By Eurasia Network – December 31, 2020

Hydrogen atoms can be separated from water, from hydrocarbons such as coal, petroleum and natural gas and from biomass – Photo credit : pexels.

The Russian Federal Ministry of Energy predicts a decrease in the cost of hydrogen production in 5-10 years, announced its Deputy Head Pavel Sorokin during the international digital forum for the technological development of the fuel and energy complex, held through video-conference.

The official said that :

There are no technologies at the moment that could competitively convert various sources of hydrogen into a commercial product. But this high cost is a temporary factor, provided that sufficient efforts are made in this direction.”

Electrolysis and steam reforming, now the two main processes of hydrogen extraction, are highly expensive. Therefore, in the recent years Russia has been advocating for using natural gas to produce hydrogen.

Pavel Sorokin explained :

We already see a number of hydrogen sources, such as natural gas, which can give hydrogen ready for transportation with a cost price of $ 1 to $ 2 per kg, this is a high cost, but significantly lower than “green” hydrogen, which costs from $ 6 to $ 12 per kg, depending on the method of production. Within 5-10 years we see that technology will improve and affect costs.”

The Russian official noted that we live in an era of energy transition to new energy sources. This context generate constantly new directions in the energy industry :

Hydrogen energy is one of the potential sources of components of the energy balance. If today the consumption of hydrogen is less than 100 million tons in the world and no matter what hype around hydrogen develops, but if we realistically look at where hydrogen is used today, then basically oil refining, petrochemistry and the production of mineral fertilizers. This is an integral part of the production chain, the conversion of hydrocarbons into oil products for the national economy. Talking about some explosive growth in the use of hydrogen and at the same time talking about a decrease in the importance of oil and hydrocarbons in the world – this turns out to be a slightly contradictory statement […].

According to the Russian Ministry of Energy, the main potential for using hydrogen lies in the field of mobility and energy conservation. The potential of the hydrogen market is huge. In October 2020, the Russian government approved a roadmap for the development of hydrogen energy until 2024. In the European Union, Germany was the first EU country to publish a strategy for the development of hydrogen energy.

Hydrogen fir transport

In addition to the cost of hydrogen production, various technological restrictions and restrictions in the field of safety are also another barrier the development of new solutions. One of the main challenges in the development of the hydrogen market is its transportation. Hydrogen is now transported from the point of production to the point of use via pipeline, over the road in cryogenic liquid tanker trucks (a difficult operation) or gaseous tube trailers, or by rail or barge. Such transportation is particularly difficult due to the characteristics of hydrogen. It is flammable, has a low density and is easily dispersed into the air.

Due to the explosiveness and high corrosiveness of this product during transportation, this is a great challenge. These are the barriers that have to be overcome. These are the issues that both Russian and foreign scientists are working on, a large amount of funds are being directed to them. Here, in addition, one must be prepared to the fact that technologies will appear and make this type of fuel more affordable” said Pavel Sorokin.

The Russian official then noted that there is a problem about the way of delivering hydrogen to real consumers :

A realistic, affordable way to deliver hydrogen not to where there is an existing infrastructure, but to where there will be real hydrogen consumption, is a problem that is still being worked out, it has to be solved. Naturally, the existing pipeline transport can also be used here in theory. And, of course, by special gas carriers that can transport hydrogen. Such experiments have already been carried out. There are certain successes. So far, the cost of these methods is quite high […].

Hydrogen market development

The Russian Ministry of Energy has highlighted the hydrogen direction as one of the priorities :

Russia is one of the potential leaders of this market due to the presence of a large natural resource in the form of gas, which in the foreseeable future will be the cheapest and most affordable way of producing hydrogen. And also due to the fact that Russia is located at the junction of two potential consumers – Europe and Asia Logistically, this gives us certain advantages that we must convert into a presence in this market, partnerships with key consumers […].”

Read also : Gazprom proposed to build a hydrogen production plant in Germany

The Russian Ministry of Energy previously submitted to the Federal government a draft plan for the development of hydrogen energy in the 2020-2024 years :

A number of areas of activity are now being formed. We will work in all key areas – production and transportation of hydrogen. I think that in a few months we will share the results of the implementation of this plan, already directly approved by the government of the plan. We have rather optimistic expectations of the results of this work and we see great potential.”

