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18 August, 2021
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“Green”, “yellow”, “blue”. Features of the international hydrogen hunt

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In July 2020, the European Commission presented the EU's strategy for the transition to renewable hydrogen energy. At the same time, Russia and Ukraine may not become competitors, but partners in the supply of hydrogen to Europe.

In early August, the representative of the President of the Russian Federation for relations with international organizations to achieve sustainable development goals, Anatoly Chubais, said that the period of the technological revolution, or the global energy transition, which the world economy has entered, is comparable only to the processes of the late 18th - early 19th centuries. In his opinion, both the scale of coverage and the degree of radicality of the changes are similar, the only difference is the speed - the current energy transition will take only about 30-50 years.

But in fact, there is nothing unique about the predicted speed of the next energy transition of mankind. Indeed, the first such transition - from biomass (firewood) to coal and steam engines - was quite long, but as a result of it, the industry we are accustomed to appeared. But the next two - from coal to oil (thanks to the advent of the internal combustion engine and the emergence of fuels made from oil) and from coal and oil products to gas in industry and power generation - each took place for just a few decades.

The main difference between the fourth energy transition is that instead of one technological revolution, as in the past, there is a whole range of technological breakthroughs in energy efficiency and the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. We are talking about the use of both renewable energy sources (RES) and hydrogen as one of the main energy carriers, as well as various energy storage devices, carbon traps, etc. Structural changes in the economy and technological progress have made it possible to break away from increased energy consumption to ensure increased production and economic growth. The volumes of primary energy consumption in many regions of the world (EU, USA, China) have stabilized, and in a number of countries (Great Britain, Germany, Japan) they even began to decline with an increase in GDP.

At the turn of the 2010s, the European Union occupied a leading position in the world in the production of equipment for renewable energy sources. Investments in this sector could reload European enterprises, accelerate the recovery from the crisis, and save jobs. But already in the first years of the rapid growth of the capacities of their own solar and wind power plants, the Europeans began to lose the competition to China. A significant part of EU producers either went bankrupt or moved to the PRC, although the flywheel of changes in the European energy sector has already been launched.

However, man cannot control either the sun or the wind. Gas power plants built in the 2000s turned out to be the only type of generation capable of providing operational balancing of uncontrolled generation. In the second half of the 2010s, the European Union began to close coal-fired power plants, which opened up a new market niche not only for renewable energy sources, but also for gas. So, in Germany, the share of gas began to grow in 2016, reaching a peak in 2020. In 2019, gas-fired power plants in Germany produced 10.2% of electricity (52.9 TWh), in 2020 - 12.1% (59 TWh), so it is not surprising that this country so strongly supports construction and commissioning " Nord Stream - 2 ".

There is also an alternative way, in theory, allowing to ensure a stable supply of electricity even with a 100% share of renewable energy sources in the energy balance - we are talking about energy storage. But this is a fantastically expensive pleasure, so the concept of hydrogen energy has become an intermediate option: renewable energy sources produce electricity, and it is sent to the production of hydrogen from water. That is, in this case, hydrogen should be viewed as a "battery" for European renewable energy sources.

In July 2020, the European Commission presented a strategy for the EU's transition to renewable hydrogen energy. EU experts believe that by 2050, pure hydrogen will be able to provide 24% of the world's energy needs. A volume of hydrogen worth 630 billion euros will be sold annually, and the new industry will provide about 1 million jobs.

The European Commission's plan has three phases. From 2020 to 2024, the EU's clean hydrogen energy capacity should reach 6 gigawatts and produce 1 million tons of hydrogen. From 2025 to 2030, hydrogen should become an important part of European energy and reach a production turnover of 10 million tons. By 2050, there are plans to create a self-sustaining hydrogen industry that will replace fossil fuels in all sectors where wind turbines or solar panels cannot.

So far, Germany has advanced further than others in creating hydrogen energy. In June 2021, the German Ministry of Economy announced that it will support the creation of a market for environmentally friendly "green" hydrogen in the amount of 900 million euros through the newly created platform H2 Global Foundation. The project was formed by such large German companies as Siemens Energy, Linde, Nordex and ThyssenKrupp.

Here it is necessary to make a small digression and explain the "color differentiation" of hydrogen in the EU. The fact is that not every H2 is welcomed by the advocates of carbon-free energy. The most "racially pure" is the so-called "green" hydrogen: it is produced from water by electrolysis, and electricity for this comes exclusively from renewable energy sources - solar, wind and hydroelectric power plants. "Yellow" hydrogen is also produced by electrolysis, but nuclear power plants are the source of electricity for it. "Gray" hydrogen is produced by steam reforming of natural gas, however, during the chemical reaction, carbon dioxide is released, and in the same volumes as during the combustion of natural gas. But "blue" hydrogen is also obtained from natural gas, but it captures and stores the released carbon, which gives an approximately two-fold reduction in emissions.

