Spanish industry launches EU green hydrogen race

Puertolan – In Spain, the dream of an emissions-free future for heavy industry begins on the rugged Castilian hillsides covered with solar panels and ends with a cold beer. When the beer will be available and its price will depend on the deployment of green hydrogen interventions.

This Mediterranean country European leader in hydrogen Produced exclusively from renewable energy. With plenty of sunshine and wind, and vast countryside to host those sources of power, Spain’s ambition is to export gas to the rest of the continent.

Green hydrogen is produced when a renewable energy source powers an electric current through water, separating hydrogen and oxygen molecules through electrolysis. As a result, no global warming carbon dioxide is generated, Less than 0.1% of global hydrogen production is currently created this way.

As global prices for solar power continue to fall, Spain will be able to quickly build new supply chains for sectors of the economy that need hydrogen for industrial processes and are becoming more difficult to separate from fossil fuels. I’m betting

Critics of Spain’s ambitions warn that there is not enough renewable energy capacity to produce green hydrogen to replace natural gas and coal in petrochemical, steel and agricultural production.

But proponents are relying on the country’s plans to get a head start on planting itself in a nascent green hydrogen economy. half of Europe’s growth Dedicated renewable capacity for hydrogen production

Alejandro Núñez-Jiménez, green hydrogen policy expert at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, said: , it will be there for decades. So a game where the first game could fix things for years. ”

A glimpse into the potential of green hydrogen, Puertollano was once home to a large industrial park where Spanish energy company Iberdrola and fertilizer maker Fertiberia partnered to produce the world’s first zero-carbon phytonutrients. It’s a mining town. Fertilizer will eventually be sprinkled on barley malt and used to produce Heineken’s first ‘green malt’ beverage.

Etienne Strijp, president of Heineken Spain, emphasized the difficulty of removing carbon from agricultural processing. I mentioned it in the announcement of the malt production plan.

The Green Hydrogen Plant in Puertollano is Europe’s largest functioning facility and is currently in the pilot stage. Iberdrola owns 100 megawatts worth of solar panels that power an electrolyser that separates water from hydrogen. A huge hydrogen storage tank feeds a pipe that sends the gas directly to Fertiberia, where it is used to produce ammonia, the chemical that forms the basis of nitrogenous fertilizers.

Synthetic fertilizers are highly polluting products. A recent study found Fertilizer emits the equivalent of 2.6 gigatonnes of carbon per year. This is more than the world’s aviation and shipping combined. One-third of these emissions are due to fertilizer production in plants like Fertiberia.

Javier Plaza de Agustín, who manages Iberdrola’s green hydrogen division, said: “We have green hydrogen ready for hard-to-reduce sectors, so we can reach our goal of a completely decarbonized economy.” increase.

Although the plant has the capacity to reduce Fertiberia’s emissions by 10%, the majority of the fertilizer company’s hydrogen is still derived from natural gas, producing so-called ‘gray’ hydrogen. The company plans to be 100% carbon neutral by 2035.

There are several challenges for Spanish green hydrogen players in this early period.

The first is cost. Fertiberia CEO Javier Goni said green hydrogen technology does not yet provide a cost-effective end product.

Spanish companies seek EU subsidies. Recent announcements $750 million for research and development of hydrogen projects in the United States. They argue that subsidies are essential to growing the market, and that economies of scale make zero-carbon products more cost-competitive.

“Right now we are in a very early stage, so we need support from public authorities to make up for the lack of funding,” said Plaza de Agustín. “Without a framework, it would be difficult for him to invest 20, 25 years into a factory or facility without knowing what would happen.”

The European Union’s Executive Committee has proposed that the 27 EU countries produce 10 million tons of renewable hydrogen by 2030 and import another 10 million tons. Last month, the European Commission announced measures to create an intra-EU hydrogen market and assess infrastructure needs.

But the second problem, argues hydrogen expert Núñez-Jiménez, is the EU’s promise to expand supply with little regard to where the demand actually lies.

“Spain and Portugal have the potential to produce a lot of green hydrogen, and demand in Central Europe could materialize, but the connection between supply and demand does not yet exist,” he said. I was. “Developing the infrastructure to transport that gas from the Iberian Peninsula to Central Europe must be a priority.”

Hydrogen, the lightest element on the periodic table, is difficult to store and transport and is highly flammable. This is why Iberdrola built a hydrogen plant right next to Fertiberia’s plant to minimize hydrogen leaks. Iberdrola and its competitors will have to look beyond their borders to continue growing once they meet Spain’s limited demand for hydrogen, such as in beer production.

“Everyone wants hydrogen production,” said Fertiberia’s Goni. “But today, basically, there are very few companies or areas of activity that can absorb large amounts of hydrogen.”

Partnership is the key. Ammonia produced using Iberdrola’s green hydrogen at the Fertiberia plant can be used to transport the hydrogen in liquid form before reconverting it to gas.

Decarbonization of industrial hydrogen has become more important in Europe since Russia invaded Ukraine. Russia is the world’s second largest producer of natural gas and powers most of the world’s hydrogen production.

Spain, France, Germany, Portugal agreed to build a hydrogen pipeline By 2030, about 2 million tons of hydrogen will be transported to France annually. This corresponds to 10% of the EU’s estimated hydrogen demand.

But not everyone in Spain wants a hydrogen plant on their doorstep. Using land to install renewable energy and using a 9:1 ratio of water to every kilogram of green hydrogen produced can be a difficult sell for regions suffering from prolonged drought. .

Pere Virgili, mayor of the northeastern seaside town of Roda de Vera, rejected the first proposal last year from a Danish green hydrogen developer. the electrolytic cell.

“We are not against renewable energy, but we can fully debate whether it is actually environmentally friendly to use this amount of water and land to create it. ‘, he said, adding that the project would create just 100 jobs.


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