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Some Inconvenient Truths about Decarbonization, the Hydrogen Economy, and Power to X Technologies

Abstract

The decarbonization of the energy sector has been a subject of research and of political discussions for several decades, gaining significant attention in the last years. It is commonly acknowledged that the most obvious way to achieve decarbonization is the use of renewable energy sources. Within the context of the energy sector decarbonization, many mainly industrialized countries recently started developing national plans to establish a hydrogen-based economy in the very near future. The plans for green hydrogen initially try to (a) target sectors that are difficult to decarbonize and (b) address issues related to the storage and transportation of CO2-free energy. To achieve almost complete decarbonization, electric power must be generated exclusively from renewable sources. In so-called Power-to-X (PtX) technologies, green hydrogen is generated from electricity and subsequently converted to another energy carrier which can be further stored, transported and used. In PtX, X stands, for example, for liquid hydrogen, methanol or ammonia. The challenges associated with decarbonization include those associated with (a) the expansion of renewable energies (e.g., high capital demand, political and social issues), (b) the production, transportation, and storage of hydrogen and the energy carriers denoted by X in PtX (e.g., high cost and low overall efficiency), and (c) the expected significant increase in the demand for electrical energy. The paper discusses whether and under which conditions the current national and international hydrogen plans of many industrialized countries could lead to a maximization of decarbonization in the world. It concludes that, in general, as long as the conditions for generating large excess amounts of green electricity are not met, the quick establishment of a hydrogen economy could not only be very expensive, but also counterproductive to the worldwide decarbonization efforts.

Related subjects: Policy & Socio-Economics
Countries: Germany
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/content/journal5781
2024-05-14
2024-07-25
/content/journal5781
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