in 2023, we have nothing to any significant hydrogen on the ground in the UK, but hopefully we can catch up, make up for lost time and yeah, get the.
It's been a great, great discussion with you. Thank you very much Lewis And helping us to understand green hydrogen, how it's made and how it can be used and how it's going to help us move towards a more sustainable regenerative, hopefully 21st century. Thanks very much.
That's Perfect. That's for having me.