GOT GAS? Could blue hydrogen have its time in the sun?
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Hydrogen continues to be touted as the fuel of the future by the Australian federal government, which has tipped another $150m into its development.
But the real question is where the money should be going; green hydrogen that is produced purely using renewable energy or the government’s much criticised ‘clean hydrogen’ that sees the gas produced from sources such as natural gas (methane) or coal with the resulting carbon dioxide emissions managed using carbon capture and storage.
Ignoring concerns that CCS has yet to be proven in a commercial sense save when it is used in enhanced oil recovery, or recent studies indicating that blue hydrogen projects where hydrogen is extracted from methane might actually be worse from an emissions standpoint than just burning the methane, is there a future for hydrogen produced using non-renewable energy?
Green proponents would probably disagree, but the answer is likely to be yes with caveats.
It all boils down to cost. Producing green hydrogen is currently an expensive exercise due in large part to the cost of the electrolysers that turn water into hydrogen and oxygen.
That renewable energy is dependent on the vagaries of sunlight be available or wind blowing just adds to the costs.
Green hydrogen currently costs under $4 per kilogram to produce with the Clean Energy Finance Corporation forecasting that this will drop to $2.81/kg by 2030 and $2.09/kg by 2050 as the cost of electrolysers falls.
While these estimates have been criticised as being too conservative, they do provide a contrast with the estimated production costs of blue or turquoise hydrogen.
This is generally expected to be between $1.80/kg to $2.40/kg, which is a fair bit cheaper than their green counterparts.
Blue hydrogen supporters such as Woodside obviously believe that their process will find favour first before the sector transitions to green hydrogen as costs fall.
That is more than likely going to be true but there are certain conditions that need to be met, primarily getting CCS or its sibling, carbon capture, utilisation and storage (CCUS), to work.
CCS has a spotty track record to date with the poor showing of the Gorgon CCS project being the poster child of how not to do it.
Its proponents will say that this is why further investment needs to be made into this tech and they may have a point.
Successful CCS technology could potentially be extended beyond just capturing emissions to capturing carbon that is already present in the air, an example of which can be see at Iceland’s Orca project.
Other operators are taking the turquoise hydrogen route, which uses a process that produces solid carbon products rather than carbon dioxide.
While this is still fairly new, the potential to produce a useable carbon byproduct such as graphite or graphene is certainly worth a second look.
Would greater investment allow us to jump straight to green hydrogen? Perhaps, but government policies and the current cost structure means that at this point, we are still looking at some level of blue hydrogen production to kick start the industry.
Green hydrogen is still likely to the be the end point for the hydrogen sector, though how soon we will get there is the sum of technological advances, investment and possibly political will.
Researchers at Western Australia’s Curtin University have already identified a more efficient electrocatalyst that could rapidly increase green hydrogen production, while Origin Energy is close to completing a feasibility study into an export-scale green hydrogen project in Tasmania.
Further support for this green endgame can be seen in the global pipeline for green projects, which Rystad Energy says will produce about 30 million tonnes of green hydrogen by 2040.