Dr Jen Baxter, Head of Innovation and Wales for Protium discusses how we can “Challenge for Change” by using green hydrogen to decarbonise some our most carbon intensive industries.
One woman’s perspective: the energy landscape
When I started my first degree in the mid-1990s I wanted to leave the planet in a cleaner and better place for all when I left it, this is something that feels increasingly difficult 25 years later. We have shared global goals through various UN agreements to reduce pollution to land, sea, and air, to make sure we can breathe the air, we have clean water to drink, that we can grow food and that all other life on Earth can co-exist with us. The use of renewable hydrogen is key in achieving this goal. The voices of women and minority groups in the hydrogen space are few, we all belong here as we do in all other areas of society and I would encourage all people whichever gender you identify with to be a collaborator, a champion, a cheerleader in transforming the products and services we consume every day. Be curious, ask questions. By challenging the world, we live in, we can become agents of change.
Looking ahead: where hydrogen fits in
When we think about the energy sector today, you might be led to believe that hydrogen is the new kid on the block but H2 has been tempting industry and technology enthusiasts for centuries. The hydrogen fuel cell was invented by Sir William Grove in 1838. Today hydrogen is creating much excitement as a replacement combustion fuel with zero CO2 emissions, displacing dirty fossil fuels and providing industry and transport with a green solution to rapidly reduce human’s impact on the planet. We can use hydrogen to power electric vehicles, to provide heat in industry, to store power from renewables, to tackle difficult problems, such as creating zero emission heavy vehicles like buses and lorries, even aircraft, trains, and ships.
In the UK we have done some of the easy tasks to reduce emissions, we have implemented more renewable electricity production, we have improved appliances and many buildings have improved their efficiencies to reduce demand on the energy system. Now we move into the tougher territory, how do we decarbonise industries which work best using fossil fuels. To decarbonise these industries, we need new and diverse ideas and ways of approaching problems, which can only be achieved through a diverse and inclusive businesses and industry. Everyone’s perspective and contribution must be heard and considered if we are to make radical and climate change halting impact to our most carbon intensive industries.
One way to tackle these industries is through the use of Hydrogen. Hydrogen is most abundant element in the universe, making this switch should be an easy fix shouldn’t it? Here on Earth hydrogen does not exist on its own, it is always a part of a compound like water H2O or methane gas CH4 and we have to extract it from these compounds to use it as fuel and that extraction uses energy.
Renewable hydrogen can be produced by using renewable power to electrolyse water and split the hydrogen from the oxygen. Electrolysis is mature technology that continues to improve, however today only around 5% of hydrogen globally is produced this way. The other 95% of hydrogen produced is made from fossil fuels where either methane gas (CH4) or syngases from the gasification of coal and oil are split to remove the hydrogen and all other gases, CO2 and CO released to atmosphere. Over 50% of all hydrogen produced today is used to make ammonia, a main component of fertilizers. The rest is used in other chemical, manufacturing and food industries. It is here that the story of renewable hydrogen really begins and where I choose to challenge industry to make the change.
Achieving net zero through innovation: the hydrogen solution
This is where the opportunities for renewable hydrogen really gets exciting and where, at Protium Green Solutions, we are focusing urgent attention to provide hydrogen energy services. Our chemical, manufacturing, food and drink industries not only create an existing market for renewable hydrogen, but they also create an existing landscape where renewable hydrogen production can fit into existing sites. The technologies for renewable hydrogen are not new, but the applications we plan to use it for are, making some permitting easier and some planning harder. These industrial sites can then create hubs, hubs that can share hydrogen production facilities which can store excess electricity as hydrogen, fuel industrial boilers, be used as feedstock and become refuelling hubs for vehicles both for the industrial site and wider communities.
The scale of the challenge in transitioning to a net zero carbon dioxide future is not to be underestimated, the scale of hydrogen production needed to achieve our global goals is huge, it is in these tough areas like industry, heat and transport, which are producing the bulk of our emissions, where we must communicate the need for change and work together.
There is not one answer to cleaning up our lifestyles, we must support each other across all renewable, low carbon industries, products and services to deliver change. Our strength is in our collective action. Hydrogen will be part of this, I have no doubt about that.
For women looking to launch their career in energy or specifically in hydrogen, there has never been a more exciting, welcoming and innovative time to do so. The industry is vastly different to how I once knew it, and there is so much opportunity for women looking to pave the way to net zero and forge their career in the green economy.
At Protium, we are always happy to discuss whether hydrogen is the vehicle for your businesses transition to net zero. If you would like to discuss the above with myself or members of the Protium team, we would be delighted to hear from you.