Earlier, 11 large companies in Europe, which have the infrastructure for the transportation and storage of gas, reportedly presented their plan for a hydrogen future. By 2040, the length of the hydrogen pipelines would reach 23,000 km and 75% of them will consist of converted gas pipes. Rebuilding to hydrogen, in particular, is planned and the pipeline, which is a continuation of the Baltic routes of gas supplies from Russia – “Nord Stream” and under construction “Nord Stream – 2”. 

The energy strategy of Russia assumes the export of 200 thousand tons of hydrogen by 2024 and by 2035 – 2 million tons.

Increased service life of hydrogen batteries

Russian Scientists at the Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU), using the magnetron sputtering, used in industry, have found a way to create electrolytes or parts of fuel cells that run hydrogen batteries. The electrolytes obtained in this way are thinner than a human hair, which allows increasing the power of the fuel cell and its service life, the TPU press service told reporters on Thursday.

The magnetron sputtering is a high-rate vacuum coating technique that allows the deposition of many types of materials, including hydrogen, by the use of a specially formed magnetic field applied to a diode sputtering target.

Magnetron sputtering is a dominant technique to grow thin films because a large quantity of thin films can be prepared at relatively high purity and low cost.

Typically, solid oxide fuel cells operate at an average temperature of 850 degrees Celsius. Ours fuel cells can operate – at 750 degrees due to a thin electrolyte (thickness 5 microns, which is 20 times less than the thickness of a human hair). A decrease in operating temperature affects battery life fuel cells, since at a lower temperature the rate of degradation of materials is reduced.”

A thin electrolyte allows an increase in power density, which means that with the same size of a fuel cell more energy can be generated. To find out how much the life of the cells can be increased, long-term tests are needed, explained Andrey Soloviev, the assistant professor of the Weinberg Scientific and Educational Center of Tomsk Polytechnic University, in an interview given to journalists of the Russian press agency TASS.

Solid oxide fuel cells are devices for converting fuel energy into electrical energy (and partly into thermal energy) without burning it. A fuel cell is a plate of three layers: a cathode, an anode and an electrolyte in between, fed with hydrogen and air to generate energy. The electrolyte in a fuel cell acts as a barrier between hydrogen and oxygen molecules – if mixed directly, an explosion can occur.

“Solid oxide fuel cells have two major advantages. First, their electrical efficiency reaches 60%, while thermal, gas turbine or nuclear power plants have an efficiency of 40%. Secondly, they are environmentally friendly, which is why they are now being paid attention to all over the world. However, such elements are still not widespread. Scientists all over the world are looking for ways to get even more efficient, reliable and cheap fuel cells in order to bring their introduction closer” explained the Russian scientist to journalists.

Other methods are used in the world to obtain ultrafine electrolytes, however, the technique used at the Tomsk Polytechnic University – using magnetron sputtering or deposition of electrolyte atoms on the anode – is already used in other industries. Therefore, it would be easier to introduce into production this new solution (it does not need to create separate equipment). In addition, this method makes it possible to quickly apply such a coating when creating large fuel cells, and hence for creating large hydrogen power plants.

Andrey Soloviev added that now the Russian scientists will have to create technologies for the production of affordable and durable domestic hydrogen batteries. TPU scientists intend to solve this problem together with colleagues from the recently created “Technological Hydrogen Valley” consortium and jointly receive a research grant for their development. The results of these research works could help to develop a hydrogen car market in the Russian Federation and neighbouring countries.

About the Russian “hydrogen valley”

In December 2020, six Russian universities and institutes of the Russian Academy of Science (RAS) have united in a consortium for the development of hydrogen technologies.

The merger was initiated by the Tomsk Polytechnic University and gathers the Boreskov Institute of Catalysis of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Problems of Chemical Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Petrochemical Synthesis of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Samara State Technical University and the Sakhalin State University. The consortium members agreed to jointly develop along the entire “hydrogen chain“: from technologies for its production to use.

The consortium plans close cooperation with major Russian companies interested in the development of hydrogen energy. In the near future, the participants will develop a roadmap for further work. The first joint scientific event was a conference, held on December 23-24, 2020. As a result of the conference, stakeholders will create a map of Russia’s technological competencies in the field of hydrogen technologies.

The industrial partners of the consortium are the Rosatom State Corporation, Gazprom, Russian Railways, Severstal, Gazprom Neft and SIBUR.

Hydrogen is considered one of the most promising fuels of the future, which, in addition to being highly efficient, does not harm the environment. The International Hydrogen Council estimates that by 2050 hydrogen will account for 18% of total global energy demand.

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