Can Hydrogen play a sustainability role for Greece, Cyprus and Turkey?

Discussing the role of hydrogen as a medium of energy storage.

Authors: Cansu Culha, Aristides Nakos

Motivation

The electric grid offers a way to transport renewable energy into homes; however, renewable energy like solar and wind is not always available. Converting these energy sources into a storable fuel, such as hydrogen fuel, provides a way to save renewable energy for a “rainy day”. This is not the only motivation to convert renewable energy into fuel. Converted fuel can be (a) transported via pipes or vessels, making it ideal for regions that do not have renewable sources of energy, (b) used in cars and vessels to decrease emissions, which is ideal when using non-greenhouse byproduct fuels, © used in electronics as a battery, and (d) used to power gas-fired central heating and cooking by replacing natural gas with renewable gas fuel. Most recent efforts have been towards improving hydrogen energy fuel cells as the main renewable energy fuel, but ammonia and other options could be viable alternatives.

There are multiple ways to produce hydrogen fuel that range in impact on the environment. The most common ones are gray and brown hydrogen that use natural gas and coal, respectively, to split water into hydrogen and oxygen using a chemical process. When the carbon byproducts are captured, it’s called blue hydrogen. Green, yellow, and pink hydrogen use renewable energy such as solar, wind and nuclear energy to produce hydrogen fuel through electrolysis.

Although hydrogen is seen as a viable option in the future, currently there are many challenges. Hydrogen fuel is currently too expensive for it to scale. Also, hydrogen is most efficiently stored in liquid form, but requires heavily insulated tanks that can handle large pressures. A malfunction of these tanks would result in hydrogen to transition from liquid to gas state and consequently large explosions. One of the motivations for a transition into hydrogen is the use of pre-existing natural gas pipes for when it is in gas state; however, pure hydrogen mixtures can corrode steel pipes and thus requires a mixture with other gases, such as natural gas when used in pipes. The pre-existing technology would require major alterations to avoid embrittlement of the metal pipes in order to transport pure hydrogen. Production has relied on the use of pure water to produce hydrogen, but new studies are showing how salt water can substitute for pure water. Finally, during the hydrogen fuel life cycle, it is subject to leaking which can be more harmful for the environment than methane and carbon dioxide. Studies are showing how leakage, at the point of source, can alter the balance of chemical compounds in the atmosphere. Increasing Research and Design to address these issues still makes hydrogen a viable alternative worth investing.

Turkey’s investment into hydrogen gas

Turkey’s Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources is prioritizing investments in hydrogen fuel plants (CMS, 2020). The government is incentivizing emission free vehicles thus there are multiple universities and institutions like Turkish Council for Scientific and Technological Research (“TÜBİTAK”) and the Turkish International Boron Research Institute (“BOREN”) that focus on hydrogen fuel cells for vehicles. Often domestic coal is used to produce hydrogen and it is unclear if carbon byproduct is or will be captured in the process. Since their first hydrogen powered bus in 2012, an “ordinary Turkish bus can travel 1,030 km on hydrogen produced from one tonne of local coal”. 1 tonne of coal is roughly 27 mil BTUs. Using a ratio of how much CO2 is produced from coal versus gasoline, while assuming the same efficiency without capture, the coal produced hydrogen’s impact is equivalent to a vehicle that travels 3 km per a gallon of gasoline. A typical car travels 50 km per a gallon of gasoline illustrating that coal based hydrogen is currently very inefficient. Furthermore, hydrogen production is 3x more expensive than other fuel sources and green hydrogen is currently 4x more expensive than gray hydrogen.

Turkey is motivated to introduce hydrogen into heating homes too. Tests in Konya include transporting hydrogen with mixtures of 20% hydrogen and 80% natural gas to ultimately result in 2–6% of the gas grid to be sourced by hydrogen fuel. Finally, another main motivation to switch to hydrogen fuel is to use the boron resources within the country as a safe way of storing hydrogen.

Hydrogen has many challenges to overcome in Turkey such as lack of infrastructure and legislations to manage hydrogen, high cost, and safety concerns from the public. However, the incentives are high enough for the government to be invested in it.

Greece

Hydrogen as an energy fuel source is within Greece’s NECP as a long-term investment for its energy infrastructure. Transportation and especially maritime transport are slated to be the most viable adopters.

Current utility infrastructure is considered as viable for usage for hydrogen gas blends. An assessment was carried out as part of the IPCEI White Dragon project sponsored by the EU, in which it was shown as economically viable to transport hydrogen on the existing grid.

Research and development for hydrogen production is limited in Greece to the CRES (Center for Renewable Energy Sources) wind park in Kerata, near Athens. A 3MW demonstration wind farm is planning on testing the production of hydrogen fuel, while also tackling other challenges, such as desalination powered by wind.

Unfortunately, Greece’s financial landscape doesn’t currently disincentivize CO2 emissions, inasmuch as the EU does through its ETS Cap and Trade program. Thus, should Greece incentivize investment in hydrogen generation? It should be noted that the ETS Cap and Trade program is in flux, as it operates as a function of fluctuating market dynamics.

It is estimated that 1–2.2 GW of dedicated power generation are needed for electrolysis for the purposes of hydrogen generation. For reference, Greece plans to have 7GW of solar power capacity and wind power capacity for each respective technology. It’s important to note that every investment adds value and it’s estimated that 230–540M Euro are going to be invested in return for creating 4.5–10k jobs. Carbon emissions reductions are projected to be 0.5–1.0 Mt CO2/annum, which amount to ~2% emission reduction based on 45Mt CO2 reduction by 2030 set by the EU. Thus, the impact of hydrogen adoption may not amount to substantial emission reductions, unless there are groundbreaking advancements.

Cyprus

Hydrogen as an energy fuel source is not within Cyprus’ NECP as a long-term investment for its energy infrastructure. Cyprus’ energy infrastructure currently doesn’t support natural gas consumption at scale and thus has no real incentive to adopt a capital intensive investment in hydrogen as an energy fuel. No research and development efforts are currently taking place in this sector.

Nonetheless, should hydrogen be adopted, it’s proposed to build infrastructure that can substitute fossil-based hydrogen on the order of 15–100MW power stations. Such an infrastructure is projected to cost 5–31M Euro and consequently add that much value to Cyprus’ economy. 100–600 jobs are expected to be generated out of this investment.

Carbon emissions are projected to decrease by 7–34 kt CO2/annum, which is equivalent to 2% reduction in emissions by 2030, as part of the 2Mt CO2 reduction goal as set by the EU.

Discussion Questions

  1. What will incentivize Turkey in producing green hydrogen?
  2. Should Greece incentivize hydrogen production?
  3. Would hydrogen production and usage be a viable alternative in an island nation like Cyprus?

A discussion group on geopolitical and environmental sustainability with a focus in the countries of Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus.