Hydrogen: Energy for a “clean” future
2021-04-12 at 18.03.59
Alexander Novak, Russian Deputy Prime Minister

    In today’s world, trends on broadening the use of alternative energy sources receive a great deal of space. And hydrogen is playing an increasingly important role in this sector.

     As an energy source, this chemical element has been known the world over for more than 150 years. But its specific physical-chemical characteristics and the high cost of producing it has for the moment prevented its wide use in the fuel and energy complex.

     As a result of the growing influence of the drive for decarbonisation on the development of international energy markets, the world community is striving for a progressive transition to the use of low-carbon or carbon-free sources of energy. And it is carbon as an environmentally clean fuel that can play one of the key roles in achieving carbon-neutral status.

    Today, hydrogen energy is getting a second chance for accelerated development. And Russia’s task – on the basis of existing competitive advantage – is to use those opportunities that are opening up and take on a leading role in this promising market.

    Hydrogen – areas of use

    Hydrogen produced through the use of low-carbon technology can be an effective means of decarbonisation in those sectors of industry that now consume large quantities of coal or gas as an energy source. This type of hydrogen can be a way to replace hydrogen already in use with low-carbon hydrogen (for example in oil refining and chemical industries).

    Although hydrogen is used mainly at the moment in industrial production, this chemical element has considerable potential for its use to be expanded.

    In terms of electricity generation, it can be used as a carbon-neutral fuel both for centralised and distributed generation, as a means for energy storage or used as a secondary energy source which stores energy produced at renewal energy sites.

    The use of hydrogen in a mixture with methane or by itself in a system of gas supply is under consideration as a form of decarbonisation in providing decentralised heating in housing and utilities.

    Hydrogen can be used in various types of transport – cars, warehouse transport, trains, aircraft, ships – both in fuel cells and in internal combustion engines.

    Hydrogen energy now and in the future

    Experts put world demand for pure hydrogen at the moment at about 75 million tonnes a year. About 95 % of that is accounted for by oil refineries and the chemical industry, which mainly provide for their own needs in hydrogen by producing it in specialised facilities at the site where it is consumed (a so-called captive market).  A further 42 million tonnes of hydrogen is used in a mixture with other gases (mainly in synthetic gases) as a raw material for fuel by producing thermal energy and electricity.

    For the purposes of comparison, as an energy source in such promising sectors as transport and energy, consumption currently stands at less than 0.01 million tonnes a year.

    The fact that this sum is so insignificant is linked to a great extent with remaining barriers of development of hydrogen energy – the high cost of low-carbon hydrogen, imperfect technology for it to be used widely, including maintaining the safety of the entire production process, a shortage of vital infrastructure for storage and transport of hydrogen and gaps in the regulatory framework.

    For now, the most economically feasible way of producing hydrogen is from extractable raw materials.

    According to data from the International Energy Agency (IEA), in the structure of world-wide production of pure hydrogen, 75 % comes from natural gas and 23 % from coal. And hydrogen produced from extractable raw materials (coal, in the first instance) has a relative high carbon footprint.

    In order to reduce the carbon footprint and proceed with decarbonisation of the sector, we possibly have to introduce hydrogen production systems for extractable minerals with the use of carbon dioxide capture and storage systems – as well as electrolysis of water by using sites from nuclear energy, hydropower and wind and solar energy.

    The prospects are good for new technology of low-carbon hydrogen production, particularly the technology of pyrolysis of methane.

   World experts are divided in their opinion about the potential volumes on the world hydrogen market. The range of estimates of word-wide demand for hydrogen by 2050 vary from a few dozen tonnes to nearly 700 tonnes a year. There are basically two fundamental competing scenarios of the development of hydrogen energy: formation of a global market with transport of multiple tonnes of resources from the centre of production to centres of consumption, similar to markets for oil and liquefied natural gas — or locally-focused production and consumption of hydrogen within specific countries or smaller regions.

    The path to be taken for the development of hydrogen energy will depend to a great extent on the pace of decarbonisation of the world economy and the speed with which hydrogen technologies develop. The expansion of a global market for hydrogen will be grounded on demand from countries that have ratified the Paris climate accord but lack sufficient resources to produce low-carbon energy and fuel in order to decarbonise sectors of the economy.

    And another important stimulus likely to boost production and consumption levels of hydrogen will be the development of technologies for its use as a means of energy storage at renewable energy facilities – as well as the expansion of use of hydrogen fuel cells.

    Developing hydrogen energy in Russia

    In 2019, Russia joined the Paris climate accord as a means to support international efforts to tackle climate change, preserve the environment and manage it in a rational manner.

    Russia is already one of the guarantors of global energy security by providing natural gas –  the most ecologically clean energy mineral resource — for its European and oriental partners.

