Green hydrogen promises to turn Europe into an energy heavyweight, make traffic emission-free and replace carbon in steel manufacturing. But can it actually deliver – and how?
What should decision-makers know about green hydrogen?
1. Green hydrogen is a huge investment opportunity for Finland
The EU has a set target of meeting one-fifth of Member States’ energy needs with green or low-carbon hydrogen by the year 2050. Finland is in a strong position in this regard because it has abundant water resources and significant wind power potential that could be used to cleanly produce hydrogen.
A total of 23 green hydrogen projects with an estimated combined value of EUR 10 billion are already being planned in Finland. In fact, the country aims to supply 10% of the green hydrogen used in the EU.
Green hydrogen might be one key to solving the sustainability crisis, because it could enable emissions-free transport and carbon-free steel production. However, decisions and investments are needed to support research and development in the renewable energy generation and storage before the hydrogen revolution becomes a reality.
2. Green hydrogen requires huge amounts of affordable renewable energy
Green hydrogen is hydrogen produced from water using renewable energy, such as solar and wind power. This means that it needs affordable and plentiful renewable energy. Onshore wind power is already the most cost-effective form of electricity generation in Finland, and it currently supplies more than 10% of electricity consumption in the country. That figure is expected to exceed 50% by 2050, partially with a boost from green hydrogen production.
In climate terms, hydrogen is an ideal fuel because water vapour is the only by-product it produces when burned for energy. Hydrogen is needed to refine oil and produce fertilisers. So far, most hydrogen has been produced from natural gas. This process (known as grey hydrogen production) releases as much carbon into the atmosphere as the combined annual emissions of the United Kingdom and Indonesia. Changing how hydrogen is produced is therefore vital for solving the sustainability crisis.
3. To realise the hydrogen revolution, we need to ensure the supply of precious metals
Green hydrogen production requires an electrolyser, a device in which catalysts help electrical energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Traditionally, platinum and precious metals have been used as catalysts. However, these metals are in increasingly short supply and could thus become extremely expensive. Furthermore, they are mostly produced in countries that may be unreliable suppliers to Europe and under conditions that could involve ethical problems.
A steady supply of precious metals must be ensured before hydrogen can offer a reliable solution to global energy challenges. Aalto’s Professor Tanja Kallio and her team are developing new methods to reduce the need for precious metals in green hydrogen production, as well as trying to make them last longer and replace them with more common materials.
4. Green hydrogen would dramatically reduce Finland’s emissions
Green hydrogen can help reduce emissions from modes of transport that are difficult to electrify, such as heavy road transport and maritime transport. Hydrogen can be used as a fuel itself or it can be combined with carbon dioxide to produce electrofuels, such as methane (an alternative to natural gas).
Green hydrogen will also play a key role in reducing emissions from the steel industry. Fossil-free steel can be produced by using green hydrogen as a replacement for coke, a derivative of coal traditionally used in iron ore reduction. The impact would be enormous: if the Raahe steel mill switched to green hydrogen, Finland’s carbon dioxide emissions would fall by seven percent. The steel mill planned for Inkoo, which is estimated to cost EUR 4 billion, is expected to use green hydrogen to produce fossil-free steel.
In addition to introducing new technologies and investing in renewable energy, we also need to learn how to live with less.
5. New technologies can only become real with investments in research and education
The past two decades have seen enormous progress in the field of hydrogen technology solutions. Antti Arasto, Vice President of Industrial Energy and Hydrogen at VTT, emphasises that the development of new technologies is the result of long and complex processes. “The chain from basic research to applied research, product development and investments in companies, and then to a shift in the whole world’s infrastructure, is tremendously long. The hydrogen revolution is a shining example of the fact that the whole pipeline needs to be invested in and that education really is worth the investment,” Arasto explains.
Alongside green hydrogen, universities are also working on other new technologies, such as fusion energy. It’s essential that we don’t put all our eggs in one basket when it comes to solutions to global energy problems, because no single solution could work everywhere.
Read more about green hydrogen and the energy transition
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