In an interview with Pavel Korolev, who is the Vice President for Development and Projects of the Global Energy Association, Mr. Abanades spoke about the future of blue hydrogen, the leading sub-industry of hydrogen energy.
Pavel Korolev: Professor Abanades, hydrogen is not yet playing a full role in our lives. But already we see strong debate between supporters of blue and green hydrogen. In your opinion, will this intensify or will everyone come to an optimum solution suiting both sides?
Alberto Abanades: Well, what I think is that in fact the optimal solution is using both. So sometimes people have to look at technologies as extremes. So of course, they come from different technologies – between blue one and green hydrogen there are different technologies indeed. They are in fact separated by the source of the hydrogen. So now we need hydrogen. The hydrogen is needed with low emissions. This hydrogen with low emissions only can be obtained from 2 sources. One of them is water, another one is hydrocarbons. One of them, it is supposed to be green hydrogen with electrolysis. Another one is what is called blue hydrogen, because they use thermal systems, thermal processes to establish hydrogen. Of course, each of them has different problems from different points of view, but at the end I don’t see this like a fight between two ways to understand life. You need hydrogen, there are two sources, and then the optimal solution I think could be using both, at least in the medium term.
Pavel Korolev: What can blue hydrogen do that green hydrogen don’t?
Alberto Abanades: Well, from one side blue hydrogen can be applied at a really larger scale and we need a very large scale of hydrogen production. So that means that this is already available. Steam reforming has been used for a long time to provide hydrogen at very large scale, something that green hydrogen has to solve. And they have to increase its scale. On the other hand, blue hydrogen requires much less energy than green hydrogen to obtain the final hydrogen. That means that at the end, it’s a question that blue hydrogen is good when you have scarcity of energy and also when you need higher scale of application now and blue hydrogen could be good in the future, could be better in the future if they are developing a higher-scale application, but on the other hand they will need as well more energy to produce hydrogen.
Pavel Korolev: The main suppliers of blue hydrogen will be natural gas exporting countries. Are these companies for such transformation? How much time and money will it take to build the necessary plans and set up production?
Alberto Abanades: Well, the main producer of blue hydrogen is not necessarily the exporters of natural gas because at the end, blue hydrogen is produces by processing of natural gas is like saying that the producers of petrol or diesel are the oil-exporting countries. So, natural gas producers, they will export natural gas or they can as well export blue hydrogen if they use this process. But the receiving countries of this natural gas can also do this themselves, the blue hydrogen, so this is not completely, this is not an equation, it could be changed. In this context, what is interesting is that natural gas companies, or in particular, fossil companies, they have to understand that the future, the question of the CO2, sustainability and so on will, let’s say, force the transformation into hydrogen. Of course, I am not the one who knows everything in the future, but they are going to be forced to reduce emissions from the resource that contains carbon is to go to produce solid carbon and hydrogen, or producing CO2 and sequester CO2. In that sense, they need technological transformation to be able to accept this challenge for the fossil buy in order to transform technologically and to develop the processes to produce hydrogen and making compatible the use of hydrogen with a transport of hydrogen and so on.
Pavel Korolev: One of the problems of using blue hydrogen is storage. What are the most promising solutions or ideas now?
Alberto Abanades: The storage of hydrogen is of course one of the problems, especially at a very high quantity. The solution in the future may be not the storage of pure hydrogen, but the storage of hydrogen compound. In that sense, you can store synthetic natural gas as you store natural gas, so you can transform this hydrogen to synthetic natural gas or you can produce ammonia as well, so you can use ammonia as a storage media. That seems to be a very interesting system to store hydrogen. On the other hand, blinking to what I told you before if you transfer the natural gas to the place where this hydrogen will be consumed, it could be possible to transform this natural gas into hydrogen on site. So that means that you are going to store natural gas and this is really something that is already available for decades at a very high scale.
Pavel Korolev: Hydrogen is believed to be a cleaner fuel than traditional sources. But are there any harmful effects of blue hydrogen technology?
Alberto Abanades: Well, the question of blue hydrogen technology, one of them is environmental impact in normal operation. Blue hydrogen, at the end, has the needs of CO2 sequestration. The harmful effect will depend on how the technology will evolve in the future. From my point of view, the weak point of blue hydrogen and the potential harmful effect could be…one is the sequestration of CO2 that should be done in a safety way. Of course, it should identify places around the world where this sequestration could be done in a safety way and there is not so much. I mean, not so much that I know, I am of course not an expert. On the other hand, the question of natural gas leakage, but this is something that…in this case, if you transport hydrogen it’s not really a problem. It depends if you use natural gas to transport hydrogen but this is not a problem. From my point of view, the most harmful effect could be the failure of CO2 sequestration sites.
Pavel Korolev: We know about the European Union Hydrogen Strategy unveiled in 2020. What are the plans for using hydrogen in some other countries such as the United States, Japan, and China?
Alberto Abanades: Well, in other countries like United States for instance, they are also very interested in using hydrogen as a CO2 or low CO2 emission technology for end user and they also would like to use hydrogen from the resources they have, of course they also have natural gas, they also have oil. So, at the end the blue hydrogen is into its portfolio. With Japan, I think they go more for electrolysers, so this blue hydrogen maybe is not so important for them… I guess that they are more interested on electrolysers like the European situation more or less. With China, I think that is similar to the United States. So, the question of blue hydrogen is, let’s say, taken as a possibility … maybe more interesting than in Europe. I don’t say that Europe is not taken into consideration but they are less interesting politically, at a European level, even regarding there are some activities regarding blue hydrogen in Europe as well.