Hydrogen & the Industrial Decarbonisation of Heat

Jack Eastwood's picture
Jack Eastwood, Project Developer, Protium
Chris Jackson's picture
Chris Jackson, CEO, Protium
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Achieving Net Zero emissions before 2050 is one of the largest and most complex challenges that the energy industry has ever faced. Nowhere is this more keenly felt than in heat-intensive industries that are required to meet both the government-mandated Net Zero Emissions by 2050 and their own, often more challenging, sustainability targets. Today global demand for natural gas-generated heat is likely to increase as the population grows and consumer demand heightens, but without a clear transition towards low and eventually zero-carbon gas we will surely find ourselves unable to prevent the growing climate emergency.

So, what is the answer? There are several solutions to industrial heating currently available to industries with varying levels of sustainability. The traditional route has been to look at electrification and bioenergy, however, these solutions are not without their limitations. Not all processes can be electrified (and cost remains a large challenge), whilst concerns still remain around the sustainability or biomass projects like Drax power station. In any case, bioenergy still has local air quality impacts and while it may be CO2 neutral, in a world where companies are looking towards Net negative options, they may not be enough on their own.

Hydrogen, on the other hand, can be used to generate heat whilst only emitting water as a waste product; a process which Protium believes presents the most exciting opportunity for industrial decarbonisation at the moment. Indeed, the idea of using hydrogen for heat is growing in popularity. There are now hydrogen heat trials for the steel industry underway in Austria, Sweden and soon the UK and Netherlands, while hydrogen blended with natural gas is being used for the glass industry in Slovenia, pasta in Italy and residential homes in the UK.

But while hydrogen could be the future for industrial decarbonisation there are significant challenges to overcome to reach that point. Firstly, hydrogen heating technologies are currently nascent, with few operational hydrogen heating solutions deployed presently, and today most of the sector is focused on providing small scale home boilers that could be connected to the existing natural gas grid and then converted to hydrogen as the grid changes to hydrogen. The second challenge is providing high purity sustainable hydrogen. Today the majority of hydrogen produced globally comes from Steam Methane Reforming, which emits significant volumes of carbon into the atmosphere and produces hydrogen that requires further purification for use in fuel cell technologies. The most attractive alternative process is called electrolysis, where renewable electricity is used to split water into ‘green’ high purity hydrogen and oxygen. However, for this to become widely available at industrial scale there needs to be a scaling up of projects to enable further cost reductions in the price of ‘green’ hydrogen.

At Protium, we feel that by scaling up ‘green’ hydrogen production it is possible to unlock pathways to deep decarbonisation of industry and industrial heat, and it is this technology pathway that governments and industries should be focusing on. To facilitate this transition and support our clients in adapting to hydrogen solutions, we provide hydrogen as an energy service, an approach called a HESCO. Through this approach, Protium build, own, operate, and finance hydrogen projects to provide zero-emission energy solutions to industrial customers. This helps our clients as it removes both the CapEx requirements and technology risk from their balance sheets and incentivises them to engage with a viable, Zero Emission, heating solution. We believe this is the future. A world where sun, wind and water, power our vehicles and heat our industries.

The energy industry has the opportunity to be at the epicentre of the 4th industrial age, harnessing new technologies such as artificial intelligence, opportunities created by the ‘Internet of Things’, and increasing adoption of automation innovation.

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