Green Hydrogen, Waste Hydrogen Both In Play For Rapid Decarbonization


Now that all the big carmakers are on board with electrification, what are they going to do about all that carbon entwined with the steel supply chain? And what about decarbonizing the rest of the automotive supply chain? So many questions! Somewhat ironically, the answer appears to be hydrogen — green hydrogen, that is. Recycled waste hydrogen is also beginning to flesh out the mobility decarbonization picture.

Somewhat Ironically, Green Hydrogen To The Rescue

Oh, the irony, it burns! Automakers have struggled to push hydrogen fuel cell passenger cars into the zero-emission market, with little or no real success. Nevertheless, if some leading steel makers have their way, in the sparkling green future, every car with steel parts will have been touched by the hydrogen fairy.

The steel industry has been slowly pivoting to green hydrogen for decarbonization, mainly sourced by “splitting” water with electricity provided by renewable energy. That’s a giant sustainability step up from regular old hydrogen, which comes from natural gas.

Just a few months ago, the green hydrogen–green steel connection seemed to be wandering around in the demonstration or pilot phase, but now an investor group led by EIT InnoEnergy is on board with a new giga-scale commercial venture, the aptly named H2 Green Steel project in Sweden.

“H2 Green Steel (‘H2GS’) will be a large-scale steel producer based on a fossil-free manufacturing process targeting large European OEMs. H2GS will be located in the Boden-Luleå region in northern Sweden that offers unique conditions for fossil-free steel production. The project includes a giga-scale green hydrogen plant as an integrated part of the steel production facility,” H2GS explains.

They’re not kidding. They anticipate churning out steel just around the corner, by 2024, towards a goal of 5 million tons annually by 2030.

Green Hydrogen Takes A Village

EIT InnoEnergy has had a bit of an assist in setting up H2GS, including support from the Bill Gates backed Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which launched on the heels of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. That’s interesting because its sister group, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, launched the following year, seemingly with a focus on nuclear energy, which makes sense considering Gates’s interest in nuclear energy  through the firm TerraPower, but lately it seems that BEV has been attracted by the siren call of green hydrogen.

And the H2GS venture is just the beginning.

“The H2 Green Steel Initiative is the first flagship project of the European Green Hydrogen Acceleration Center (EGHAC) which is spearheaded by EIT InnoEnergy with the support of Breakthrough Energy,” EIT InnoEnergy enthuses about itself, adding that “EGHAC was set up to serve as a key enabler of industrial value chains and clean tech innovation, with the aim of developing an annual €100B green hydrogen economy by 2025 that could create half a million direct and indirect jobs across the green hydrogen value chain.”

H2GS also gives props to the HYBRIT fossil-free steel project:

“An important source of inspiration for the initiative is the groundbreaking HYBRIT project and its founders SSAB, LKAB, and Vattenfall. H2GS looks forward to a close collaboration with the HYBRIT-founders, sharing the vision to position Sweden at the forefront of fossil-free steel production.”

Green Steel And Green(er) Electric Vehicles

Just a few years ago, water-splitting was a pricey proposition and the idea of deploying green hydrogen at scale would have been laughed out of the budget committee. However, that was then. H2GS is counting on a competitive price and keen interest in green steel to make the venture work.

Of particular interest is the venture’s enthusiasm for the green battery firm Northvolt, which launched in 2016 under a strategic partner business model that covers everything from product development and manufacturing to logistics and end-of-life strategies.

As a matter of fact, Northvolt Chairman Carl-Erik Lagercrantz also chairs the H2GS board, and he is already zeroing in on the zero-emission mobility market.

“We want to accelerate the transformation of the European steel industry. Electrification was the first step in reducing carbon dioxide emissions from the transportation industry. The next step is to build vehicles from high-quality fossil-free steel,” Lagercrantz says.

Green Steel, Green Hydrogen, Green Trucks

And here’s where things get interesting. H2GS is not necessarily focusing on the electric passenger car market. It is casting a wider net, to include whatever vehicle presents the most decarbonization bang for the buck, and right now that appears to be the truck.

A Scania truck, for example, carries 5 tons of steel around in a total weight of 6 tons. Not coincidentally, Scania is part of an investor group gearing up for a Series A equity financing for H2GS of €50 million.

For those of you keeping score at home, the H2GS group also includes Vargas, SMS group, BILSTEIN GROUP, EIT InnoEnergy, Cristina Stenbeck, Daniel Ek, Altor Fund V, and IMAS Foundation.

How About Some Recycled Fuel For Those Green Trucks?

In yet another coincidence, Scania is part of Volkswagen Group, which has been shaking off the dust of its “clean diesel” past with a new focus on electric vehicles, including a partnership with Northvolt.

Scania struck a deal with Northvolt in 2019 and it introduced an all-electric truck last fall while doubling down on its business with Northvolt, so it looks like the firm is serious about decarbonizing.

Nevertheless, Scania and other truck makers will still be churning out internal combustion engines for the foreseeable future, and even if they go all-electric tomorrow millions of older diesel trucks will still be plying the roads for years to come. That’s where another hydrogen project caught the CleanTechnica eye.

Much ink has been spilled on water-splitting technology for green hydrogen, but there are other sources of renewable hydrogen, such as biomass. Recycled sources are also beginning to emerge, and for a quick look at that let’s turn to Canada, where the firm Hydra Energy has just nailed down a long term deal with the leading chemical producer Chemtrade.

Hydra’s “hydrogen-as-a-service” model is based on retrofitting diesel trucks with a hydrogen injection system in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Hydra cites a figure of up to 40% less emissions, which remains to be seen, but they have come up with a fixed price point that beats diesel fuel by about 5%, and that could add up to big bucks for individual truckers and fleet operators.

The idea is to capture hydrogen from chemical facilities that would otherwise be vented as waste gas. One sticky wicket is the availability of renewable energy to power the compressors and other systems needed to process waste hydrogen, but Hydra and Chemtrade are getting a jump on that by launching the partnership at a British Columbia facility that runs on hydropower.

Green Hydrogen For Fuel Cell Trucks

If all goes according to plan, waste hydrogen retrofits could help tamp down on diesel pollution until the electric vehicle market takes off.

Hydra is also figuring on selling recovered hydrogen into natural gas pipelines, which is another area in which fossils will persist until the sparkling green 100% decarbonized economy takes over.

If Hydra eventually taps into the hydrogen market for fuel cell electric vehicles, it probably shouldn’t bother hitting up Scania. The company caught the fuel cell bug a few years ago but recently announced it is ditching the technology in favor of batteries, which makes sense considering the Northvolt connection.

Oh well, there are plenty of other fish in the sea. Several other truck makers have been hammering away at the hydrogen fuel cell area, and here in the US the Department of Energy recently launched a $100 million clean truck program aimed at pushing diesel out of the market with an assist from fuel cell technology.

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