Why hydrogen is of strategic importance to scale-up the energy transition

Hydrogen is projected to play a significant if not crucial role in the future energy mix, with the IEA forecasting an increase of almost an order of magnitude compared to hydrogen consumption today.

This increase is driven by the possible dual use of hydrogen: to provide a clean or green high energy density fuel (which can also be stored longer term) as well as a clean “chemical building block” towards more circular sustainable chemical manufacturing industries.

Current technology to produce large volumes of hydrogen with low/zero CO2 footprint at competitive low cost (e.g. < 1 USD/kg) struggle to scale to the projected volumes needed in a few decades while being competitively priced. Without a realistic view to low-cost, bulk volume hydrogen, the energy transition may significantly slow down as the decarbonization of energy dense industries next to light vehicle mobility leads to sharp increases in the demand for electrification with renewable power sources. This seems unrealistic as the required infrastructure would need to increase 4- 10 times relative to existing power grids which may happen eventually but is unlikely in just 2-3 decades.

Furthermore, even with more modest growth the functionality of future power grids will be much more complex, requiring a significant scale up of digitization, including AI, which requires large amounts of energy. The possibility of producing hydrogen generated in situ from iron-rich rocks in the subsurface while not new, may help provide diversity in decarbonization path ways creating more optionality in businesses and economic models. However, naturally occurring serpentinization reaction mechanisms are relatively slow, hence stimulation techniques may need to be developed to make this a scalable opportunity.

Dr Dirk Smit will put these ideas in the context of recent discoveries in as much as this is known in the public domain. He will discuss new insights and ideas partly developed with colleagues at MIT to radically increase production rates in a sustainable way, which brings the prospect of fundamentally changing the landscape for a carbon-constrained energy future.