To completely abandon gasoline and gas, while guaranteeing supply of clean electricity and heating to every home, providing wheeled and rail vehicles with clean fuel – how about such perspective? All this can be received with the help of the most common element on Earth – hydrogen.
President of Energy Association Ukrainian Hydrogen Council, chairman of Tokmak Solar Energy Supervisory Board, alternative energy expert Oleksandr Repkin told Kosatka.Media how hydrogen technologies work, at what stage of development they are and what horizons they open for the Ukrainian economy and every Ukrainian.
Oleksandr, let's start from the beginning. What is hydrogen energy?
For some reason, everyone clings to the term “hydrogen energy”. And we must talk about hydrogen technologies.
To explain what it is, you need to go back and remember your chemistry lessons at school. Hydrogen is the first element of the periodic table. And this is the simplest chemical element that consists of two atoms. And with this simplest element is the whole essence of the things that surround us. And our universe. When scientists tried to measure this, more than 70% of everything that surrounds us consists of hydrogen. But its chemical properties are such that it does not occur in its pure form. H2 in nature is impossible to find. It is always in compounds, the most common of them on our planet is water.
And the hydrogen bomb, which everyone knows about, is just an echo of the Cold War. The term was used to explain nothing. Although hydrogen was never used as a weapon. There was an isotope of deuterium.
And the physical properties of hydrogen, in comparison with other fuel and energy resources, significantly exceed even natural gas in calorific value.
But most importantly, why talks about hydrogen begun, we started to deal with climate change on our planet. To find a solution for many processes, the Hydrogen for Climate Action program was launched in Europe. It announced 11 projects of hydrogen technologies, aimed at preserving the climate on our planet and preventing an environmental catastrophe. These projects are aimed at transporting hydrogen, its use in a centralized heating system, the construction of large vessels operating on hydrogen and the development of infrastructure.
Hydrogen is a renewable energy source. Its chemical properties are such that when it combines and disconnects with other chemical elements, a large amount of heat and direct current are indirectly released. And we get the same while processing of coal, natural gas, fuel oil, gasoline and so on.
The most common way to use hydrogen is to use an electrolyser. There are an anode and cathode, water in a certain capacity. When current is applied, a chemical reaction occurs, the water molecule is divided into two hydrogen molecules and one oxygen molecule. We get two gases. Oxygen, as a rule, is not used, and it is somewhat more dangerous than hydrogen, therefore, it is usually simply transferred to the atmosphere in this process. And hydrogen is collected in a separate container where it is stored. Then it is sent to a device called a fuel cell, where the reverse chemical reaction occurs. Pure hydrogen mixes with atmospheric air, takes oxygen from it, and forms a water molecule. And these are the side effects of testing this technology. So, waste is ordinary distilled water. Further, we can put the same volume of water in the same process again. And we are forming a circle of water use due to a renewable source.
We were asked whether this technology will affect the reduction of water resources. No, it will not. Hydrogen passes this circle without decreasing in volume of use.
Where are hydrogen technologies used?
First of all, this is a combination of hydrogen technologies with wind energy (it has a higher potential than solar) – we get a constant source of energy supply, which is renewable.
Humanity has learned to receive energy from the wind and the sun. But they are unpredictable, inconsistent sources. And in combination with hydrogen technology, we can store energy that is not needed at night. Or if during the day, consumption is much lower than electricity production (especially on sunny days, for example). And the rest is “put in our pocket”.
Hydrogen technology allows storing hydrogen seasonally. An ordinary battery has its own properties before being discharged; it needs constant conditions to keep its charge. For hydrogen, everything is much simpler – it is stored in any form – liquefied or under pressure. And if it was pumped into a container, nothing more is needed. Just the right capacity. Even underground gas storages can be used, where we now store natural gas. When we are told – “Our gas storages are full! We will safely pass the winter! ”- this is how we can deal with hydrogen.
Moreover, sectoral integration of these technologies involves a transition to a hydrogen economy. Not separately transport or energy. And when instead of hydrocarbons – coal, natural gas, oil – hydrogen becomes the new heating resource. One universal unit. And it is used both in energy, and in transport, and in housing and public services. Because the process of heat and electricity generation is absolutely fully implemented in any building to provide heat, hot water and electricity. Moreover, this technology is focused on the fact that hydrogen is used precisely as a source of electricity. Because in the classical sense, the use of hydrogen for combustion is not far-sighted concept of the EU and the USA. In the initial stages – yes. Because we are replacing natural gas combustion technology. Up to a certain percentage, so that this does not require significant technical re-equipment. Although in the far-sighted perspective, in the plan presented by President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, they want to make a carbon free economy by 2050, economies that will not pollute the environment. And this can only be done with hydrogen technologies.
