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The new face of hydrogen: an efficient and economical alternative to decarbonize Portuguese industry

19 April 2021
Article by Lucas Marcon, researcher in the area of energy at INEGI.

With more than 250 years of history, the use of hydrogen still has the potential to surprise. Present in several industrial processes, hydrogen is not a novelty in itself, but today it is seen as an energy vector with an important role in the energy mix of the future.

But how to explain that an element with a long known history suddenly becomes so innovative? The big change is associated with the way hydrogen is produced, which, with the introduction of renewable energy sources, finally makes it possible to produce COfree hydrogen - green hydrogen.

From the perspective of the industry, this paradigm shift has enabled, for example, greater adherence to decarbonisation efforts. It becomes a solution for sectors of the economy that currently have few alternative technological options, and where electrification may not be, energetically and financially, the best option to decarbonise.

In this sense, INEGI has developed several projects with companies, in order to support the implementation of projects for the production or use of green hydrogen. Developing new technologies for the production, storage and use of hydrogen, which are more efficient, economical and with greater durability and reliability, is one of the bets to promote the decarbonization of production processes and the built environment.

A path facilitated by the fact that, in the European context, Portugal is taking the lead in the use of hydrogen, seeking to become a reference in the decarbonization process.

Hydrogen already a major player in national territory

Portugal committed, in 2016, to ensuring carbon neutrality by 2050, outlining a clear vision regarding the deep decarbonization of the national economy, as a contribution to the Paris agreement and in line with ongoing efforts at the international level.

To achieve this goal, the Roadmap for Carbon Neutrality 2050 (RNC2050)1 was created, with a long-term development strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and with the main vectors of decarbonization and lines of action to follow towards a carbon neutral society by 2050.

Aligned with this Roadmap, and with the objective of implementing policies and measures to achieve the established goals, Portugal submitted to the European Commission, in December 2019, the final version of its National Energy and Climate Plan for the horizon 2021-2030 (PNEC 2030)2. In this context, goals were defined for the energy sector, among which the following stand out: achieving a 47% incorporation of renewable sources in final energy consumption, reaching at least 80% of renewables in electricity production, reducing to 65% the dependence on energy from abroad, and reduce primary energy consumption by 35%.

It should be noted that, compared to the preliminary version of the PNEC sent to the European Commission in 2018, there were some changes, one of the most relevant being the role attributed to renewable gases, of which the role of hydrogen stands out, which gains greater relevance in meeting the targets for 2030 and 2050.

This leading role was accompanied by financing opportunities, namely PO SEUR3, which at the end of 2020 included a tender for projects for the production of gases from renewable sources.

2021 will be the kick-off year, with the first green hydrogen auction by the Portuguese government, aimed at consumers. Accompanying this progress, technical and legal regulations for the sector are beginning to emerge. Another factor that may favor the consolidation of hydrogen is the trend of increasing rates related to carbon emissions, making hydrogen more economically competitive. Currently, the average production cost of green hydrogen is around € 4 / kg, and it is estimated that in the next decade that value will be halved.

Hydrogen versatility creates opportunities for many sectors

All these signs converge to create a favorable scenario for the integration of hydrogen in the decarbonization of the national economy, and it is expected that we will see a significant impact in some sectors - Industry, Transport, Energy - positioning itself as a cost-effective solution in the medium deadline.

Green hydrogen can also be a key element in promoting the gradual integration in the gas and electricity systems (coupling sector), allowing the electrical and thermal systems to be connected in a flexible way, with emphasis on the complementarities and synergies between electricity networks and of gas.

In fact, green hydrogen can be injected into the natural gas network (up to a certain percentage in volume - through Power to Gas projects) and, thus, decarbonize and enhance the economic asset that constitutes the current Natural Gas distribution network, for later consumption in residential and industrial applications.

Some companies have already started to produce products capable of tolerating different levels of hydrogen in the mixture. At the same time, some companies in the natural gas distribution sector also begin - with the INEGI's support - to study and test the effects of this mixture, in order to identify the limit for the % of H2 with minimal impact on the assets of their networks.

Hydrogen can also be applied to fuel cells for the production of electric energy for direct use or associated with the mobility sector such as: cars, buses, trains, boats, etc.

The versatility of hydrogen, combined with the ambitious Portuguese strategy, gives hydrogen a central role in the decarbonisation process, and in which we place great expectations. And of course, technological innovation will be an important driver of this change.


Roteiro para a Neutralidade Carbónica 2050

2  Plano Nacional Energia e Clima 2021-2030

Programa Operacional Sustentabilidade e Eficiência no Uso de Recursos