Future’s bright for clean hydrogen, top energy exec says

Source: By Nathanial Gronewold, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Clean hydrogen is rapidly growing into a viable industry, but the technology still needs investment and government support, a top German energy executive said Monday.

Speaking at a conference in Singapore, Jochen Eickholt, a managing director at Siemens Energy, said there were reasons to be optimistic about the future of clean hydrogen, an alternative fuel that can be produced with green energy such as wind or solar power.

“The innovation around hydrogen generation and the electrolyzers, the storage solutions, the combination of those, the development of intelligent transmission systems — those developments will be carried out way faster, I would reckon,” Eickholt said.

He told audience members at the Singapore Energy Summit that national governments have a vested interest in seeing clean hydrogen succeed. With the threat of climate change looming, world leaders are increasingly interested in swapping carbon-heavy fuels for emissions-free hydrogen to power major industries and heavy transportation.

Their plans call for developing “green” hydrogen production that uses renewable energy rather than natural gas.

During the talk, Eickholt confirmed his company is pursuing a corporate hydrogen strategy. He said some patience is required, but they expect major developments in the next few years.

“Hydrogen so far is not really at a mass market stage,” he said. “I think right now we are in the phase of really process development, technology development. This phase, I reckon, would require some further three to four years.”

“Then in the next phase we really can scale up,” he added.

He said Siemens is set to launch hydrogen facilities aimed at bringing down the cost of production. Eickholt said his company estimates the worldwide volume of hydrogen generation via electrolysis needs to be ramped up 200 times above current levels, while costs must fall “by a factor of four to five.”

Electrolysis uses electricity to induce a chemical reaction to separate the hydrogen atoms from the oxygen atoms in water via an electrolyte membrane. Most hydrogen is currently produced by heating methane but leaves behind carbon monoxide as a bioproduct.

A growing number of companies and governments are announcing plans aimed at lowering the cost of green hydrogen production.

Australian Gas Networks this week said a green hydrogen production plant it is building near Adelaide is entering the “final commissioning” phase. There also are plans for a vehicle refueling station at the Hydrogen Park South Australia site, the company said.

Companies and regional governments are pursing hydrogen ambitions in Germany in response to Berlin’s national hydrogen strategy (Climatewire, Oct. 22).

And the United Kingdom plans to issue a new national hydrogen strategy in 2021, said Simon Wilde, a financial adviser with the U.K.’s Office of Gas and Electricity Markets.

Eickholt said more steps must be taken before hydrogen can play a major role in decarbonization strategies, “but I am confident that we will get there rather sooner than later.”

“Hydrogen, I think, really will play a central role in the future energy systems,” he said. “Yes, the price has to come down, and hydrogen has to become more and more available. Transportation issues have to be solved. And then I believe it really will find its way in a sustainable green energy system.”