Hydrogen can be a really big deal in the push to lower global carbon emissions but the source of that hydrogen can be an issue. Siemens Energy says in a press release dated January 13, 2021, “Currently 80 million tons of hydrogen are produced each year and production is expected to increase by about 20 million tons by 2030. Just 1% of that hydrogen is currently generated from green energy sources. The bulk is obtained from natural gas and coal, emitting 830 million tons of CO2 per year, more than the entire nation of Germany or the global shipping industry.”
That, folks, is a lot of carbon emissions, which the world has no room for in its carbon budget if the Paris climate accords are to be met. To provide the hydrogen the world will need without those emissions, Siemens Energy and Siemens Gamesa are working to integrate electrolysis units into the platforms that support offshore wind turbines. That way, all of the energy created gets put to use, either as electricity to power communities and industry on shore or to split water into hydrogen and oxygen right at the source.
Siemens Energy says it will take about 820 GW of wind power capacity to produce the amount of hydrogen the world uses today. By 2050, it projects the world will need about 500 million tons of hydrogen annually, which could require up to 4,000 GW of renewable power capacity. The companies have created an innovative solution that integrates an electrolyzer into an offshore wind turbine as a single synchronized system to directly produce green hydrogen. They intend to provide a full scale offshore demonstration of their system no later than 2026.
Between now and then, the companies will invest up to €120 million to create a new electrolysis product that not only meets the needs of the harsh maritime offshore environment but is also in perfect sync with the wind turbine. The modular approach they are taking is expected to yield a reliable and efficient operational set-up for a scalable offshore wind-hydrogen solution.
“Our more than 30 years of experience and leadership in the offshore wind industry, coupled with Siemens Energy’s expertise in electrolyzers, brings together brilliant minds and cutting edge technologies to address the climate crisis. Our wind turbines play a huge role in the decarbonization of the global energy system, and the potential of wind to hydrogen means that we can do this for hard-to-abate industries too,” says Andreas Nauen, CEO of Siemens Gamesa.
Hydrogen can replace coke — a form of coal — typically used to make steel, thus lowering both the emissions associated with the coking process and those created in the steel making process itself. Hydrogen can also be used in the production of cement, which is one of the most carbon intensive of all industrial activities. In addition, it can be used to make renewable fuels to replace those used in cars, trucks, locomotives, ships, and airplanes.
Green Hydrogen In The Middle East
Offshore wind is not as big a deal in the Middle East as it is in Europe and the US, but that part of the world has abundant sunshine, which makes solar electricity especially attractive in that region. Siemens Energy has also just announced two new contracts with officials in Abu Dhabi to create green hydrogen using renewable energy from solar resources. According to Renewable Energy Magazine, Siemens Energy will collaborate with the Abu Dhabi Department of Energy, Etihad Airways, Lufthansa, Marubeni Corporation, and Khalifa University to pave the way for the development of the UAE’s green hydrogen economy.
Together they plan to create a solar powered electrolyzer that will convert water into green hydrogen, which will then be used to create fuels for passenger cars and buses, but the bulk of the synthetic fuels will be used to power airplanes. In the second phase of the program, the production of decarbonised fuels for the maritime sector will be explored. Synthetic fuels can significantly reduce the UAE’s carbon footprint and establish a local knowledge and industry base for their production.
“Green hydrogen has the potential to become the foundation fuel for a future clean economy and will be a game changer for decarbonization strategies as we look to achieve climate goals and deliver a more sustainable future for all,” says Mohamed Jameel Al Ramahi, CEO of Masdar. “Masdar has been exploring hydrogen production and generation for more than a decade. Today we believe the time is right to accelerate investment in this technology.”
Good Hydrogen Versus Bad Hydrogen
Hydrogen has many important uses and can dramatically lower carbon emissions from many industrial processes, like steel and cement making. But if obtaining it pollutes the Earth and contributes to global heating, what’s the point?
“Electrify Everything” is still the ideal for crafting a sustainable environment, but electrification of commercial aircraft that can transport 300 passengers from LA to Sydney nonstop or power a ship carrying 2,000 containers aboard across the Pacific Ocean is a long way in the future. When solar or wind farms create more electricity than the grid needs at any given time, it has to be given away at below market prices or simply discarded.
The beauty of what Siemens Energy is doing is that not one kilowatt-hour of renewable energy will ever be wasted. Whatever is not used to power homes and industry will be used to make hydrogen instead. It’s a win-win for renewable energy providers, industry, and society as a whole. Ultimately, it is a win for the Earth and all living things.
Elon Musk may be right when he disses hydrogen powered cars but hydrogen will play an important role in helping the nations of the world meet the targets set by the Paris climate accords — provided it comes from electrolysis powered by renewable energy and not from reforming natural gas that has been extracted using techniques that leave monumental environmental damage behind.
Offshore wind will be a major provider of electricity in the years to come. If those turbines in the ocean can supply green hydrogen as well, their contribution to reduced carbon emissions will be multiplied. There is no downside to this story. If Siemens can make this happen, we all will benefit.
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