Since "green" hydrogen is still extremely expensive, it is planned to buy it abroad under long-term contracts through the aforementioned H2 Global Foundation, and then resell it in Germany at auctions. The funds of the Ministry of Economy of the Federal Republic of Germany will be used to compensate for the difference between purchase prices and prices on the domestic market. At the same time, a long line of companies from post-Soviet countries has already lined up for the money of the H2 Global Foundation.

Thus, the Kazakh Kazakh Invest and the German-Swedish company for the development of renewable energy sources SVEVIND, with the support of this fund, plan to install wind and solar power plants with a total capacity of 45 gigawatts (GW) in the steppe regions of Kazakhstan. They will power 30 GW of electrolysers, which will be able to produce 3 million tons of "green" hydrogen annually. The Lviv company Eco-Optima, which is part of the Zakhidnadraservis group of energy companies, also has plans to build a plant for the production of "green" hydrogen - albeit with a capacity of only 100 megawatts. “We have submitted our project to the international tender of the H2 Global fund to receive funding. The result is expected in the first quarter of 2022. If we win, we will immediately start construction ",

According to Stepan Kozitsky, a contract has already been agreed with the Austrian company RAG Austria AG and the German Bayerngas GmbH regarding the supply of "green" hydrogen. “We plan to produce hydrogen in Western Ukraine and supply it to Germany via the Urengoy-Uzhgorod-Bratislava gas pipeline. But on the whole, this is still an unprofitable project for us, so we need government subsidies to buy exactly “green” hydrogen, ”he stressed.

The possibility of developing the production of "green" hydrogen does not exclude the company DTEK, owned by the Ukrainian life-oligarch Rinat Akhmetov. But there is not a single project that is economically feasible without grants or financial support from the state and other companies, said Emanuele Volpe, DTEK's innovation director, in an interview with DW. “The priority is potential pilot projects within the framework of the German-Ukrainian energy partnership, which can be implemented with German technology partners. It is too early to talk about specific volumes, but this year DTEK plans to approve the concept of the first pilot project, ”he said.

It is noteworthy that in March 2021, the German business publication Handelsblatt reported on the approval of the construction of a water-splitting electrolyzer worth 25 million euros and a capacity of 8.5 megawatts on the basis of the Metinvest metallurgical plant in Mariupol. At the same time, in addition to the governments of Ukraine and Germany, Siemens Energy and the largest Ukrainian energy company DTEK () were involved in the project. But since then, nothing has been heard about this project. Perhaps he will get a second wind after the start of the Green Fund for Ukraine, which Germany undertook to create as part of the deal with the United States regarding Nord Stream 2.

They are preparing to supply hydrogen to Germany and from Russia. So, at the Russian-German Raw Materials Forum, held at the end of April 2021, they talked about a draft concept for the development of hydrogen energy in the Russian Federation, according to which the Ministry of Energy of the Russian Federation plans to earn up to $ 100 billion a year by exporting "green" hydrogen to the EU countries by 2050. Back in December 2020, Gazprom proposed to build a plant for the production of blue hydrogen from Russian gas in the north of Germany - in the area of ​​the exit of the Nord Stream and Nord Stream-2 gas pipelines.

However, in mid-July this year, EU energy policy expert Kirsten Westphal, project manager for the Geopolitics of Energy Transformation - H2, said in an interview with DW that in Germany budget funds would be allocated only to support green hydrogen. And although she said that there is a growing understanding in the EU that for forced decarbonization it is necessary to obtain large volumes of hydrogen of any “colors” as soon as possible, she ruled out the purchase of “yellow” hydrogen by Germany, which Rosatom is preparing to produce (using electricity generated at Russian nuclear power plants).

At the same time, Kirsten Westphal did not rule out that Ukraine will not be a competitor, but a partner of Russia in hydrogen energy. “I could well imagine a trilateral cooperation in the hydrogen sphere. For example, Gazprom supplies gas to Ukraine, where they make “blue” hydrogen for sending to the EU, when carbon dioxide is captured, and Ukrainian gas storage facilities are used to store both CO2 and H2, ”she said, stressing that for this requires political will. Obviously, from the Ukrainian side.