In the Whitepaper published by the Global Future Council on Energy Transition of World Economic Forum The Speed of the Energy Transition: Gradual or Rapid Change? (2019) two narratives were pointed out as being gradual and rapid. Nowadays, there are many possible technological advancements to shape our energy future, such as battery technologies (liquid metal batteries, solid-state batteries), nuclear technologies (ITER, molten salt mini reactors), electrification (interconnected systems, smart grids), and hydrogen. There is an ongoing race among those research efforts (a race with no losers), which will most surely help us attain a carbon neutral future. Nevertheless, if the know-how of the O&G sector is to be utilized, hydrogen might be one step ahead.
Hydrogen, of course, is not an energy source but rather solely a carrier. Based on the primary source of energy used to produce it, hydrogen is semi-scientifically color-coded. The most used production method, for the time being, is methane reforming; however, commercial electrolyzer technologies are on their way. The main aim is to be able to use hydrogen as a storage medium for renewables for the times when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining, especially on the long winter nights. Moreover, it could enable the greening of the sectors like energy-intensive industries, heating/cooling of residencies, and transportation. Most importantly, the utilization of hydrogen as fuel (especially blue hydrogen) could help to transition the O&G giants who seem to be aware of the situation.
“ExxonMobil is working to develop breakthrough solutions in areas such as carbon capture, biofuels, hydrogen, and energy-efficient process technology.” ExxonMobil Sustainability Report (2020)
“We are pursuing emerging markets for carbon-neutral hydrogen production: the first by combining carbon capture and storage (CCS) with hydrogen production using natural gas as a feedstock” Schlumberger Limited Global Stewardship Report (2019)
“We are investing in new technologies, products, and services that advance our industry in cleaner energy, from carbon capture and storage to hydrogen-fueled turbines that will help the industry continue to innovate toward a net-zero future.” Baker Hughes Report on Corporate Responsibility (2019)
Shell, Total, BP are all in the same boat, and even Saudi Arabia has announced a hydrogen strategy. China and Europe are backing up hydrogen R&D, and at the World Economic Forum event last week, John Kerry has stated that the US will also be funding hydrogen development. One way to produce blue hydrogen could be through carbon-neutral power plants and electrolysis.
Carbon Free Natural Gas Power Plants (?)
Among the alternatives of low/no carbon PPs, one of the most promising applications is the Allam Cycle, which is a semi-closed loop of Brayton Cycle using CO2 as its working fluid, in the end resulting in zero emissions. A 50 MW test PP has shown promising results, and a commercial 300 MW is on the way. Ice Blue Hydrogen (?)
Research is also being carried out in the USA and mainly China for the exploitation of untapped hydrate reserves of methane clathrates to produce natural gas. A recent paper Wang et al. (2020) of Chinese Petroleum University has investigated in-situ hydrogen production from those resources and claimed the process to be profitable. However, there is not much work in the literature for the time being to dive deep into the integration of hydrate exploitation with hydrogen production. Since both technologies have been developed for a long time now, a combination of two could be the wild card to reshape the whole energy sector. If the electrolyzers also join the picture, we could be looking at a life cycle of methane production used to generate electricity with no/low carbon emissions to produce hydrogen at centralized stations to be distributed via pipelines.
A True Hydrogen Romantic
Prof. Dr. Nejat Veziroğlu is a name familiar to most that are in energy chambers. As the most renowned international leader of hydrogen energy, his life and part of his pioneering work has become a part of the high school curriculum in Turkey. Being an advisor to the United Nations, he had helped to establish The International Centre for Hydrogen Energy Technologies of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO-ICHET) in Istanbul, which later closed due to lack of funding (yet is planned to open back in Beijing soon). Currently, at the age of 97, may he live long and rejoice many more happy birthdays. Carrying the torch lit by him “National Hydrogen Association” Youtube Channel is a good place to go for anyone interested in recent developments and a better understanding.