Ukraine: First Element: Why Is Hydrogen Useful For Gas Industry

Last Updated: 17 July 2017
Article by Andrei Liakhov

Most Popular Article in Ukraine, July 2017

Alternative energy still has not proved its consistency, therefore the main world fuel in the foreseeable future will be natural gas. And the desire of world regulators to use hydrogen as a fuel will only support gas production.

In the late 70s, US President Jimmy Carter, one of the most active alternative energy advocates, organized the installation of a small solar panel on the roof of the White House in order to demonstrate to the public the effectiveness of solar energy. In 1986, the solar-powered combined heat and power plant, which served the White House, leaked and was dismantled. At the same time, the Carter Administration's efforts to introduce renewable energy resources finally came to nothing, because overproduction of oil pushed world prices for hydrocarbons to $ 10 per barrel.

Nevertheless, the so-called "energy trilemma", which consists in the creation of affordable, environmentally friendly and safe energy, has not disappeared anywhere. And for a long time governments around the world considered it the ideal solution for the development of three alternative energy sources: the sun, wind and biofuel. Today, the former love has cooled and it became clear that alternative energy sources are much more expensive, less reliable and effective than traditional ones.

But the request for environmental friendliness is preserved and its main victim is coal, despite the fact that 40% of energy is produced from it today. Of course, it is unlikely that the US, which owns 25% of the world's coal reserves (and in fact is "coal Saudi Arabia") will completely eliminate coal from its energy chains in the near future, but the process goes on all over the world. But the same UK has already gone all the way from beginning to end and on April 27, 2017, it put an end to the use of coal for energy production in the country. On this day, for the first time since 1882, coal was not used in the production of energy throughout the British Isles.

At the same time, it is expected that by 2040 the world energy demand will increase by about 40%. What will become the driving force of this growth. Obviously, without technological breakthroughs in alternative energy it will be fossil fuels. And it is for natural gas that there are excellent chances to become the fuel that will manage the world economy in the foreseeable future.

Gas has received a much wider industrial application than oil or coal. It is widely used for the production of plastics, fertilizers and a wide range of chemical products. About 30% of global gas consumption falls on industrial use (not as fuel). Of all fossil fuels, natural gas is the environmentally cleanest.

It is expected that by 2040 gas consumption will increase by about 60% and reach 203 trillion cubic feet, and by 2031 the gas will completely replace coal in energy production in the EU and the US, and its share in the amount of all energy produced in the world will be about 45% .

There are at least two trends that allow us to conclude that every year the gas industry will feel better.

First, the active use of hydrogen as an alternative fuel. Already with the existing infrastructure, hydrogen is used instead of natural gas for heating buildings and cooking; The use of energy from renewable sources for these purposes is impossible, with the possible exception of biogas, but when it is applied on a large scale, certain environmental problems arise. The energy produced by generators working on hydrogen fuel is cheaper than energy from renewable sources.

And here is gas? The solution is that hydrogen is formed, mainly at high temperatures as a result of the interaction of water vapor with methane. Today the hydrogen thus obtained is mainly used in the production of ammonia for fertilizers and is one of the most important industrial products of natural gas processing.
Although hydrogen itself can be obtained from water by electrolysis, it is cheaper to produce it from natural gas, centralizing the separation of the by-product of CO2. Of course, the process of converting natural gas to hydrogen is still associated with carbon dioxide emissions, but their volumes per unit of generated electricity are much lower than emissions from an internal combustion engine on gas fuel.

Demonstration at a recent gas conference by Dan Sadler, special advisor to Northern Gas Networks. Speaking about the situation in the UK, he noted that the country plans to reduce by 80% carbon emissions by 2050. "In the short term, you can get a small carbon savings from resources such as biomethane, but in the long term, the transition to hydrogen is most likely to achieve the required level of decarbonisation."

According to Sadler, large-scale hydrogen production is changing the course of the economy, focusing on the use of carbon capture and storage (CCS), "which provides obvious economies of scale and certainty in the long term." Thanks to this, the use of natural gas in combination with CCS would be cheaper than the production of hydrogen from water, and in the long run would ensure the natural gas production sector regular incomes.

"Hydrogen is a fuel-goal. We can receive clean energy through the use of methane vapor regenerators (PMM) and CCS process. Over time, as the stable global hydrogen market develops, we can completely switch to the use of green energy, using hydrogen as the main energy carrier for balancing green energy globally, "Sadler said.

Secondly, gas can become a substitute for oil as a transport fuel. This process began at the end of the 20th century in the USSR and Eastern Europe, where much of the public transport has been running on gas since the mid-1980s. In the last days of the existence of the USSR, the Tupolev Design Bureau tested a jet engine operating on a regional passenger plane operating on hydrogen / methane. And although natural gas and / or hydrogen is unlikely to replace jet fuel in the near future, compressed gas is increasingly used as an automotive fuel.

Today, LNG is used as a transport fuel, mainly for public transport in Europe, although its use as an automobile fuel is only 1% of the total world consumption. LNG, which is compressed at a pressure of more than 3,000 pounds per square inch to one percent of the volume occupied by a normal atmospheric Pressure, can be burned in the internal combustion engine after its appropriate conversion for the use of LNG. Only 0.1 percent of natural gas consumed in the United States in 2012 was used as fuel for vehicles; But in the energy equivalent it is more than 5 million barrels of oil.

Cars on CNG produce much less carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter than cars on a gasoline engine. The main disadvantage of LNG is the low energy density in comparison with liquid fuel. A gallon of LNG for energy value is equal to only a quarter of a gallon of gasoline. Therefore, cars on LNG need to be equipped with large, bulky fuel tanks, which is practically possible only for large vehicles, such as buses and trucks.

Natural gas can play a role in reducing pollution leading to global warming, but its use as transport fuel is far from the best solution in the context of climate change. For example, a Honda Civic on LNG produces about 15 percent less emissions contributing to global warming than the Honda Civic with a conventional gasoline engine; While the car Civic on a hybrid gasoline-electric engine costs less and gives 30% less harmful emissions. The more efficient use of natural gas in the transport sector will become a kind of resource for the production of electric power for hybrid cars that are recharged from the grid, or for the production of hydrogen for fuel cell vehicles, which can reduce by approximately 40% the emissions contributing to global warming.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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