Sustainability: Understanding the hype around hydrogen and its benefits
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Sustainability: Understanding the hype around hydrogen and its benefits

Sustainability: Understanding the hype around hydrogen and its benefits

Here’s why the GCC is well-positioned globally to play a leading role in the supply of hydrogen

Gulf Business

The new buzzword in the energy landscape has been decarbonisation, with hydrogen being touted as the fuel of the future. But how far has the GCC actually progressed in the production and deployment of hydrogen? And where is it headed?

We speak to Martin O’Neill, VP – Product Management at GE Gas Power and head of GE’s Center for Decarbonisation, to find out more.

Hydrogen has become a hot topic of interest globally and regionally. In the GCC, where do we stand right now in terms of hydrogen production/adoption?
The GCC is starting to look at hydrogen as the primary fuel in a future where only low-carbon fuels will be allowed to burn. With huge reserves of hydrocarbons that have fuelled the world for decades and the increasing global interest in hydrogen for power generation and other uses, we see more and more oil and gas companies in the Gulf focusing on the production of either blue hydrogen or blue ammonia. This is a means for them to remain relevant in the global energy market in the decades ahead as well. We are still at the beginning but plans have already been announced by Saudi Aramco, ADNOC and NEOM to produce either hydrogen or ammonia, which is a suitable carrier of hydrogen, and to ship this fuel overseas to markets such as Japan, South Asia and potentially other parts of the world as well.

What are the biggest challenges in deploying hydrogen for power generation?
There are many practical challenges in the use of hydrogen as a fuel for power generation: • Transporting and storing hydrogen requires special considerations due to its property of attacking and embrittling certain materials and
the extreme pressures and temperatures needed to compress and liquefy it.

• Operating a gas turbine on a fuel with hydrogen may require changes to combustion, fuel and plant safety systems.
• Hydrogen has a heating value that is approximately one-third of natural gas. For a given volume of flow, hydrogen delivers less energy. It is also a smaller molecule than natural gas, meaning that it can leak through seals that would be leak-free in a natural gas system.
• Hydrogen is more flammable than natural gas and special considerations are needed for the safe operation of a gas turbine with a natural gas/ hydrogen fuel blend.
• The flame temperature of hydrogen is higher than natural gas. This could result in an increase in NOX emissions depending on the concentration of hydrogen in the fuel and the specific combustion system in the gas turbine.
• There is the issue of traceability and certificates of origin. We need a clear and common understanding of grey, blue, green and other colours of hydrogen and need to know who can provide adequate certification that carbon dioxide formed during the hydrogen production process was stored properly.

Additionally, there are issues that need to be addressed at a systemic level. The more hydrogen you produce, the more renewable energy and carbon capture and storage solutions you need. And the more renewable energy you generate, the more you will need of energy storage, smart grid management systems and integration. This is a very interconnected, integrated world and a lot of work needs to be done to materialise it.

There are several ‘colours’ when it comes to hydrogen – blue, green, grey, turquoise, brown, pink, yellow and white, among others. Can you elaborate on how it all works and which is better?
A colour-based convention is being used internationally to describe and differentiate hydrogen production methods:

Grey (or black): Gasification of coal or reforming of natural gas without carbon capture
Blue: Reforming of steam methane reform (SMR) with carbon capture and storage
Green: Electrolysis of water using renewable power
Pink (Red): Electrolysis of water using nuclear power
Turquoise: Pyrolysis of methane, which produces hydrogen and solid carbon as a by-product
White: Gasification or other process using 100 per cent biomass as a feedstock

In terms of power generation, what is important to note is that the source of the hydrogen doesn’t matter – once the hydrogen is produced, any given volume will burn the same way in a gas turbine to produce the same amount of power, regardless of what means it was produced by. We need to rapidly scale up low carbon hydrogen production – of different colours – if we want hydrogen to be a key part of the energy mix as we work towards deeper decarbonisation.

The UAE has been looking to ramp up production with the aim of exporting hydrogen in the near future. Saudi Arabia also aims to become the world’s ‘largest supplier of hydrogen’. How can GCC states ensure that they meet their ambitious hydrogen agendas?
Globally, more than 90 per cent of the industrial supply of hydrogen comes from a methane reforming process, commonly referred to as SMR. The feedstock for SMR is usually either methane or higher hydrocarbons. Green hydrogen, produced through electrolysis, is more energy intensive than blue hydrogen and requires large quantities of fresh water, which is not readily available in the GCC except through thermal desalination or reverse osmosis (RO) technologies. To meet their ambitious hydrogen agendas, the GCC states will need to utilise their hydrocarbon reserves to produce blue hydrogen, which typically has production costs less than half those of green hydrogen.

As an international player, how do you see the GCC measure up globally when it comes to the deployment of hydrogen?
The region is well-positioned globally to play a leading role in the supply of blue and green hydrogen and to remain at the heart of the world’s future energy ecosystem, as an exporter of this valuable, clean fuel. This is because the GCC has many of the ingredients needed to produce hydrogen cost effectively in the long run: enormous renewable energy potential; vast amounts of land for renewable energy projects; access to sea water; depleted oil and gas reservoirs to safely store carbon dioxide; and large reserves of natural gas. Additionally, countries in the Middle East can efficiently transport hydrogen to energy-deficient markets in nearby Africa, Europe and Asia.

How is GE adapting its portfolio to prepare for hydrogen-fuelled power generation?
Today, all GE gas turbines can burn hydrogen fuel to some degree and we are continuing to develop increased hydrogen capability for our gas turbines through in-house R&D and testing, as well as participating in US Department of Energy hydrogen fuel programmes.

GE gas turbines have been operating with hydrogen fuel blends in a variety of industrial applications, including steel mills, refineries and petrochemical plants – more than 75 of our gas turbines have (or continue to) operate on fuels that contain hydrogen.

We recently announced that a project utilising GE’s 9F.05 gas turbine will power Australia’s first dual-fuel capable natural gas/hydrogen power plant – the Tallawarra B Power Station in New South Wales. The project aims to accelerate the energy transition in Australia using gas that can be further decarbonised by using hydrogen and hydrogen-blended fuels. GE is also enabling the transition of a 485 MW combined-cycle 7HA power plant in Ohio, US to run on carbon-free hydrogen. Long Ridge Energy Terminal, which owns the plant, is collaborating with GE and New Fortress Energy to provide carbon-free power to customers by blending hydrogen in the gas stream and transitioning the plant to be capable of burning 100 per cent green hydrogen over the next decade.

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