    One of the key tasks entrenched in the Russian Federation’s Energy Strategy up to 2035 – based on its existing capabilities in the area of traditional energy – is to develop Russia’s potential in new, promising sectors by forming its own scientific and technical base for energy of the future and by boosting exports of high-technology knowledge and production outside the realm of raw materials. And hydrogen production completely fulfils the tasks placed before it.

    Although Russia’s fuel and energy and electricity generating balance is one of the most “green” in the world, the country is proceeding with work on the development of alternative sources, including an expansion of the use of hydrogen on the domestic market.

    As one of the most promising developments at this time, the use of hydrogen is being considered as an energy source for transport in electricity and industry.

    And hydrogen may one day be used potentially to supply energy to consumers located in isolated areas in terms of power and in regions with particular environmental requirements – for instance, in the Arctic.

    Our country has important competitive advantages: a significant energy potential and resource base, generating capacity, geographical proximity to potential hydrogen consumers, the scientific background in terms of production, transport and storage of hydrogen as well as having the transport infrastructure in place.

    In order to realise the country’s potential, the government developed in October 2020 a “road map” on developing hydrogen Energy in the Russian Federation up to 2024. Its task is to boost hydrogen production and consumption and to move the country into the realm of world leaders of production and export. At the moment, a draft is being put together of the Conceptions of Development of Hydrogen energy which sets down priorities of development of hydrogen energy, with short-term, medium-term and long-term aims.

    One of the prime tasks on which efforts are being concentrated is the development of competitive technologies of producing hydrogen, both from extractible minerals, natural gas in the first instance, and from electrolysis of water based at nuclear power or renewable power stations.

    And work must continue on developing renewable energy, with emphasis placed on lowering costs for solar and wind generation and on organising economically efficient production of hydrogen with a minimal carbon footprint.

    A separate issue warranting attention is the development of technologies for transporting and storing hydrogen – lacking sufficient development at the moment for mass use in industry.

    Achieving effective results will require developing Russian scientific schools and professional competency, creating engineering centres and testing areas for developing pilot projects. It also means working out an appropriate regulatory base for standardisation in terms of safety throughout the life cycle from production to use of hydrogen as an energy source.

   Bringing new developments to market will mean ensuring there is legislative support for hydrogen energy.

    The development of all these aspects is set down in the framework of the road map on developing hydrogen energy. By 2024, a number of pilot projects will be completed in hydrogen energy aimed at creating and using pilot facilities for hydrogen production with no carbon dioxide emissions, the development, preparation and testing of gas turbines on methane-hydrogen fuel, the creation of a tested form of rail transport using hydrogen. These also apply to proven test areas for low-carbon production of hydrogen at sites where hydrocarbon energy sources undergo refining or sites of natural gas extraction or production of hydrogen using nuclear power plants.

    International cooperation  

    Active cooperation is underway in joint action with foreign partners in the hydrogen energy sector. The first areas of interest are the European Union and the Asia-Pacific region. Both have long-term development hydrogen energy programmes in effect.

    The most intensive dialogue at this time is with German and Japanese partners. Within the framework of the Russian-Japanese Consultative Energy Union, agreements in principle have already been clinched about joint action within bilateral working groups. A separate area of interest is the prospect of cooperation on hydrogen between Russian companies and the Japanese authorities.

    For instance, within the context of a 2019 agreement on cooperation with Japan’s Agency for Natural Resources and Energy, one of Russia’s largest energy companies, Rosatom is working out the technical basis for supplying hydrogen to Japan. Should this prove successful, it will amount to a large-scale project in organising the global supply chain of hydrogen and in the future about forming a unique low-carbon hydrogen cluster with a price for hydrogen that will be of interest to potential partners.

    Another area of interest in cooperation between the two sides is an exchange of experience in terms of developing technology.

    As regards Russian-German cooperation, the signature of a joint declaration of intention between Russia’s Energy Ministry and Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy in sustainable energy is at an advanced stage of preparation.

    This calls for the creation of a working group on sustainable energy to be chaired by the Russian and German energy ministers and also including sub-groups on cooperation in hydrogen energy.

    Signature of this declaration will serve as a basis for expanding mutually beneficial energy cooperation between our countries, an exchange of experience in the area of studying technology for production, storage, use and transport of hydrogen to carry out joint Russian-German projects in this sphere. It will also allow for the use and development of the best technologies and practices.

    The energy policy of the Russian Federation currently reflects major world trends. Over many years, our country has been one of the leaders in world hydrocarbon markets, while at the same time not losing – but rather enhancing — its competences in the traditional sectors of the fuel and energy complex.     It is Russia’s intention to enter the ranks of world leaders in the sector of hydrogen production and export. This will have a multiplier effect on the development of adjacent sectors and lead to achieving the global goal of low-carbon development of the world economy.


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April 2021