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PCIM 2022 KEYNOTE Hydrogen is the key to achieving net-zero

From Luke James

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At PCIM Europe 2022, Jurgen Rechberger, the Vice President of Hydrogen & Fuel Cell at automotive company AVL, which is a world leader in the development and testing of powertrain systems, delivered a keynote discussing the critical role of hydrogen in further detail.

Hydrogen is expected to help us avoid 80 gigatons of CO<sub>2</sub> emissions between now and 2050.
Hydrogen is expected to help us avoid 80 gigatons of CO2 emissions between now and 2050.
(Source: scharfsinn86 - stock.adobe.com )

Hydrogen is playing a central role in helping the world to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050 and limit global warming. Complementing other technologies such as renewable power and biofuels, both clean hydrogen (“green hydrogen”) and low-carbon hydrogen (“brown hydrogen”) offer the only long-term and scalable option for decarbonization in certain sectors including steel, aviation, and maritime.

All in all, hydrogen is expected to help us avoid 80 gigatons of CO2 emissions between now and 2050, but this will require the use of 660 million metric tons of renewable and low-carbon hydrogen in 2050, which is equivalent to 22 % of global energy demand.

An energy scenario for Austria

To illustrate the role of hydrogen, Rechberger presented an energy scenario for Austria based on thousands of assumptions and simulations. These assumptions anticipate that Austria will achieve full decarbonization by 2040, reduce passenger car transport by more than 20 % reduce heating demand through thermal insulation and electrical heating, and produce 30 % of required hydrogen domestically via electrolysis.

(Source: AVL )

The area where these reductions will have one of the biggest impacts, Rechberger says, is in transport. “According to the scenario, we’ll increase the efficiency of the transport system quite significantly because we are switching from 110 TWh of fossil energy to about 60 TWh of other energies, so this is quite a significant improvement.” Aside from transport, Rechberger also identifies how hydrogen is urgently needed in the industry, especially in steel production and for the replacement of coal.”

The result of decarbonization efforts in Austria will lead to an expected energy demand of around 54 TWh for electricity and an additional 53 TWh demand for hydrogen. “Do we have that? Can we produce this locally? The simple answer is no—today there is no chance,” Rechberger says, highlighting the significant renewable energy deficit that his team predicts.

(Source: AVL )

The solution to this, Rechberger says, is to import green hydrogen molecules to produce electricity out of that, “that’s what we are suggesting.”

However, Rechberger says that all industrialized countries are facing this scenario, especially “demand centers” such as Europe, the U.S., and Southeast Asia, meaning that it’s unlikely that there will be excess hydrogen available for trading unless countries significantly increase their investments into hydrogen production between now and 2050.

Watch the whole keynote here:

A lack of supply

According to Rechberger, the industry expects investments of USD700 billion between now and 2050, with more than USD160 billion in direct investments having already been announced until 2030.

(Source: AVL )

This is made up of more than 500 large-scale hydrogen deployment projects and 43 giga-scale hydrogen production projects to achieve a 70 GW green hydrogen production capacity by the end of the decade. The EU has increased this target by 3.7x to enable energy independence from Russia, however.

“The key question to me is the industry ready to do this? I personally don’t see it being ready to provide hydrogen production on this scale, so there will be a lack of supply,” Rechberger said.

Setting the energy system on a trajectory to net-zero will therefore require a firm commitment from industry and rapid acceleration. According to the 2021 ‘Hydrogen for Net-Zero’ report by McKinsey, the deployment of 75 MT of clean hydrogen will be needed by 2030 — something that it calls an “ambitious, yet achievable” target. This supply of clean hydrogen, the study says, can replace 25 MT of grey hydrogen in ammonia, methanol, and refining; 50 billion liters of diesel in ground mobility; and 60 MT of coal used in steel production.

To supply this demand, a mix of both green and low-carbon hydrogen would require 200 to 250 GW of electrolyzer capacity and around 300 to 400 GW of new renewables. In addition, 45 to 55 MT of low-carbon hydrogen production capacity and carbon infrastructure will be needed to store 350 to 450 MT of CO2 per year.

This, of course, will not happen without the right regulatory framework, and both governments and industries need to act now.

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