The success of the energy transition also depends on the establishment of a functioning hydrogen economy. Without the use of turquoise hydrogen from natural gas, its development will hardly succeed.
The efficient development of a hydrogen economy is an essential step for a successful energy transition1 in combination with affordability, security of supply and environmental compatibility with innovative and intelligent climate protection, because2: to reduce emissions and carbon intensity of products sustainably, hydrogen will be needed, both as a clean and versatile energy source of the future, as well as energy storage in sector coupling or as a basic material in the chemical industry.3 In the long term, all hopes are placed on so-called green hydrogen, which is obtained from renewable energies by means of electrolysis. If a hydrogen economy is to be established successfully in Germany in a sustainable and economically viable manner, it will not be possible in the medium term without other sources of the versatile gas.4 The German government knows this – and, in its National Hydrogen Strategy, emphasizes the relevance of turquoise hydrogen from natural gas for the market ramp-up of hydrogen technologies.2
Hydrogen stores energy and releases it when it burns without emitting CO2.1 This makes it a beacon of hope for a decarbonised energy economy and allows climate protection potential to be leveraged in every conceivable sector. This is because hydrogen has a wide range of potential applications. It is suitable for use in industry, mobility and the energy and heating sectors.3
Hydrogen is already used today for the production of nitrogen fertilizers and synthetic fuels or for the refining of mineral oil. In mobility, hydrogen will gain in relevance, especially in heavy goods transport, where, as a result of the high energy consumption due to long distances and heavy loads, the implementation of electromobility is not expected in the foreseeable future. In the heating sector, on the other hand, hydrogen is particularly suitable in modern district concepts that use the heat that is generated as chemical energy when storing renewable energies.3
In the context of the energy transition, the development of so-called green hydrogen, which is obtained from water by means of electrolysis with the help of renewable energies such as sun and wind, is being promoted. In the public debate, however, the considerable costs with which this method is still connected is often underestimated and also how great the demand for the new energy source will actually be. German industry alone, for example, would already require around 70 terawatt hours of energy from hydrogen per year. A fast, economically profitable ramp-up of a hydrogen economy based on green hydrogen alone therefore hardly seems possible, because the quantities of renewable electricity are lacking.5 An important function as a supplement and bridge solution will therefore be played by turquoise hydrogen, which can be obtained much more cheaply by means of methane pyrolysis. In this process, natural gas, or its main component methane (CH4), is split under the action of heat. In this way hydrogen and solid carbon are created.6
Methanpyrolysis: How producing turquoise hydrogen from natural gas works
Source: Based on Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT), Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS), Zukunft Gas.
To accelerate the development and enable industrial usage, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research has been funding research in this field with around 12 million euros since the beginning of 2021. The aim of the research project “Methane pyrolysis (Me2H2)” under the project coordination of the chemical company BASF is the construction and commissioning of a first test facility in which continuous operation is to be tested in future in order to ensure the marketability of the technology to be evaluated as part of the project. For example, it should also be clarified how the carbon produced during pyrolysis can be reused in a climate-friendly way, for example for batteries, printer cartridges or lightweight construction materials.1 In this way, the carbon produced by the method could be bound in the long term and its release into the atmosphere prevented.
It has been shown in the following. The energy transition, and the achievement of the climate targets, will essentially be realised through the establishment of a functioning hydrogen economy. As a flexible energy source and storage medium, hydrogen is suitable for a number of different tasks in almost all important economic sectors. The question of the “right” method of generating hydrogen is not insignificant. Despite the preference for green hydrogen in terms of climate policy, alternative approaches should not be ignored. Turquoise hydrogen from methane in particular should be used with its great potential to enable rapid start-up and industrialisation. This is because especially after 2050 there will also be methane in the form of biomass, biogas, wastewater, etc. which will be “neutralised” via methane pyrolysis.
1 BDEW: Wasserstoff: www.bdew.de/energie/wasserstoff/
2 BMWI: Die Nationale Wasserstoffstrategie: www.bmwi.de/Redaktion/DE/Publikationen/Energie/die-nationale-wasserstoffstrategie.pdf
3 BDEW: Wasserstoff als Allround-Talent: Wo wird er eingesetzt?: www.bdew.de/energie/wasserstoff/wasserstoff-als-allround-talent-wo-wird-er-eingesetzt/
4 BVEG: Klimawende – ohne Erdöl und Erdgas wird sie nicht gelingen: www.bveg.de/News/Klimawende-ohne-Erdoel-und-Erdgas-wird-sie-nicht-gelingen
5 Zukunft Gas: Wasserstoff: Schlüssel zur erfolgreichen Energiewende: gas.info/energietraeger-wasserstoff
6 BDEW: Flexible Herstellung: Wie wird Wasserstoff erzeugt?: www.bdew.de/energie/wasserstoff/flexible-herstellung-was-ist-wasserstoff-und-wie-wird-er-erzeugt/
7 BMBF: Methanpyrolyse: Klimafreundlicher Wasserstoff: www.fona.de/de/massnahmen/foerdermassnahmen/wasserstoff-aus-methanpyrolyse.php