Decarbonisation Technology - May 2024 Issue

Low-carbon hydrogen potential with autothermal reforming How advanced technology and the development of standards will help lower the carbon intensity of hydrogen production

Phil Ingram Johnson Matthey

T he use of hydrogen is not new. Fuel cells were invented more than 150 years ago and have been providing on-board power to space missions for more than 50 years. Industry makes millions of tonnes of hydrogen every year, with its main uses (in pure and mixed forms) being oil refining (33%), ammonia production (27%), methanol production (11%), and steel production via the direct reduction of iron ore (3%). Hydrogen is manufactured primarily from the conversion of natural gas (~75%) and coal (~20%), with 2% from electrolysis. To lower greenhouse gas emissions, low- carbon hydrogen, produced using renewable energy sources or with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies, is a vital, clean, and versatile energy source. Its market potential is significant, driven by increasing global efforts to decarbonise industries, transportation, and energy production. However, investments in hydrogen infrastructure, research and development, and policy support are crucial for unlocking the full potential of this promising new energy source and accelerating the transition towards a sustainable future. So, what do we need to unleash the potential of low-carbon hydrogen, and what solutions does technology offer today? Role of global standards While there is a strong ambition for low- carbon hydrogen, the development of relevant standards remains an ongoing process. The EU Hydrogen Strategy, launched in July 2020, lays out a bold vision for fostering a hydrogen economy. Although this strategy does not detail technical specifications, it does provide a robust

policy framework and roadmap for scaling up hydrogen production, infrastructure, and demand. The EU Renewable Energy Directive (RED II) complements this strategy by setting stringent sustainability criteria for renewable fuels, including hydrogen sourced from renewables like wind, solar, and biomass. To ensure the quality and origin of hydrogen, including low-carbon variants, the European Hydrogen Quality Assessment (EHQA) offers a voluntary certification scheme. This initiative, developed by industry stakeholders, provides a standardised framework to assess sustainability and traceability in hydrogen production processes, bolstering trust among producers, consumers, and investors. Even though several ‘low carbon hydrogen standards’ have been announced, the methodologies and definitions are still under discussion. These encompass hydrogen derived from various sources with differing carbon footprints. Current hydrogen standards, such as ISO14687 and IEC62282, primarily address its quality as a feedstock yet fail to account for its carbon intensity, creating some lack of clarity as to the levels of decarbonisation that can be achieved. Overall, standards will play a pivotal role in driving the transition to a sustainable, low- carbon economy, emphasising environmental integrity, safety, and quality. However, to foster the growth of low-carbon hydrogen, current and new standards must be developed to specifically target carbon emissions. This would enable a comprehensive comparison of different production pathways and provide clarity for end users.


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