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Hydrogen as fuel

In search of low-carbon fuel

Renewable hydrogen will be an important vector for the decarbonization of industry and mobility, with versatile applications, which range from its use as a raw material to produce synthetic fuels to the storage of renewable energy. Proof of that is that in October 2020, the Spain's Council of Ministers approved the Hydrogen Roadmap: A commitment to renewable hydrogen. This plan, aligned with the European objectives of reducing emissions from the economy by 2050, is aimed at positioning Spain as a technological reference in the production and use of hydrogen as a sustainable energy.

Hydrogen fuel today

In total, 10 tonnes of renewable hydrogen has been produced from 500 MWh of biomethane, which has prevented the emission of around 90 tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere.

More than thirty countries (including the member states of the European Union) have already published a clear strategy on the incorporation of hydrogen into their energy portfolio. While the investments announced are more than 70 billion dollars (1.555 billion euros in Spain's case), companies' investments exceed the 300 billion announced (more than 10 billion euros in our country), a commitment that suggests that the sector will take off strongly in the next decade. 

In Spain, Repsol has been a pioneer in the production of renewable hydrogen, using biomethane as raw material. At present, it is also the largest consumer of hydrogen in Spain and uses this element in its industrial processes.

In this way, it is deploying a multitude of projects throughout the renewable hydrogen value chain and promoting the creation of large regional consortiums to promote its industrial development such as the Basque Hydrogen Corridor, the Hydrogen Valley of Catalonia, the Hydrogen cluster of Castilla-La Mancha, and the Renewable Hydrogen Hub around the Escombreras Valley in Cartagena.

A scientist using a machine in a lab

In January 2022, Repsol presented SHYNE (Spanish Hydrogen Network), the largest renewable hydrogen consortium in Spain, made up of 33 entities from different sectors, whose aim is to promote the development of hydrogen in all areas of the Spanish economy and thus stimulate a rapid and effective decarbonization through this energy vector.

  • SHYNE has an investment of €3.230 billion to implement projects for the production, distribution, and use of renewable hydrogen in industry, transportation, and other sectors.
  • In addition to developing pioneering technologies and accelerating the deployment of this vector.
  • Moreover, this project as a whole is expected to create more than 13,000 new jobs nationwide. 

Main advantages of hydrogen as a fuel

Renewable hydrogen is a key sustainable solution for the decarbonization of the economy in sectors such as hydrogen-intensive industry, long-distance heavy-duty transportation, maritime transportation, railways, and aviation. In addition, its quality as an energy vector (it's capable of storing energy that can be released later) gives it great potential as a tool for energy supply and sectoral integration. The advantages of its use as a fuel include the following:

  • Abundant and with low or zero environmental footprint: Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and the tenth in the earth's crust. It is colorless, odorless, tasteless, and imperceptible to the human senses. Moreover, its use as a fuel does not generate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, since hydrogen-powered vehicles only discharge water as the only waste.
  • Improves the flexibility and safety of supply: Green hydrogen can be generated locally to produce other gases and liquid fuels from resources we have available such as the sun, wind, or biomass. This makes it possible to reduce energy dependence on foreign sources and to implement a 100% renewable national electricity system. In addition, it can be stored, which guarantees the continuity of the renewable supply and the balance of the grids.
  • Promotes the circular economy in decentralized areas: Renewable hydrogen generated from biogas reforming or the biochemical conversion of biomass favors the use of waste from the agricultural or industrial sector. Its production can be distributed in a delocalized way to boost the economy of depopulated rural areas through innovation and the creation of new direct and indirect jobs.

As well as the aforementioned kinds, there are other types, such as black or brown hydrogen, whose raw materials are coal, nuclear energy, or electricity from the grid.

Uses and applications of hydrogen as a fuel

Renewable hydrogen can be used in various fields as a substitute for fossil fuels:

  1. Refining, chemical, and metallurgical industries: As well as a raw material, hydrogen can be used in the industrial sector as an energy vector in numerous processes such as gasification or fusion.
  2. Hydrogen fuel cell: A technology that is already underway is the Hydrogen Fuel Cell. It is a device capable of generating electricity from a chemical reaction between the H2 introduced in the cell and the O2 from the air, whose only by-product is water vapor. According to the Hydrogen Strategy report by the European Commission, hydrogen fuel cells will play a key role in the decarbonization of heavy-duty road vehicles, including cars, special vehicles, and long-distance road freight transportation.
  3. Synthetic fuels: Also known as e-fuels, they are made from water and CO2. Their production is carried out through an electrolysis process (with electricity coming from renewable sources), whereby oxygen and hydrogen particles are separated from the water. The oxygen is then returned to the atmosphere and the hydrogen is reserved for further processing. Next, CO2 is captured from the air, either directly from the atmosphere or in industrial processes. Finally, in a plant for the production of synthetic fuels, the renewable hydrogen and CO2 are used to produce net zero emission synthetic fuels with physicochemical properties similar to those of traditional fuels.