Nigeria: All You Need to Know About Green Hydrogen, Relevance to Energy Transition Drive

There are, however, concerns that fossil fuel firms could lock in the blue hydrogen policy to extend the life of their current assets.

As the world moves to decarbonise the global economy by 2050, rapid investment in renewable energy and an expansion system to deliver renewable electricity to consumers are needed for a successful energy transition.

Currently, electricity generation through coal and gas represents one-third of global emissions.

Therefore, investments in renewable energy sources like solar and wind will significantly reduce carbon emissions.

However, there are some sectors where using renewable energy and electrification won’t reduce carbon emissions. These sectors are called hard-to-abate sectors, and about 40 per cent of global carbon emissions come from them. They are large industrial and transportation sectors such as cement, steel, aviation, and shipping companies.

In achieving net zero global emissions, experts have insisted that a clean molecule is needed, and green hydrogen is best to play the role. A report by the World Bank noted that green hydrogen has a great deal of potential to address the world’s energy needs while advancing climate change mitigation efforts.

Here’s what you need to know about green hydrogen:

Hydrogen, its types

Represented by the ‘H’ symbol, hydrogen is described as a flammable gaseous substance that is colourless, tasteless, and odourless. It is said to be one of the most common and simplest members of chemical elements which occurs naturally and in compound form when it combines with other elements. For instance, hydrogen forms water (H2O) when it combines with oxygen and hydrocarbon (found in coal, natural gas, and petroleum) when it combines with carbon.

Hydrogen is vital to the hard-to-abate industries, accounting for about 90 million tonnes of its annual use. Sixty-five per cent of hydrogen is used to produce fertiliser, plastics, and cleaning products, about 25 per cent is used to refine petrol, and the remaining 10 per cent is used to make steel, gas, and electronics. Production of hydrogen results in the annual release of 830 million tonnes of CO2 which is more than the greenhouse gases (GHGs) produced by the entire country of Germany.

There are different types of hydrogen, depending on how it is produced. While hydrogen itself is colourless, colours are used to describe how it is made. Hydrogen produced from coal is called black or brown hydrogen. Grey and blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas, but blue hydrogen, which emits more carbon during production, deploys Carbon Capture Utilisation and Storage (CCUS) to trap and store the carbon produced. However, there is no evidence that CCUS technologies are effective on a large scale. Then there is Green hydrogen produced using renewable energy and water.

About Green Hydrogen

The only hydrogen believed to have the capacity to reduce carbon emissions is green hydrogen. It burns clean when heated, producing water and oxygen. Green hydrogen helps reduce carbon emissions in hard-to-abate industries, but how it is utilised, stored, and transported also affects how much it reduces carbon emissions.

“One of the most promising methods to produce low-carbon hydrogen (green hydrogen) is to split it from water (H2O) using electricity, a process known as electrolysis”, a report by the World Bank noted.

Hydrogen produced through electrolysis can be in a liquid or gaseous state and can be easily stored or transferred through pipelines. In a nutshell, green hydrogen is versatile, reactive, transportable, burns clean, and can be produced with low or zero emissions.

Green hydrogen versus energy transition

Many believe that producing hydrogen from renewable power is a crucial step towards reaching net-zero emissions economies and the global shift to sustainable energy.

According to World Economic Forum, “Depending on production methods, hydrogen can be grey, blue or green – and sometimes even pink, yellow or turquoise. However, green hydrogen is the only type produced in a climate-neutral manner making it critical to reach net zero by 2050.”

Although less than 0.1 per cent of the world’s hydrogen is currently produced using water electrolysis, interest in this method is growing as the cost of renewable electricity, particularly electricity generated by solar and wind, continues to plummet. Hydrogen has the potential to accelerate the decarbonisation of entire industrial sectors, thereby combating climate change, whether it be through the use of e-fuel in the transportation industry or a method of lowering emissions in the steel industry and many other areas.

Likely Pitfalls

One of the significant concerns in hydrogen production is that when it is released into the air, it can combine with other gases like methane and extend their lifetime. The combination of hydrogen with other gases in the atmosphere threatens climate change.

Research, however, shows that no matter how much hydrogen leaks, utilising green hydrogen is still preferable to using gas. This is because using gas results in carbon emissions in addition to methane when it is taken out of the ground.

Although more research is required, it is evident that hydrogen plants will need severe leak protection. Therefore, the extent to which hydrogen is truly carbon-free depends not only on how it is produced but also on how it is used and transported.

Also, a report by Heinrich Boll Foundation stated that projects involving green hydrogen need a lot of renewable energy capacity. However, access to resources, water supply, or land use could all suffer due to green hydrogen projects. This poses a significant challenge to host communities that would have to compete for water with companies. Data show that Nigeria faces severe water scarcity, with approximately 70 million Nigerians having no access to basic drinking water services as of 2021.

Numerous socioeconomic implications are also identified in hydrogen production. Green hydrogen plants need much space to build their wind and solar farms. Still, projects with poorly planned infrastructure can cause societal unrest in rural areas with insufficient energy supplies. These conflicts could endanger the energy transition or possibly cause social unrest.

Another major challenge associated with green hydrogen production is that it is relatively expensive, and its low density also makes hydrogen costly to transport by road or ship. However, the World Bank projected that “the price of low-carbon hydrogen is falling fast and is estimated to reach $1.3 per kg by 2030. Bloomberg also forecasts that, driven by high demand, the price of green hydrogen could fall to as low as $0.7 per kg by 2050.

There are also concerns that fossil fuel firms could lock in the blue hydrogen policy to extend the life of their current assets.

Opportunities

For nations dependent on fossil fuels, low-carbon hydrogen has the potential to increase export revenue, thereby attracting foreign direct investment (FDI) in the energy sector.

Green hydrogen can potentially promote the expansion of large-scale renewable energy projects in low-income nations, creating direct and indirect employment. It also has the opportunity to generate energy to meet local demands and decarbonise domestic manufacturing.

To address the water challenge, experts opined that if hydrogen plants incorporate water management technologies, there will be more access to clean water.

It is worth noting that heavy industries that now rely on fossil fuels and produced approximately 24 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, such as steel production, commercial aviation, and cargo ships, can use low-carbon hydrogen. If green hydrogen is used instead of coal to make steel, the only by-product is water.

Although green hydrogen could be employed in many situations, there are often more affordable and effective substitutes. For instance, using green hydrogen to heat homes is wasteful and expensive. Instead, it is better to use renewable energy for that purpose. Also, electrifying vehicles that travel short distances is more economical than running on green hydrogen.