Hydrogen: a developing resource for decarbonisation and storage
Various EU member countries, including Italy, have adopted strategic plans and projects are being pushed forward to create “Hydrogen valleys” and production from renewable sources
The hydrogen issue has burst on to European energy scene and political debate in recent years: hydrogen is widely considered to be an important resource in efforts to decarbonize heavy industry and long-range transport of people and goods – from aviation to trucks through hydrogen-based liquid fuels – and to store wind and solar energy to help balance the network.
In 2020, the European Union launched its “Hydrogen Strategy”, with finance amounting to 470 billion euros for research and production projects with the aim of providing member countries with tools for electrolysis and thereby produce at least one million tonnes of “green” hydrogen. The importance of hydrogen in helping Europe achieve zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 also finds ample space in the “Fit for 55” climate and energy package issued by the European Commission. No specific proposals have been outlined for the energy carrier but support measures have emerged in plans to review the EU carbon market, accelerate the roll-out of renewable sources and reform the European energy taxation system.
Several EU countries, including Italy, are planning strategies that view hydrogen as a possible substitute for conventional fuels. More specifically, the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (Pnrr) presented by Italy sees hydrogen play a leading role through flagship projects in the use of the carrier in hard-to-abate industrial sectors and transport, as well as through the creation of “hydrogen valleys” involving finance of around 3.19 billion euros. As early as last 14 September, Edison and Snam signed a memorandum of understanding together with Saipem and Alboran Hydrogen, which had already signed a collaboration agreement last January for the joint development of the Apulia Green Hydrogen Valley project, one of the first large-scale green hydrogen production and transport initiatives in Italy.
Currently, hydrogen is produced almost entirely in its “grey” form, i.e. extracted from natural gas using a Steam Methane Reforming (Smr) process. However, the process emits a large amount of carbon dioxide (about 7-9 kg per kg of hydrogen). The goal is to begin replacing grey hydrogen with green hydrogen from electrolysis fuelled by renewable sources. As shown by the recent memorandum of understanding for the Puglia Green Hydrogen Valley, there are important developments in the up-line sector. The situation is more complex in other specific sectors, such as transport, where the use of hydrogen is still in the experimental phase and, given such large-scale development, is affected by the lack of infrastructure as well as by competition from electric powered vehicles.
One of the innovations in the automotive sector comes from the Hyundai Motor Group which last 14 September announced plans to develop hydrogen fuel cell models of all its commercial vehicles by 2028. Hyundai Motor Group is also keen to launch a “next generation fuel cell system” in 2023. The South Korean auto giant says its goal is “to reach a price for a fuel cell vehicle comparable to a battery electric vehicle by 2030”, a target that applies to passenger cars and commercial vehicles alike.