In the industrial sector, hydrogen offers numerous application possibilities.
Indeed, several industrial sectors in Italy are now looking with growing interest at hydrogen as an alternative low-emission energy vector.
In this regard, the PNRR (National Recovery and Resilience Plan) foresees a “gradual decarbonisation of all sectors” through some specific actions.
Among these, reference is made to a “gradual decarbonisation of industry, including initiating the adoption of hydrogen-based solutions, in line with the European strategy”.
Let us see how hydrogen is used in industry today and what its possible future developments are.
The current use of hydrogen in industry
Currently, in the industrial sector, hydrogen can be used as a raw material:
• for the synthesis of chemicals such as ammonia and methanol
• in hydrogenation processes for hydrocarbons
• for the direct reduction of iron ore for steel production.
In addition, hydrogen can be used as a fuel for high-temperature processes, e.g. in treatment furnaces for steel, ceramics and glass.
There is still much to be done, hydrogen can really make industry “green”
Hydrogen can offer an important contribution to “greening” industry, but at present there is still a lot of work to be done.
Indeed, the use of hydrogen in industrial applications is still rather limited compared to its potential.
However, according to a report by the IEA (International Energy Agency) on possible scenarios for the use of hydrogen towards the 2030 and 2050 targets, it is expected a progressive development in the short and long term.
Let us now look at some examples.
The potential of hydrogen in steel production
In the long term, the production of steel and high-temperature heat using processes with low or no pollutant emissions offer great potential for the use of green hydrogen.
In particular, in the future it will be possible to produce all primary steel using hydrogen as fuel. However, to achieve this, a large amount of low-carbon electricity is required to produce green hydrogen.
Moreover, this type of production is only really cost-effective with very low electricity prices, which today can be achieved only with the support of targeted policy interventions.
The potential of hydrogen in oil refining
Another major sector that uses hydrogen is oil refining.
This is one of the applications that currently uses the most hydrogen, which today is only produced from fossil sources.
There are currently two most sustainable ways of producing hydrogen, which can also be used for refineries:
1. equip plants for coal- or natural gas-based production with CCUS (Carbon dioxide Capture & Utilisation or Storage)
2. use electrolytic hydrogen from low-carbon electricity.
However, it is necessary for electrolysis to reach the required scale to make this type of production economically viable, going so far as to design and build GigaWatt-sized plants.
The demand for hydrogen in the chemical industry for primary production is also set to increase over time.
In conclusion, an increasing use of hydrogen can really represent a ‘green’ turning point for industry.
Indeed, the technologies to enable industry to start the transition to hydrogen are already ready and available.
However, what is lacking today is a sufficient and easily achievable quantity of this clean energy carrier at the distribution level. This can only be achieved if all players in the supply chain work in a coordinated and synergetic manner.