An idea whose time has come
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chemicals industry has a largely well-deserved reputation for being conservative and prone to improving incrementally . Sometimes , however , things move very fast indeed and a seemingly new concept rapidly becomes the next big thing . Case in point : ‘ green ’ hydrogen , which is produced by splitting water by electrolysis , recovering the hydrogen and venting the oxygen to the air . A few months ago , an industry analyst mentioned to me that they were hearing a fair bit about it but did not really know what it was . There has been a veritable tsunami of announcements in this field ever since . I list only some of those in Europe , but there are many more of them further afield . For instance , seven German companies in the GET H2 alliance , including Evonik , aim to “ create the basis of a European infrastructure for green hydrogen ” by 2024 . They are planning to build a cross-border infrastructure , connected in multiple steps . By 2030 , the network will be connected to many other networks , including Evonik ’ s chemical park at Marl . This is projected to save CO 2
emissions of up to 16 million tonnes in that timeframe . Also investing in Germany is Wacker Chemie . Its proposed RHYME ( Renewable HYdrogen and MEthanol ) project , in partnership with Linde , envisages building a 20 MW electrolysis plant to generate hydrogen from water using renewable electricity at its Burghausen site . Both are key starting materials for Wacker products and the new processes could cut CO 2
emissions by around 80 %. Similarly , Italian engineering firm Saipem and Alboran Hydrogen plan to build five green hydrogen plants in Italy , Albania and Morocco ; Danish renewable energy supplier Ørsted is planning a 1 GW renewable hydrogen facility in the Netherlands by 2030 , linked to 2 GW of offshore wind power and on , via a 45-km pipeline , to users in the Benelux ; and asset manager FiveT Capital has announced a € 1-billion infrastructure fund dedicated to clean hydrogen infrastructure projects . In fact , there is a veritable rainbow of technologies in this field . ‘ Blue ’ hydrogen is formed when natural gas is split into hydrogen and CO 2
either by steam methane or auto thermal reforming , and the CO 2
is captured and stored . This is an advance on the long-used ‘ grey ’ hydrogen , where the CO 2
is not captured . Then there is ‘ pink ’ hydrogen , also made via electrolysis , but using nuclear energy as the source of power ; and ‘ yellow ’ hydrogen , which uses solar power . According to Australia ’ s Petrofac , green hydrogen is the cleanest option . “ The future is a transition from grey , through blue , to green hydrogen ,” it says . Perhaps we should not be surprised , then , that the UK is behind the curve , with all the major plans announced so far being in blue hydrogen . Then again , as we have already seen , things are moving very fast in this field . According to the European Commission ’ s Joint Research Centre in Italy , hydrogen currently accounts for less than 2 % of Europe ’ s energy mix but this could rise to 10-23 % by 2050 . Further developing the hydrogen economy is crucial to the goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 , as outlined in the EU ’ s European Green Deal . There seems no doubt that clean hydrogen , whatever its colour , will become important in every area of the chemicals industry . Commodities will be first impacted but specialities will not be far behind and I suspect that many more news announcements can be expected this year .
Dr Andrew Warmington
EDITOR – SPECIALITY CHEMICALS MAGAZINE
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