November 23, 2022


How the Hydrogen Revolution Can Help Save the Planet--and How It Can't: Many researchers see a huge role for hydrogen in decarbonizing economies (Davide Castelvecchi, Nature magazine on November 23, 2022, Nature)

[A] few hundred metres away from the LuleƄ furnace is a smaller one that makes iron with much less carbon pollution. This pilot technology replaces coal with hydrogen, and releases only water vapour. "This is the new way to make steel, and with this, we can in principle eliminate all the carbon dioxide," Pei says.

The hydrogen-to-steel route isn't entirely pollution-free; other steps in converting iron to steel still emit some CO2, and the iron ore must be mined. Still, last year, this site produced the world's first 'green steel', with the aid of hydrogen that was made using Sweden's abundant low-carbon electricity, generated from hydropower, nuclear and wind. The pilot plant is owned by HYBRIT, a joint venture that SSAB formed in 2016 with Swedish utility company Vattenfall and LKAB, the national mining company.

A Hybrit initiative employee shows fossil-free produced sponge iron, the raw material from which steel is made.
Sponge iron -- the raw material from which steel is made -- produced at the HYBRIT plant in LuleƄ, Sweden, without the use of fossil fuels. Credit: Steffen Trumpf/dpa/picture alliance/Alamy Stock Photo
Making steel green is just one of the ways that hydrogen is now expected to help decarbonize the world's economy. Although some have touted hydrogen's use as a transportation fuel, it's unlikely to have much impact in that sector or in heating, for which batteries and electrical power already provide more efficient low-carbon solutions. Rather, hydrogen's biggest contribution will be to clean up industrial processes, from producing plastics and fertilizers to refining hydrocarbons. These industries have conventionally been thought of as harder to decarbonize, and have received less attention from the media, investors and policymakers.

Hydrogen might find uses in energy production, too. Liquid fuels made from hydrogen might one day power air travel and shipping. And hydrogen could even help to decarbonize the electricity grid: excess solar or wind power could be diverted into making the gas, which could then be used in other industrial processes or simply to store energy. In this way, hydrogen is expected to act as a bridge between many different sectors of the economy.

"Hydrogen is sort of unique because of its versatility in the ways you can produce it and in the ways in which you can use it," says Dharik Mallapragada, a chemical engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.

Policymakers anxious to reach net-zero emissions goals have begun a massive push for hydrogen, notably in the United States and the European Union. In some cases, they are subsidizing the price of low-carbon hydrogen; in others, handing out tax credits for hydrogen producers or for industries that use it.

Partly as a result, investment in hydrogen projects is experiencing a boom. The Hydrogen Council, an industry group in Brussels, estimates that the hundreds of large-scale hydrogen projects announced already amount to a possible investment of US$240 billion by 2030 -- although so far, only one-tenth of these are fully completed deals. By 2050, the council thinks the market for hydrogen and hydrogen technologies will be worth $2.5 trillion per year.

Posted by at November 23, 2022 5:14 PM