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Renewable Gases: Key vectors in the decarbonization process

08 June 2022
Article by Ricardo Barbosa, coordinator of the Energy area at INEGI.
Originally published in the magazine País Positivo of May 2022.

Within the scope of the European Green Deal and with the European Climate Law, the European Union (EU) has set itself the binding target of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. As an intermediate step on this path, it has committed to reducing emissions by at least 55%, in the context of the Fit for 55 package.

In the context of this package, the update of the Renewable Energy Directive proposes to increase the general binding target for renewable energies in the EU energy mix, from the current 32% to 40%, and to favor the incorporation of renewable gases, such as green hydrogen. More recently, the European Commission proposes to establish the REPowerEU plan, which will increase the resilience of the EU-wide energy system, through the diversification of gas supply, through the use of greater volumes of production and imports of biomethane and hydrogen, thus reducing the use of fossil fuels in the different end uses.

Portugal is among the countries of the European Union that have already made commitments, reflected in the Roadmap for Carbon Neutrality 2050 and the National Energy and Climate Plan 2030, with the National Strategy for hydrogen being drawn up within the scope of the latter, which emphasizes the advantages of incorporating hydrogen in the national energy system.

It is therefore consensual that hydrogen will be a key vector in the decarbonization process, partly also because it allows the integration of electricity and natural gas systems (sector coupling). This accelerates the decarbonization of the electricity system and the natural gas network, allowing for a more efficient strategy towards carbon neutrality from an energy, economic and financial point of view. Natural gas infrastructure (distribution and transport) will therefore be crucial to guarantee the resilience and flexibility of the national energy system in the transition to carbon neutrality, through the storage and integration of renewable gases.

Also in the decarbonization of industry, hydrogen will play a key role. Although the electrification of the various sectors of the economy is an important driver of decarbonization, not all industrial processes can be electrified, thus there is a need for a carbon neutral energy carrier to completely decarbonize industrial production. For example, in the case of supplying process heat at high temperatures (above 400 °C) electrification is no longer an option, so the only low carbon energy/fuel carriers with potential to replace fossil fuels are biomass and renewable gases.

In this context, INEGI, as a technological interface center and aligned with the strategies described, has been developing, together with national companies, projects aimed at the development of methodologies, tools and technologies for the entire value chain of renewable gases (with focus on green hydrogen), with the main objective of promoting the decarbonization of different sectors of the national economy. Specifically, the institute's work has focused on:

  • the development of technological solutions for the production, storage and industrial use of H2;
  • the compatibility analysis and definition of specifications for the assets of the natural gas network in the hydrogen injection scenario, and
  • supporting developers of green hydrogen production plants, in the design phase, in optimizing the efficiency and costs of the plants through the dimensioning and integration of the different systems constituting the plant, for various scenarios of end use of the H2 produced and of production of electrical energy based on renewable energy sources.

The development of these activities encourages economic growth and employment through the development of new industries and associated services, as well as research and development, accelerating technological progress and the emergence of new technological solutions, with high synergies with the business fabric. Likewise, it is intended to contribute to the reduction of national energy dependence, either through the production of energy from endogenous sources or through the direct use of hydrogen, and in this way contribute significantly to the improvement of the trade balance and the strengthening of resilience. of the national economy.
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