With renewables becoming the lynchpin in our economy’s energy transition, organizations must continue to find sustainable solutions for the sake of the planet, write Manuel Hernandez and Ahmed Wafi at Schneider Electric.
While electrification and renewables are the most optimal vector for decarbonization, hydrogen has grown in popularity as a viable decarbonization solution for hard-to-abate sectors.
Its versatility and ability to store and transport energy make it a promising option for industries such as heavy transportation, aviation, and certain industrial processes that face unique challenges in reducing their carbon emissions.
By embracing hydrogen as a decarbonization tool alongside electrification, we can ensure a comprehensive and effective approach to achieving a sustainable future.
For decades, hydrogen has held a fundamental position in various manufacturing processes. However, the emergence of Green Hydrogen (GH2) is rapidly transforming it into a crucial resource for propelling industrial operations towards a carbon-free future.
Considering the urgent need to halve global CO2 emissions by 2030, the role of green hydrogen becomes even more critical in meeting both industrial and environmental imperatives.
Green hydrogen, produced through electrolysis using renewable energy sources, offers a sustainable solution to address the challenges of reducing carbon emissions in industries.
The potential of green hydrogen to revolutionize industries and contribute to a sustainable future is undeniable. Together, we can accelerate the market adoption of green hydrogen to make way for an industrial landscape that mitigates climate change impacts and drives sustainable growth.
Decarbonizing hard-to-abate sectors
A few figures illustrate the magnitude of hydrogen’s contribution to today’s GHG emissions. Currently, we’re producing 70-80 million tons per annum (Mtpa) of unabated hydrogen obtained by steam-reforming fossil fuels, and the waste product CO2 is released directly into the atmosphere.
Every kilogram of such unabated hydrogen produces 12kg of CO2, for a total of close to 1 billion tons – or possibly 5% of total global emissions – every year. About 33% of this hydrogen is then dedicated to industrial gas applications, with the remaining 66% going toward refining and chemical production.
As industries continue to use fossil fuels to power their production, electrification is a viable option for reducing related carbon emissions and improving efficiencies.
However, this option is not always feasible due to technological limitations, infrastructure constraints, or energy-intensive processes. This leaves a significant demand for processes or segments that can’t be powered by electricity alone.
That’s where green hydrogen will become essential.
By utilizing green hydrogen as an alternative, it can replace natural gas and deliver enormous savings in emissions. The versatility of green hydrogen allows it to serve as a reliable and clean energy source for industries, transportation, and heating where electrification may not be a practical solution.
By incorporating green hydrogen into the energy mix, we can make substantial progress in decarbonizing sectors that were previously challenging to abate, ensuring a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future.
However, commercial scale production of green hydrogen has a few challenges and risks. For large-scale use, developers and operators need to pay close attention to production and operations to ensure plant economics can support this much-needed transition to adopting green hydrogen.
Unleashing the full potential: Unraveling the value chain of green hydrogen
To accelerate production, developers need to consider the entire value chain at the plant level.
The overall architecture for a green hydrogen plant site consists of the following:
- Power Generation, including a renewable energy source such as wind turbines, solar panels, battery electric storage systems, and grid connections enabling bidirectional power flow.
- The hydrogen production unit, which includes a water treatment plant, electrolyzers, separators, and other production-related equipment and systems.
- Downstream Hydrogen unit, which utilizes the produced hydrogen, e.g., ammonia production, pipeline injection, cavern storage, or mobility fueling stations.
In all three aspects of this architecture, optimized control is imperative to ensure:
- Reliable integration of power supply resources to guarantee production.
- Production maximization based on available power and electrolyzers.
- Maximized utilization of available hydrogen with optimized conversion rates.
An integrated production system oversees and coordinates this entire value chain, with capabilities that include renewable power forecasting, electrolyzer production optimization, overall efficiency monitoring, and operations simulations. A unified enterprise control system can be deployed for control from a centralized operations center for multi-plant operators.
Accelerating the market adoption of hydrogen
As an emerging technology, green hydrogen production brings some challenges for project developers and owners.
Industry leaders need to address key improvements to keep projects on track and profitable throughout their operation – along with solutions to ensure our partners’ success, including:
- Increase cost competitiveness: Both initial capital expenditures (CapEx) and ongoing operational expenditures (OpEx) figure into the levelized cost level of the green hydrogen a plant produces throughout its lifespan.
For lower CapEx, organizations need to optimize energy management and process automation to shorten ramping-up periods. For lower OpEx, companies must optimize energy sourcing, increase system efficiency, and maximize annual full-load hours of electrolysis systems.
- De-risking introduction of technologies: To help minimize risk with this new technology, safety instrumented systems can offer a unified system to control process operations and energy consumption. Having a training and simulation platform will also help facility operators explore what-if scenarios in a safe, digital environment.
- Supply chain optimization: Facilitating the use of digital twins to enable predictive simulations of power and production availability will optimize supply chains. Facilities will be able to manage their energy supplies to optimize renewables use while minimizing costs and uptime.
- Collaboration and knowledge sharing: Collaboration across industry players, research institutions, and governments is key to overcoming challenges in green hydrogen production. Sharing best practices, technical expertise, and lessons learned fosters innovation and accelerates the development of cost-effective and efficient solutions. Collaborative initiatives can also facilitate standardization, certification, and knowledge dissemination, promoting the global adoption of green hydrogen technologies.
By focusing on these aspects, project developers can navigate the challenges and unlock the full potential of green hydrogen as a sustainable and decarbonized energy solution for the future.
The investment in green hydrogen solutions may be expensive, but the long-term benefits of this renewable option are hard to turn down. By implementing the right architecture with the right solutions at the right time, we can pave the way for a decarbonized future.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Manuel Hernandez, Global Power Generation Segment Leader for Process Automation, at Schneider Electric
Ahmed Wafi, Global Business Development at Schneider Electric
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