So, three main areas of their use are heating, electricity and transport. And not only wheeled. It is both railway and sea. And there are projects where aircraft are already equipped with on-board hydrogen technologies. Airplanes still do not fly on it, but such technologies are used to ensure the life of the aircraft.
You may have already seen: when an airplane has two turbines, one in the tail generates electrical energy to provide air conditioning in the cabin, warm drinks etc.
Hydrogen technologies in Ukraine and worldwide. Are we very far behind?
There are no modern hydrogen technologies in Ukraine yet. But hydrogen has a very wide application – in metallurgy, most of all in the chemical industry, in the production of nitrogen fertilizers. Hydrogen is already used in energy, but in a different form - for cooling turbines.
Therefore, in general, hydrogen technology has long been known. But the possibility of their use in everyday life has never been noted so far, while everyone can make a hydrogen fuel cell at home and heat the house.
Is it possible to make such a technology at home now? Are there any conditions, materials, equipment for this? How much is it?
The cost will depend on the manufacturer of such materials, the capacity of the equipment and the level of electricity consumption. I think that such a technology is quite possible to do.
That is why the corresponding educational work is being carried out by our Association. We met with the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Energy and Environmental Protection and talked precisely on this issue.
What projects are you working on?
Ukraine has to keep pace. It is our task. We always catch up with something. We have a million skeptics saying “you won’t succeed”. And then - bam - and we built 7 gigawatts of renewables.
We have an engineering idea, specialists, and experience. There are all conditions for us to develop, walk alongside, and not catch up.
But for some reason we have all the good topics, initiatives are constantly facing corruption scandals.
In order for something to appear in our country, we need to create conditions, legislation – both primary and secondary. In order not to reinvent the wheel, we must turn to our partners, the countries of the European Union. They have a separate HyLaw website, which contains all the legal acts that operate today in Europe. There are 5 directives that the EU has adopted, and which are binding on all EU countries.
The main thing – the presentation of the New Green Deal was held – this is the course of the EU countries for the coming 10-30 years. That's cool. The whole strategy is written there. If we are trying to integrate into Europe and become a European country, it is our way. To take, adapt and coordinate with partners.
This gives us the opportunity to become a player in this market. Today, the energy needs that the EU countries have, and they speak openly about this, cannot be provided on their own. They will need sites to produce “green” hydrogen. And one of such sites could be Ukraine.
“Green” hydrogen – in the understanding of European lawmakers – is produced from renewable energy sources. This is not hydrogen burning technology.
Why is Ukraine attractive for the production of “green” hydrogen?
Recently, we have completed a thorough work together with the Institute for the Future and the Institute for Renewable Energy. We have created an Atlas of renewable energy potential of Ukraine. It testifies that we can host such a number of renewable sources that we can fully provide ourselves as a country, not be dependent on energy imports here, and – close a third of the needs of all EU countries. There are 27 countries. And at least 7 of which can be fully provided. Ukraine has the second potential among European countries for renewable energy. We can use the waters of our Azov and Black Seas. Azov is perfect, there are depths up to 30 meters. This allows you to set as many windmills that even Norway can envy.
And most importantly, we are already connected with the countries of the European Union. We have a common border. And also our electric and gas systems are combined at individual points. Road and rail links are added as well. That’s all. We are building the infrastructure and joining those transport corridors that have already been developed in Europe. And we really integrate into these processes.
Sounds good. But at what stage are we now?
We did a lot of work in 2019. And these small victories allowed us to raise this topic to the highest level. This is testified by our Prime Minister, and soon our President will figure it out, because he is a progressive person.
I see how Deputy Prime Minister for European Integration Dmytro Kuleba began to deal with these issues.
When I organized the meeting of our government delegation with representatives of Hydrogen Europe - the European Hydrogen Association, which unites all manufacturers, Kuleba was very impressed. It’s one thing when a person from Ukraine tells you something, another thing when people who have already implemented more than 500 projects say this, and it works. And it overturns everything upside down – when you drive a hydrogen car. After all, they are not talking about it somewhere out there, but here – sit down, let's go. And a person begins to understand that this is not the future, this is the present, and it is already here, nearby. And we need to be its part.
Therefore, an intergovernmental working group has been created. Now we are conducting research on the roadmap concept, the Ukrainian Hydrogen Strategy and the National Renewable Energy Action Plan 2020-2030 are being developed.
Hydrogen technologies are being discussed in the context of storing energy, balancing the power system, and the possibility of replacing the use of natural gas.
And now I am preparing an awesome project with Nova Poshta. It consists in the acquisition by the company of at least 10 small cars powered by hydrogen technology. On our part, we will make a hydrogen gas station and a service center that will deal with these cars.
