Protect the climate, create prosperity: acatech HORIZONS examines the opportunities and challenges presented by hydrogen
Munich, 18 April 2023
The new issue of acatech HORIZONS opens its deep-dive into the world of the smallest and oldest elements in the universe with the question “Do you have any idea where all the hype about hydrogen is coming from?” Other questions explored by the issue of HORIZONS published today are why hydrogen is set to be the energy storage medium and raw material of the climate-friendly economy of tomorrow and how that might happen. It does so in a clear, comprehensible, science-based and entertaining way.
The European Green Deal aims to make the European Union the first climate-neutral continent by 2050, with hydrogen playing a central role. Although energy experts have reached consensus on this and it is already strategy at national and European level, the topic must be opened up to public debate to a much greater extent. acatech HORIZONS wants to contribute to this debate with its clear graphics and simple language. The publication explains why and how electrical energy can be stored and transported from A to B in hydrogen, before later being converted into electricity or used as a raw material in industry. It also explains the different colours associated with hydrogen and states that the transition to a “green” hydrogen economy is multicoloured. Hydrogen, it points out, can replace the fossil fuels that power aircraft, ships, trucks and cars as well as industrial plants. The publication goes into the role of hydrogen in environmentally friendly steel and in the manufacture of fertilisers. In short, this issue of HORIZONS shows why a hydrogen economy is the key to the future of European industry.
It also shows how far we have yet to go. In Germany there are only three hydrogen pipelines – too few to transport and distribute hydrogen overland, for example, from southern to central Europe. Some old natural gas pipelines can be repurposed but new pipelines would also have to be built. This will lead to public debate, which HORIZONS Hydrogen is intended to stimulate. Hydrogen can be shipped over long distances, either in liquid form cooled to –253°C or converted into ammonia or methanol. For this, ports and terminals are required in Germany and the EU to distribute the hydrogen that arrives by ship.
One conclusion that acatech HORIZONS draws is that policy makers, science, industry and society must all pull together. This presents a huge opportunity not only for the environment but also for the economy. Robert Schlögl, President of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and leader of the project group on this issue of HORIZONS is confident that “Behind the topic of hydrogen is the biggest business opportunity of the century, that’s as big as oil and gas were combined.”
Expand partnerships and bring energy supply into balance
While renewable energy is climate-friendly, its availability is not constant. Fossil energy is cheap and available all the time – apart from times of war and international conflict – but has a climate impact. Climate-friendly hydrogen is currently much more expensive than fossil energy. However, expanding the hydrogen economy would reduce prices as a result of a scaling up of the facilities. What is needed above all in addition to the infrastructure is long-term, trust-based partnerships with as many regions as possible that have plenty of sunshine, wind and open spaces. HORIZONS cites Australia, Africa, South America and Southern Europe as examples.
Europe is at the technological forefront of high-quality electrolysers. According to the outlook, if the EU exports the necessary cutting-edge technology for generating hydrogen, both sides stand to benefit, as Europe will be able to import climate-friendly hydrogen while jobs and environmentally friendly prosperity will be created in the exporting countries.
Shaping the transition together
The rapid establishment of a hydrogen economy along with the infrastructure is a huge undertaking. “When it comes to renewables and raw materials, other regions have an advantage. There is also a risk that we will lose our lead in technological know-how and the industry will migrate. So, we need to be quick off the mark – the world is not waiting for Europe,” state the experts in HORIZONS.
With this latest issue of HORIZONS, acatech aims to contribute to the public debate. It gives a comprehensible, clear but science-based overview of the technology and highlights the opportunities and challenges. Readers find out in what areas hydrogen can replace fossil fuels, what is needed to achieve this, what issues have not yet been resolved and why a national approach is not enough. This publication intends to stimulate discussion and create a springboard for debate.
Further hydrogen projects at acatech
As part of the joint project H2-Compass acatech and DECHEMA recently published an analysis of hydrogen use in the chemicals industry. In it, they compare a number of scenarios put forward by different research institutions and show that to use less fossil resources, the chemicals industry not only can use hydrogen and its derivatives for energy but also as a material.
The Academies project Energy Systems of the Future (ESYS), a joint initiative of the academies of sciences acatech, Leopoldina and the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities, focuses among other things on the path to a hydrogen economy and the importance of hydrogen in the energy systems of the future.
Organised by acatech and the Federation of German Industries (BDI), the project HySupply – German-Australian feasibility study of hydrogen produced from renewables, which is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), provides a perspective on an Australian-German hydrogen bridge.
Project acatech HORIZONS: Hydrogen
You are welcome to download and freely use all the infographics in the publication in the digital press pack, provided you state the copyright as © acatech HORIZONS. Please do send us a link to the publication. If you require the English version of the brochure or infographics, please send us an email.
Answers from experts to questions that acatech HORIZONS Hydrogen does not ask as such can be found in the HORIZONTE logbuch.
HORIZONS is also on LinkedIn, where you will find science in snacks.