The law of unintended consequences, green hydrogen edition, is on full display in Russia's misbegotten war on Ukraine (image courtesy of US DOE).

Ukraine Green Hydrogen Hub On Track, Russia Or Not

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Going by the latest round of activity on the international scene, Ukraine can start ramping up its plans for a post-war future. That’s good news for a more sustainable economic profile across Europe, because those plans are taking shape with a green hydrogen centerpiece that piggybacks on Ukraine’s considerable stock of energy  export infrastructure.

Green Hydrogen Is Finally Coming

Hydrogen is best known around the CleanTechnicoshphere as an input for fuel cells and a combustible fuel, but it is so much more. Hydrogen is the engine that drives modernized economies. Agriculture, food processing, refinery operations, metallurgy, medicine, and toiletries are among the industries that rely on the ubiquitous, abundant element.

There being no such thing as a free lunch, hydrogen does not exist by itself on Earth. It must be extracted from something else. Right now that something else is primarily natural gas, with coal also factoring into the picture.

Extracting so-named green hydrogen from water, biogas, and other renewable sources is an emerging option. Until recent years, electrolysis and other technologies for producing green hydrogen were costly, inefficient, and unsupported by public policy. Well, that was then. Electrolyzer costs are falling, and so is the cost of renewable energy to run them. Now green hydrogen is all the rage, and energy planners in Ukraine do not intend to be left behind.

A Green Hydrogen Dream For Ukraine

CleanTechnica caught wind of the green hydrogen scheme last June, when Oleksandr Riepkin, Ukraine’s Special Representative of the Minister of Foreign Affairs on Economic Diplomacy, made the case in an op-ed.

Riepkin noted that the southern cities of Zaporizhzhia, Mykolayiv, Odesa and Kherson share the same level of sunshine as Italy, if not more, so he pitched a plan for producing green hydrogen from water, using electrolysis systems powered by solar energy.

“Thanks to these regions alone, Ukraine would be able to provide enough green hydrogen for both domestic needs and the needs of Europe,” Riepkin wrote.

President Volodymyr Zelensky reaffirmed the plan during an economic forum in Italy last September. He reminded European leaders that the infrastructure is already in place to export hydrogen from Ukraine to points west, enabling Europe to cast off “dirty” fuels from Russia and elsewhere. Hydrogen Central was among the news organizations citing the President, who said:

“Our country has a huge natural potential for developing opportunities in green energy and in production of green hydrogen. This is a potential of tens, and possibly hundreds of green gigawatts of electric power and million tonnes of green hydrogen.”

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Green Hydrogen: Not A Dream

Some energy analysts continue to cast doubt on the green hydrogen market, but apparently Ukraine did not get the memo. In January, Reuters reported on a draft memorandum of understanding that would engage the European Union in financial support for kickstarting a green hydrogen industry in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s financial agency, UkraineInvest, also notes that the nation has been tapped as a “priority partner” for the European Union’s hydrogen plans. UkraineInvest cites a prewar estimate of Ukraine’s wind and solar resources that puts the total at 320 gigawatts of wind and 70 gigawatts of solar, and that’s just for starters. The World Bank estimates another 250 gigawatts in renewable energy generation could be harvested from stations floating on the waters of Crimea.

To ice the green cake, UkraineInvest anticipates that the total of 700+ gigawatts could be fully built out within ten years.

No, Really, Not A Dream

Things appear to be moving along at a rapid clip. In April, Reuters reported on a five-year energy development agreement between Denmark and Ukraine. The new agreement builds on cooperative activity between the two nations that dates back to 2014. The new focus is on restoring war-damaged wind farms, as well as building new wind capacity. Offshore wind is also in the works down the road.

Also in April, the broadcast news agency UKRInform was among the news organizations reporting on an April 2 meeting between Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Energy Yaroslav Demchenkov and Anna Lührmann, the Minister of State for Europe and Climate in Germany’s Federal Foreign Office.

“Ukraine can become a hub for Europe’s sustainable energy, and we are setting such ambitious goals as part of our energy sector recovery programs,” said Demchenkov.

“Ukraine is planning to become a European hub for the development of renewable energy, especially solar and wind generation, as well as hydrogen technologies and bioenergy,” UKRInform noted.

Green Hydrogen: You Snooze, You Lose

The organization Carbon Tracker suggests that Ukraine better act fast to keep up with the competition. Last fall, Carbon Tracker released a survey indicating that other nations are stumbling over themselves in a rush to cut ties with fossil energy from Russia, leading to an acceleration of finance into green hydrogen.

“War in Ukraine has spurred over $70 billion of fresh investment in green hydrogen in just a few months as costs drop and has made fossil fuel-produced Hydrogen uneconomic as gas prices soar,” Carbon Tracker observed.

“As a result of higher gas-feed prices, $100 billion of ‘dirty’ hydrogen assets may become stranded by 2030,” they added, to emphasize that the global hydrogen market is drifting away from natural gas and other fossil sources.

That thing about beating fossil sources on cost could change if and when Russia retreats back to its established borders — or not. Regardless of Russian war plans, the green market is poised to scale up for cost-competitiveness, potentially with a helpful nudge from public policy.

Back in 2021, the leading Norwegian sustainable hydrogen producer Nel told Reuters that it anticipated reaching parity for green hydrogen at a cost of $1.5 per kilo in 2025. By way of comparison, Reuters cited a cost of between $2.5 and $4.5 per kilo in 2019 for green hydrogen.

More Green Hydrogen For The USA

As if on cue, last week Nel announced that it has embarked to build one of the largest electrolyzer manufacturing plants in the world. The $400 million plant will be located in Wallingford, in the US state of Michigan.

Nel anticipates that the fully automated plant will serve as a model for the global scale-up of electrolyzer production.

Among other advantages, of the Michigan location, Nel cited proximity to General Motors. GM has been playing its fuel cell plans close to the vest in recent years, but it appears the cat is out of the bag as GM and Nel collaborate on electrolyzer improvements.

The new facility also shines the limelight on the US Department of Energy. Despite the naysayers, the agency has been pitching green hydrogen since the early 2000s, and now all that hard work is paying off.

“Nearly two decades of research investment through the Department of Energy’s Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Office has led to technological advances that will now be transitioned to gigawatt scale in our Michigan facility,” said Nel’s CEO.

Now it’s payback time. If all goes according to plan, the Nel factory in Michigan will help build a solid supply chain in support of the Energy Department’s plans to create a network of regional hydrogen hubs in the US. The overall focus is on green hydrogen, though by law the hub plan is required to factor in fossil sources.

Don’t break out the pom-poms just yet. A “loose” guideline decision by the Treasury Department on the interpretation of the 45V production tax credit for hydrogen could enable fossil hydrogen to gain the upper hand, so stay tuned for more news on that.

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Image (cropped): Hydrogen with wind power courtesy of US Department of Energy.


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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3329 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey