Hydrogen as a green fuel
We’re looking at how harnessing hydrogen can help industry reduce emissions.
Hydrogen is the most abundant chemical substance in the universe. On earth, it exists naturally in compound form combined with other elements like oxygen (as water, H2O) or carbon (e.g. natural gas, CH4). This means it can play an important part in net zero ambitions.
Hydrogen and net zero
As the world moves toward net-zero energy solutions, hydrogen is considered as one of the main sources of energy supply to our communities. Hydrogen production has the potential to solve the lack of fossil fuel resources, and is a potential solution to the environment pollutions contributing towards the climate crisis.
However, to use hydrogen gas (H2) as a fuel, it needs to be separated from these sources, which takes a lot of energy.
Steel is still needed in a low-carbon green economy. It is used to manufacture products like wind turbines, trains and electric cars, and it can be recycled infinitely, with no loss of quality.
The traditional process of manufacturing steel is carbon-intensive with 6% of global carbon emissions coming from the iron-making process alone. Iron is produced in a blast furnace, in a reaction between iron ore and carbon monoxide. This produces the iron required to make steel. It produces carbon dioxide which is emitted into the atmosphere.
Therefore, making the steelmaking process more eco-friendly through harnessing the energy from hydrogen is key. In the reaction between iron ore and hydrogen gas, the iron required to make steel is produced, and the by-product in this case is water. If the energy used to produce the hydrogen in the first place is renewable – such as using a wind turbine to power an electrolyser – this is a significant step towards net zero steel manufacturing.
Hydrogen as a fuel for furnaces therefore has enormous potential to cut emissions. Hydrogen is cheaper, infinitely available and renewable. With the current energy crisis making it hard to access fuel, hydrogen is a long-term solution that would eliminate such challenges.
Using a renewable energy source such as hydrogen supports our work towards the decarbonisation of wider industry. SaMI is supporting key transport OEMs in their strategy to harness hydrogen to minimise transport emissions and meet decarbonisation targets.
The transition from natural gas to hydrogen is critical for a net zero Wales. Electricity is expensive with UK electricity costs currently higher than anywhere in the EU. Producing green hydrogen to make steel would make the process yet more expensive. It would make other sectors that rely on steel more expensive too, such as air travel.
Ensuring the infrastructure is in place to support the transition to hydrogen steelmaking is a challenge.
This will require government, industry and research working together to ensure the transition is supported and practical for both industry and the public.
Contributor Dr Mike Dowd