By Rajesh D. Sharma, Global Director Marketing Oil & Gas Digital Solutions at Schneider Electric
Energy continues to be our global economy’s biggest strength, but deepest obstacle. Over the decades, renewable forms of energy have been encouraged, healthier substitutes to products and services have been welcomed, and new technology has been born. However, as we make further strides into our next millennia, it is important to continue innovating technology that will sustain both our planet and society.
The world, as we know it, is currently facing many challenges in making the transition from fossil fuel to carbon-neutral energy. Green hydrogen, in this case, is one of the emerging, enabling technologies that will facilitate the transition away from hydrocarbons. Made with renewable energy, it will be an essential contributor to effecting this necessary change. Determining how to achieve cost-effective production, however, presents a formidable challenge.
Today, most hydrogen is produced with fossil fuels, and its use in the industry ranges from refining oil to producing ammonia, methanol, and steel. But in addition, recent advancements in green hydrogen technology are broadening its appeal for other industry sectors.
The desire to move toward green hydrogen is real, but making the transition will require three critical things:
Finding the forward path towards efficient green hydrogen production requires new technologies and new thinking. Moreover, many individuals still lack the necessary training and skills needed to support the hydrogen economy. Integrated engineering using a digital twin and process modelling are currently key technology solutions for green hydrogen production & design. However, as production continues to evolve, tech of this nature should continue to be evaluated and improved.
Currently, producing and using hydrogen for power is inefficient compared to directly using renewable electricity. According to the International Energy Agency, less than 0.1% of hydrogen today is produced through water electrolysis, but that could soon change. An estimated $500 billion will be spent on research and development projects over the next decade, approximately 70% of which will target green hydrogen production. This investment is expected to push low-carbon hydrogen production capacity beyond 10 million metric tons annually by 2030.
While hydrogen is a not a toxic gas, it is still a highly flammable and relatively complex to de-risk. Moreover, the severity and frequency of damage related to hydrogen, for example, is dependent on the extent to which the gas has been blended with other materials. In short, hydrogen should be consistently monitored through a combined safety, power, and process control system. On top of the safety regulations needed during production, the massive consumption of power for hydrogen production also makes power efficiency critically important.
Tools like predictive analytics and advanced process control can help producers achieve maximum plant uptime and efficiency. Popular technology tools like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) also help to improve analytics for optimised asset performance.
It is very likely that in some cases producing renewable energy close to the green hydrogen production facility may not be possible. Also, it is likely that there may be some independent renewable energy producers wanting to sell their produced energy to green hydrogen producers. In such cases the power will be transmitted to the green hydrogen production facility through the grid. When grid power is used for green hydrogen production, it becomes important for the producer to know, as well as make available to the hydrogen users, that the produced hydrogen is actually generated from green electrons. Such certification will be necessary for any rebate hydrogen users may get from authorities. Blockchain is going to be the solution for such certifications and this will have to be adopted by power utility companies, hydrogen producers and the users.
Combining the technologies and solutions outlined here will allow green hydrogen project design and operations to be optimised from design through operations and expedite the transition to renewable energy. The solution is on the horizon, but for the industry to reach this ambitious objective, it must recognize the essential role digitalization will play in changing the status quo.