Sustainably produced European hydrogen brings us security of supply

19.04.2022

Sustainably produced European hydrogen brings us security of supply

Sustainably produced European hydrogen brings us security of supply
To maintain security of supply, Europe needs hydrogen produced in a sustainable manner in its area.

To maintain security of supply, Europe needs hydrogen produced in a sustainable manner in its area. So far, calls to promote the use of hydrogen have primarily been based on the idea that hydrogen will help us reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, the war in Ukraine has shown that European security and the economy also require the production of hydrogen in Europe.

In the future, Europe will produce its hydrogen both without emissions and with minimal use of natural gas from outside Europe. Until now, hydrogen has been produced in Europe mainly from by extracting the hydrogen from methane in natural gas, while the carbon has been released into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide, adding to the problem of rising temperatures. New environmentally sustainable technology to produce hydrogen technology is currently being researched and introduced.

In the future hydrogen will be produced largely either from water, through electrolysis, or by extracting carbon from methane in solid form for other use, or by storing carbon dioxide extracted during the production of hydrogen underground. Electricity is produced without carbon dioxide emissions, using wind, solar, hydroelectric power, and in many countries also with nuclear power. Meanwhile, in addition to natural gas, sources of methane can include local biogas, whose production is growing rapidly.

Another method is the extraction and production of hydrogen from the side streams of local industrial processes. In the future we will be able to make better use of this hydrogen, and the methane that is produced as a by-product of hydrogen production. About a third of the world's production of hydrogen currently comes as a by-product of a process in which the product is something other than hydrogen.

Pure hydrogen first for present use

Our most urgent need is for hydrogen that is produced locally and without emissions to meet our current hydrogen needs. The European Union currently uses about 9.7 million tons of hydrogen annually, and this production is the first that must be made emission-free.

Most of the hydrogen is currently used in oil refining and in the chemical industry. Hydrogen and products refined from hydrogen are used in the production of fertilisers, among other things. Ammonia, which is produced using nitrogen and hydrogen, is used in the manufacture of fertilisers – and this is where the public at large in many parts of the world have encountered problems involving Russia and security of supply. Now that the problems connected with Russian natural gas have led to shortages of ammonia and other key ingredients, fertiliser manufacturers around Europe have had to raise their prices sharply. Hydrogen produced completely out of foreign raw materials makes even local food more expensive. Hydrogen produced locally without emissions would therefore help prevent food prices from rising too much, which would be of great significance especially for those with low incomes.

Hydrogen also for new production sectors

We can make especially significant improvements in our security of supply and reduce emissions when European hydrogen becomes available in new sectors of industry. The steel industry is a good example of this. The steel industry now produces an estimated 7 percent of the world's carbon dioxide emissions, because steel reduction currently takes place with the help of coal, and a significant portion of the coal used in Europe is imported from Russia, which is problematic for security of supply.

The Nordic steel giant SSAB has decided earlier this year to switch the entire Nordic steel industry to use locally produced hydrogen instead of coal in this decade. Several other projects are also pending around Europe aimed at getting the steel industry to shift to using hydrogen. The use of hydrogen will significantly increase the security of supply of the European steel industry, reducing emissions, and enabling the production of better value added for our companies.

Fuel can be synthesised

Fuels that we normally use can also be manufactured from hydrogen, which would significantly improve our self-sufficiency. This can be done by combining hydrogen with carbon dioxide sequestered from combustion gases from factories.

All common fossil fuels are hydrocarbons, whose molecules comprise atoms of hydrogen and carbon. For this reason, we can produce fuels ourselves that are identical to the ones that we refine from fossil-based raw materials that come from below ground level and that we buy from other countries. We can store and use synthetic fuels just like their fossil-based equivalents, which is a massive cost benefit.

For now, the price difference compared with traditional fossil fuels is significant, but the gap is narrowing constantly. New projects are already getting started. In Sweden, for example, Vattenfall, SAS, Shell and LanzaTech said half a year ago that they were looking into the possibility of extensive production of sustainable synthetic aviation fuel.

BotH2nia – hydrogen collaboration in the Baltic Sea area

The move to hydrogen at SSAB, which is to be implemented as a joint-Nordic project, is a good example of how the shift to using hydrogen can best succeed in Europe when the matter is promoted together, across national borders. For this reason, Swedish and Finnish hydrogen actors are currently working together in the BotH2nia network, and newcomers will later be accepted from the Baltic countries as well. There is more to win in the world's shift to hydrogen if we work together. We hope to see similar regional cooperative networks soon in other parts of Europe.



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