The world on its way to hydrogen

The green hydrogen cluster, in addition to its effects on the climate, could provide an opportunity for profound and different reindustrialisation from the EU and the Member States.

Jeremy Rifkin, president of the Foundation on Economic Trends, in Washington DC, he is a world-renowned economist. A little controversial in his bold ideas and much given to Prospective - anticipation of breakthrough events / new trends -, has traveled the world since 1994, communicating with executives of large companies.

The themes he privileges in his lectures are related to the new trends in science and technology, exploring possible scenarios of change in the global environment, in societies themselves and in economies.

Rifkin has a vast published work of research which highlights the theme of this article “The Hydrogen Economy” (2002) - with Brazilian translation, “A Economia do Hidrógeno” (2006) - substantial changes in political institutions, the economy and society, which are beginning to gain momentum, due to the introduction of hydrogen as “energetic vector ”.

In a word, he anticipated a energy paradigm shift much driven by combating climate change where hydrogen would be the future engine.

The world gliding on this wave seems to be supporting it. At least a wide-ranging debate on hydrogen has been triggered in several countries, accompanied by the development of phased strategies and implementation plans, 2030 being one of the intermediate benchmarks for many countries, including Portugal, and 2050 the final goal of decarbonization of the energy system.

Germany, which aims to be the 'hydrogen country' (world number one), released on 10/06/2020, after six months of debate within the Government, the strategy where green hydrogen is seen as a cutting-edge strategic technology because, it says: “only green hydrogen, produced from renewable energy, it's perennial".

Japan is also accelerating to reduce the cost of hydrogen production by more than 70%, thus making it competitive with natural gas and obtaining two advantages if it reaches this goal, competitiveness and longevity, while natural gas is a production deadline.

Everything moving in the direction of hydrogen, from the largest to the smallest countries.

[I referred earlier to hydrogen as an "energy carrier" because, in reality, it is not a primary "energy source". The energy contained in hydrogen can be recovered in two ways, either through burning or the fuel cell, “fuel cell”].

But what hydrogen are we talking about after all?

Hydrogen is the chemical element that exists most in nature. And it can be obtained by electrolysis of water that separates the molecules of oxygen (O2) from those of hydrogen (H2) by the effect of the passage of an electric current.

Until now, this electrolytic process has been little used in the production of hydrogen for industrial purposes, as it is cheaper to obtain it through fossil fuels, but in contrast it emits carbon dioxide (CO2), also known as carbon dioxide or carbon dioxide, very polluting of the environment.

We are then talking about “a revolution”, the green hydrogen, because the separation of the molecules takes place through alternative or renewable energies, giving rise to a carbon neutral fuel which makes it possible to influence climate change insofar as it contributes decisively to the decarbonisation of the electroproducer system itself and also to its applications in the whole economy.

O green hydrogen therefore it does not emit greenhouse gases (GHG).

Today, the big question of green hydrogen is that of high production costs. To become unmistakably one of the fuels of the future, it needs technologies that significantly lower costs.

Is green hydrogen a fad?

Yes, it starts to be a useful fashion and a possible transformation of the economic system. All countries in the European Union are in the race to green hydrogen.

The European Commission with its “Green Pact”, which frankly is expected to perform well and to take decisive command from the Commission, despite the vast obstacles it will face: lobbies, the main causes of global warming. I note here that, as I read in the media, Europe rewards these polluters of the environment with 137 billion euros / year in various exemptions. The "wars" will therefore be strong and complex.

The President of the Commission is starting to carve well. He is not yet a Jacques Delors but, although at very different times, he is asserting himself in his position.

In my opinion, the cluster Green hydrogen, in addition to its effects on the climate, could provide an opportunity for profound and different reindustrialisation from the European Union and the Member States.

At the outset, within the Union, there are almost all the arguments for this “revolution” of changing the energy paradigm. There are scientists capable of supporting the development of cutting edge technologies over the cluster where Europe has weaknesses. There is a differentiated and high qualification of human resources.

The development of this cluster it will boost well-qualified jobs (engineers of various specialties and high-level planning technicians) and with some foresight it is possible for Universities to anticipate courses and specific training that meet these needs.

And are there any arguments for success?

They are missing and are structuring in the projection of the European Union (EU) to the top.

  • An EU with a cluster strategy, assumed by member countries in their structural vectors;
  • An EU with a broad understanding on the basis of a matured global program;

And finally, the already famous question of financing, where the Union is rather a major disunity. It is necessary to analyze the financing for this cluster, related to the successive reduction of exemptions to lobbies polluters (oil, gas and coal).

And Portugal?

Portugal has a strategy that was in public consultation. This strategy identifies interesting vectors. A centrality in Sines, several activities where to invest and to arouse interest in companies from different sectors.

In addition to cooperation with the Netherlands, in my opinion, a very well-founded collaboration with Germany is essential, which, in its plan, has defined the conditions for investment abroad in areas where it recognizes that it does not have conditions for competition. In fact, in this context, it signed a contract with Morocco for solar energy. It will be important to identify projects to attract German capital of structural interest to both countries. Some work is being developed in this area.

As for the national strategy, it is necessary to outline some paths:

  • Deepening and detailed characterization of the segments of the cluster, necessarily integrated in the restricted set of clusters basis of the program for the transformation of the Portuguese economy with this or another designation;
  • Detailed identification of areas of intersection with others clusters;
  • Articulation with the global strategy for Europe and with member countries;
  • Fighting subsidies for projects, so typical in the country. This means technical and economic rigor in the selection of projects to be financed within the cluster;
  • Monitoring of funded projects, which requires public funding entities to create a highly qualified structure, certainly using national and international expert organizations.

We think that each cluster integrator of the Portuguese Economy Transformation Program must have an indicative investment plan, managed by a mission structure.

A final note. Portugal, like the European Union, also awards major polluters a year through exemptions totaling 867,5 million euros. A problem that deserves extra attention.

The author writes according to the old spelling.

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