The farce of green and blue hydrogen

La Repubblica – Monday, February 8, 2021

by Beppe Grillo and his electrician – A few days ago, come on Repubblica – Business and Finance, the President of the Arera, Stefano Besseghini, spoke for the first time about the new technology: “It could be an important opportunity to decarbonise the steel mill business.” “Green or blue, the important thing is that it works”. But he warns: “We need uniform rules throughout the Union to avoid creating imbalances”.

In red my considerations to his theses:

“Hydrogen? It is one of those cases in which innovation must be regulated in the making. First let’s see which direction it takes. We leave it to the market and then we intervene so that there is competition.

The market for electrolytic hydrogen, or the hydrogen we are talking about in Italy, does not exist (the one linked to the chlorine soda process is only a by-product). If the loans were private, there would be no problems with the economics of the choices. In this case the market would only have to be observed and possibly corrected and therefore Arera’s position is perfect: “Hydrogen finds its way then we will set market rules” But the current situation is exclusively linked to essential investments to get a new technology off the ground. However, this technology must be the winning one. For this reason, those who erroneously claim hydrogen say that the future will be hydrogen (which is not a source of energy but an inefficient and problematic vector of energy). To get this forecast wrong would be disastrous as it would waste enormous resources and precious time. The energy vector of the future will obviously be electric, the most valuable form of energy on which all the innovation has focused. Degrading it means destroying value and producing CO2.

Another point to clarify is whether we are talking about avoiding pollution problems or problems related to global change.

Pollution is a local fact and hydrogen could be useful even if there are better alternatives while the global change is also affected by the production, even remote, of CO2 which is not a pollutant but is linked to low energy efficiency especially when it comes to electrolytic hydrogen .

“It could be an important opportunity to decarbonise the steel mill business.” “Green or blue, the important thing is that it works”.

Green hydrogen that is electrolytic emits more CO2 (as we don’t have only renewable electricity and it is very expensive) than blue hydrogen. The use of methane in steel mills solves the problem of pollution and CO2 emissions lower than blue hydrogen or better than the cheaper methane as a blast furnace needs carbon to be incorporated into the iron to produce cast iron that methane can give.

“Uniform rules are needed throughout the Union to avoid creating imbalances”. There will be no hydrogen-based economy but a lot of public money to watch.

“Hydrogen? It is one of those cases in which innovation must be regulated in the making. First let’s see which direction it takes. We leave it to the market and then we intervene so that there is competition. Now there is only talk of state bonuses to watch. As long as the rules are uniform throughout Europe, to avoid the differences that have been allowed in the past ». Stefano Besseghini has been at the helm of the Arera for two and a half years, once “only” an authority on energy. but with the evolution of the sector and the progress of the transition that has become the Regulatory Authority for Energy, Networks and the Environment, Besseghini agreed to explain his point of view on hydrogen technology to Affari & Finanza. A technology that has existed for years: but now, even with the introduction of its “green” version (combined with renewable sources) to drain subsidies it is at the center of billionaire projects of the leading EU countries. Germany and France have decided to invest 9 and 7 billion euros respectively. France sees hydrogen well since the nuclear power plants it does not want to abandon produce nighttime electricity that they should give away while Germany dreams of using fuels to produce hydrogen reforming and making us bury CO2 in the Po valley. Italy, which at such a high price of electricity has made the aluminum-producing Alcoa flee from our country and which is preparing to give EE to another possible operator, would even like to have electrolytic hydrogen made.

And Italy too, with the previous government had ambitions, albeit economically more contained. A river of money that will need to be regulated. With large groups that are already positioned to access community resources. The Eni group, for example, did not like that the Conte government excluded it from accessing EU funds for a large blue hydrogen project, produced with natural gas but with CO2 emissions captured and injected into the fields. exhausted under the Adriatic.(bankruptcy operation attempted by Enel with the sequestration of CO2 in the Brindisi power plant and burial in Piacenza) Not to mention those who argue that those who are applying to transport hydrogen in their network tomorrow – like the Snam group (to burn precious electrolytic hydrogen in a domestic boiler) – it should not be too active in projects intended for production, for the European rules on the separation of functions for the benefit of competition. All activities that will be regulated by the Arera. But, as he explains in this interview, Besseghini and the board of the Authority want to move with good reason. “There is no doubt that hydrogen completes the panorama of technologies that will be useful for the decarbonization process – he begins his reasoning – but we are still in a phase that recalls electricity in the early twentieth century but electricity was the right way this was not: the potential is quite clear, but the choices for its use are not yet defined and therefore they are not clear. How can such a huge revolution be endorsed under these conditions? The risk of investing large sums of money in technologies that in the end may not be the optimal ones is still high ». Starting from this first concept, Besseghini explains what the necessary path should be before setting rules for the sector. «In my opinion, it is important that the game is played starting with operators who have the capacity and size to be able to support the development phases. (with own money and not the state) It is normal for the exploratory part to be carried out by larger companies, such as Eni, Enel, Terna or Snam. This could pose an unbundling problem,(unpacking) as some have argued, but at the moment I see more potential than substantial problems of interference between areas of activity. Many of the operators’ projects are for now only exploratory. Let’s see how the market will develop, (there are only public bonuses to be shared) which direction technologies will take, whether they will be directed more towards the transport sector or the energy sector neither. The perimeter of the rules will be gradually defined: it is one of those cases in which innovation must be governed in the making “. With a further warning, the rules must be the same for all EU countries: «Around Europe, not everyone has the same interpretation of the ownership separation between grids and production in the energy sector. The important thing is that there are no asymmetries in the potential to access and develop this technology. We talk without having yet understood what it is for, etc. In short, it is important to create a common playing field ». But how would it be better to use hydrogen in Italy? «In my opinion – replies Besseghini – there are not many industrial sectors potentially interested. The Germans have decided that it is a priority for the automotive sector, who says that ? The position of the Swedish SCANIA is interesting and after having seriously tried its hand in the production of electric and conventional hydrogen trucks, it has decided to definitively quit hydrogen we we could use it for the steel industry no one has ever thought of using electrolytic hydrogen in the steel industry, to some energy-intensive sectors and of course in those sectors in which it is already widely present such as refining which will never use electrolytic hydrogen but which produces it and will produce it from reforing with CO2 production and that’s okay. Not using this technology for the decarbonisation of Ilva, the largest steel plant in Europe, would be really curious “Very well it could solve its pollution problem and use blue hydrogen or even better methane directly, while it would be disastrous if using electrolytic hydrogen for cost and CO2 emissions. Finally, the president of the Authority has his say on the controversy of the moment: whether it is better to focus on green hydrogen (from renewable sources) or blue (from natural gas with CO2 capture). «We must not fall into the trap of ideological battles. It may happen that since I want it green at all costs, it makes big investments for modest results. Personally, I am for a more pragmatic approach. I do not see a first blue phase as dramatic: whether this will make it possible to reduce emissions from the petrochemical or by burying the CO2 as disastrously Enel did with the Brindisi power plant which buries the CO2 in the Po valley it will already be an important achievement. Above all, it will allow the consolidation of technologies and uses. We will probably arrive at a green phase when the costs of renewables and electrolysers drop further only if we can give electricity. But at that point the market will decide that there won’t be ».

The Germans have decided that it is a priority for the automotive sector, we could allocate it to the energy-intensive sectors. Not exploiting this technology for the decarbonisation of Ilva would be really curious it would be curious not to use methane to avoid pollution of the city.

Meanwhile, 10 billion have disappeared for the efficiency of homes (see link)


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