Then Nova Poshta will be able to say: “We are one of the most advanced delivery services in Ukraine” and “Your delivery is environmentally friendly”, and glue “green leaf”. The human consciousness is arranged in such a way that everyone wants to be with the winner and join something cool. And this is the case.
But a change in consciousness is very important. You don’t pay extra for someone to become richer. And we do this in order to secure our future.
There is still a lot of work...
Yes. But youth is already progressive.
Everyone else – no one wants to be sick as often as now. We conducted many sociological surveys for 5 years of my deputy in Zaporizhzhia region. One of the sections is what issues concern you the most. Everyone complained about low wages. But in the latest survey, environmental problems took second place – 38%. They began to realize that poor health, the quality of medicine and everything further connected with it is because of ecology. And according to Maslow’s pyramid, environmental problems are a little higher than what to eat and where to sleep. But, unfortunately, in poor countries fewer people think about it.
But, nevertheless, such people already exist. And we have a reason to work. They hear us.
So far, representatives of the hydrocarbon economy do not consider us as a potential threat. And when they begin, they will make the same PR attacks as they did against Greta Thunberg.
When will they realize that you are competitors?
I think in 2020.
Tell us about your association. Who are these people? How many of you?
Now we are doing the first, educational, level of development of this issue in Ukraine.
We have a number of commercial structures that work exclusively in the energy sector and in gas supply. These are those who have already seen the potential. We have companies working in the private sector, solar projects. There are developers who built large solar stations – there is a powerful engineering idea. And they can combine all the necessary equipment into one project. We have no such experience yet. But we are studying.
Our main driving force is science. I entered the Presidium of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine on Hydrogen Technologies. This year, it was possible to allocate budget financing in the amount of 3 million 143 thousand hryvnias for about 20 projects on hydrogen technologies. Ukrainian institutions are working on them now.
What are these projects? Who is doing what?
These are scientists. We were even surprised that there are precious heads and such developments in Ukraine. Nobody just set a task for them. No one has seen commercialization.
For example, these are Ukrainian research laboratories working on hydrogen projects. Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry and Petrochemistry – “Production of hydrogen from hydrocarbon substandard raw materials on composite proton conducting membrane catalysts”. Institute of Botany – “Light-dependent hydrogen production by microalgae and photosynthetic bacteria”. Institute for Renewable Energy – “Optimization of the operating parameters of wind turbines and electrolyzers for hydrogen production for the purpose of its use in autonomous energy supply systems”. Institute of Coal Technologies, Gas Institute – “Improving and optimizing plasma technologies for producing hydrogen. Fundamentals of the processes for obtaining and using hydrocarbon-sorption nanomaterials for hydrogen energy”. And it can go on and on.
Now I am engaged in another process. President Paton signed a decree on the National Academy of Sciences on the establishment of a scientific and technical international center for the accumulation of exchange of renewable hydrogen technologies. And there we want to collect all the developments in this area – patents, etc., to study them, and further push them as the driving source of our economy – creating jobs, infrastructure and so on.
Also, we are doing a small project with the Institute for Renewable Energy: a renewable source, hydrogen production, a fuel cell, and again electricity production.
Another promising project – I had a meaningful meeting with representatives of Ukrzaliznytsia and Minister Vladyslav Krikliy. There is a developed technology to switch of our diesel locomotives of rolling stock to hydrogen technologies. Also, such giants of railway construction as Ballard and Alstom can come and create a plant in Ukraine. We have at least 1,500 locomotives of rolling stock, moving, and about 2,500 that stand and are used as “donors”.
Now we are doing a scientific and economic substantiation of this process, together with European experts.
Tell us about investments. How much a project will cost? Recently, the State Agency on Energy Efficiency announced that it is necessary € 20 billion investment for the Ukrainian renewable energy. Do you have such calculations?
I do not suffer from gigantomania.
The project with Nova Poshta is awesome. I think $1.5 million will be enough.
But it’s hard to say, because we have no experience in any project. We collect everything bit by bit. Therefore, prices are also a major issue.
What is the danger of hydrogen technology? There is always a “but”. How can hydrocarbon competitors discredit you?
There is only one danger: hydrogen technology is the fourth industrial revolution. I always give an example that the locomotives were very worried when the internal combustion engine appeared. And even earlier this happened with horse-drawn transport, when representatives of the parliament in London said that horses would never disappear from the streets. And after two years – there was not a single one.
Therefore, internal combustion engines will be very concerned when a fuel cell appears in mass production. But you cannot hold back what cannot be held back.
No matter how slow this process is, there will be daredevils who solder something at home. I am sure that this process is already running.
What are the first hydrogen energy challenges for Ukraine in 2020?
We are preparing synchronization with European law. And Ukraine Green Deal is already in the Ministry of Energy and Environmental Protection. And all our parameters will be recorded there, how Ukraine will fight global climate change.