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the beauty of blue

an infrastructure for “blue hydrogen” refuelling will be a critical step towards net zero commercial transport

So, truck manufacturers are making more ambitious net zero commitments…

 

It’s not speculation, and it’s coming faster than we thought. As reported in the Financial Times, Europe’s largest truck OEM’s will stop selling vehicles that produce emissions by 2040, a decade earlier than originally planned. Together, the big seven of DAF, Daimler, Ford, Iveco, Man, Scania, and Volvo will switch focus to hydrogen, battery technology and clean fuels.

Estimates vary widely of the contribution that liquefied gases will make to this transition, but (as the big 7 confirm) it’s clear that hydrogen will play an important role, particularly in road transport. Hydrogen is versatile stuff: it can be manufactured in many places and in multiple ways, with a very low or even zero carbon footprint, and by adapting existing manufacturing and supply infrastructures to accelerate deployment.

It's all about network in commercial transport

In transport sectors where high-density refuelling networks are needed (passenger cars and vans, above all), electrification will lead the way. Commercial road freight is different: partly because some serious battery technology is needed to move a 38-tonne truck 500-1000 kilometres. But, more interestingly, because long-haul trucks tend to move goods between and through industrial hubs and ports….and it’s in precisely these locations that hydrogen manufacturing and supply capability already exists.

"Making" hydrogen and capturing C02:

GCCSI: Global Status of CCS 2019

So why “blue" hydrogen?

As our team’s commercial fuel technician commented only last week, “green hydrogen is pretty sexy”. Produced from the electrolysis of water, green hydrogen may indeed be a low carbon transport fuel of the future. But manufacturing capability and supply infrastructure are currently so embryonic that time and money are needed to make green hydrogen a fuel ready to put a big dent in emissions. At the same time, massive reserves of electricity are needed to make green hydrogen – meaning either huge investment in renewable electricity generation or significant extra reliance on fossil fuel-powered generators.

Blue hydrogen is different, for a few reasons:

B: Bulk production of hydrogen is already feasible at existing industrial sites and, as CO2 collection and storage systems are adapted, emissions-free production can be readily expanded at these same sites to meet commercial transport needs. Collecting CO2, transporting it by pipeline and injecting it into previously-used hydrocarbon or new CO2 injection wells, are not developmental research activities. These processes have been carried out for several decades at full scale and at multiple locations across the globe.

L: Lowest cost. Hydrogen produced from gas, with CCS, is the lowest cost clean hydrogen by a mile. Not only that: blue hydrogen is predicted to be lowest cost for at least a decade, and probably longer. Transport costs from production to a supply site are also low and hydrogen storage is readily available. Plus, industry and transport operators can switch to green hydrogen as and when the cost becomes lower than blue. Easy.

U: Uniform, reliable production of hydrogen is available from energy firms which have been producing industrial gases for decades. Hydrogen produced from electrolysis, in a process which relies on ‘spare’ electricity to keep costs reasonable, will have to factor in additional storage costs compared to hydrogen produced by well-established industrial processes.

E: Energy companies . Yes, oil & gas companies are involved in the supply of blue hydrogen. This might be controversial for some who may prefer to see the divestment and/or break-up of oil & gas companies. But they remain highly reliable suppliers, and are peopled by energy experts looking to the future. To quote Michael Liebreich, Senior Contributor, Bloomberg NEF:” the idea that we can somehow effect a transition to net-zero energy without the involvement of the world’s largest energy companies is absurd.”

The UK – a test for transport, industry and government cooperation

 

The UK government has said it will consult on ending the use of diesel HGV’s, and is a good example of the cross-functional cooperation which will be required to decarbonise transport.

Right now, 95% of UK hydrogen is produced on industrial sites, much of it by ‘reforming’ natural gas into hydrogen and CO2. Plans are to collect the CO2 by-product of hydrogen production at the UK’s main industrial hubs, transport it by pipeline and then store it securely kilometres offshore and in tiny pores of rock more than a kilometre below the sea. This is carbon capture and storage (CCS). With almost all the waste CO2 collected using CCS, such hydrogen is termed ‘blue’ hydrogen.

 

Exciting pilots have begun in the UK for the use of blue hydrogen in industrial heating (with the Tees Valley leading the way). The question now will be whether central government energy, transport, and industry policy-makers can work effectively with hydrogen producers and the commercial road transport market to build sustainable momentum, and get things done for trucks. As Henrik Henriksson, who chairs ACEA’s commercial vehicle board, has said: “If we can make this happen, we need to work all together.”

So, there you have it: some reasons for what we believe is the beauty of blue. And while recognising that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, and while we know that our markets’ long-term future may be green, you can switch the colour of your hydrogen whenever you’re ready.

To find out more about how Pannell Hayes Consulting’s team of energy, transport and mobility specialists can help support the transition to sustainable, net zero commercial transport, start a conversation with our experts by contacting us here .

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