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What is hydrogen’s place in the energy transition?

May 27, 2020

By Nathan Ashcroft and Pietro Di Zanno

How can we bring hydrogen to the forefront of energy transition initiatives?

Now is the time to start looking more closely at bringing hydrogen to the forefront of energy transition initiatives. Why? Because hydrogen has similar energy-producing qualities as natural gas—but with zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Hydrogen as an energy source is already being used today, and we know it has tremendous benefits for our clients and the communities they serve. So, how can we apply hydrogen more broadly to help reduce our impact on the natural environment?

Whether the idea of using hydrogen as an energy source is new to you or not, be aware there is still uncertainty in the industry and numerous important decisions to be made when considering it for your community. The type of hydrogen application (grey, blue, or green), the cost to produce, and the safe application of this methodology are all complex, dynamic challenges to understand and address. Without due diligence and proper business advice, you could make some costly mistakes.

Hydrogen is already being used in industrial processes, especially those that traditionally produce a lot of heat and carbon dioxide. There is some confidence in using hydrogen in industrial applications, but the key consideration is: how do you make it? Choosing from a menu of different technologies and processes, your hydrogen production results can vary in cost, effectiveness, environmental impact, and more. This blog will highlight the history of hydrogen as an energy source and outline best practices for applications on your energy projects. 

How did we get to hydrogen?

To start, let’s look back on our history of energy usage. Man started with wood, then moved on to coal, then oil, and now natural gas. It has been a progressive evolution for developing the quickest, safest, cleanest, and most cost-effective forms of energy. With increasing pressures to reduce GHG emissions, we need to continue to push ourselves to find cleaner energy sources than traditional fossil fuels.

As we all try to reduce our carbon footprint, we are now looking to the lightest molecule in the periodic table. It is certainly not without its challenges, but people across the globe are looking more closely at bringing hydrogen into more common energy applications so that they can take advantage of its clean burning properties. The possibilities seem endless as we think about hydrogen in heating, as fuel, and even as energy storage functions.

Not all hydrogen is created equal

Depending on how hydrogen is processed, the production cost and resulting properties can vary significantly. In simple terms, there are three types of hydrogen:

  1. Grey: made from fossil fuels; least expensive to produce
  2. Blue: made from fossil fuels, but emitted carbon is captured and sequestered
  3. Green: made from electrolysis of water using renewable power; most expensive to produce

Most of the current hydrogen produced is defined as grey. There are examples of blue hydrogen, but we now see a push toward green hydrogen—the holy grail of hydrogen production. Since it is expensive to produce, the best opportunities would be found in areas where cheap renewable or abundant power (e.g. offshore wind, solar, or hydro) is readily available.

When we look at potential energy applications for hydrogen in the future, we can think about taking it beyond the industrial world.

Potential applications for hydrogen

When we look at potential energy applications for hydrogen in the future, we can think about taking it beyond the industrial world and into commercial, residential, and personal use. Just think about using hydrogen to fuel our cars, heat our homes, or power our city infrastructure.

In theory, wherever we’re using natural gas today, we can use hydrogen. For example, injecting hydrogen into natural gas (hydrogen-enriched natural gas) brings down GHG emissions. In the United Kingdom (UK), central heating in homes is responsible for over 25% of their total greenhouse gas emissions. Can you imagine the impact if we could reduce the use of natural gas in homes and turn more to blue or green hydrogen?

There is not one solution or approach that can be applied widely, and that’s the tricky part right now. Depending on where you are in the world, you could be looking at different government incentives, costs, resource availability, scale, and technologies. Choosing your appropriate path is a critical business decision.

Opportunity lies ahead

This global discussion is gaining momentum, and we are excited to be part of it. Our subject matter experts keep a finger on the pulse of the changing technologies in energy, including hydrogen production and its application. We work to understand the specific economic and regulatory implications in your jurisdiction. Without bias towards any technology, we can help unravel project complexities and recommend a path forward.

No matter where you are in your journey with hydrogen, we’re eager to share our experiences and some best practices, drawing on projects we’ve been involved in around the world.

  • Nathan Ashcroft

    As a strategic business developer, Nathan is always looking for ways to improve our ability to help our clients. That’s involved expanding our geographical business as well as researching new applications of existing products like bitumen.

    Contact Nathan
  • Pietro Di Zanno

    A subject matter expert focusing on hydrogen and petrochemicals, Pietro has a diverse engineering, strategy, and financing background. Though he’s worked in oil and gas for 35 years, he’s at the forefront of the industry’s market transitions.

    Contact Pietro
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