Fuels of the future

Why all the buzz about hydrogen?
Hydrogen was first produced centuries ago and currently has a global production market value of US$120 billion, the majority of which is used for fertiliser production or oil refining. But much of the current interest around hydrogen centres on its future potential as a clean source of energy. When employed as a fuel, hydrogen gives off only water rather than carbon dioxide emissions. In a world that is targeting net zero and which has many hard-to-abate industries, hydrogen could be a major contributor to efforts to achieve emissions reductions targets. It can also be blended into existing natural gas pipelines to reduce carbon intensity and can be used to make another emission-free fuel in ammonia, which has been identified as a possible avenue for reducing emissions in the shipping industry.

What are some of the challenges with hydrogen?
From a physical perspective, hydrogen is significantly more flammable than other fuels and as the lightest and smallest of all elements, it’s more difficult to contain than other gases from a storage perspective. Because of this, it’s likely any plans for long-distance transport of hydrogen will require it to be stored in ammonia. But the biggest current barrier to the widespread use of hydrogen as a fuel is that the method of producing it that has the least emissions – electrolysis of water via renewable energy, known as ‘green’ hydrogen production – is highly energy intensive, extremely expensive and yet to be performed at true industrial scale.

Are there other low-carbon ways to produce hydrogen?
Using natural gas to produce hydrogen, via a technique known as steam methane reforming, remains the most widespread method by which hydrogen is produced. By combining this method with carbon capture and storage technology, hydrogen produced can be considered carbon-neutral – commonly referred to as ‘blue’ hydrogen production. This form of production is also still being worked up to scale but it promises to be the most cost-effective method in the short term to supply hydrogen that helps countries work towards their net zero ambitions.

Which countries have made the most progress with their hydrogen industries?
Hydrogen has long been on the radar for Japan, which has already made considerable strides towards its use as a fuel – and which in 2017 became the first country in the world to adopt a national hydrogen framework. Japan’s plans not only include production of blue hydrogen at significant scale in the shorter term and mass green hydrogen production in decades to come, but also using hydrogen and ammonia (the latter of which can be produced from both hydrogen and natural gas) to help decarbonise traditional power generation via a process known as co-firing. Hydrogen can be used in the fuel mix at gas-powered electricity plants and ammonia can be used at coal power plants, reducing the emissions profile of each. Eventually, both commodities may be used for 100 per cent power generation and Japanese industry is at the forefront of investigating these opportunities.

Singapore has identified opportunities which could see 50 per cent of its energy generated from hydrogen by 2050 and South Korea is also targeting hydrogen as a major part of its energy mix. China unveiled its first long-term hydrogen plan in 2022, while Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines all have hydrogen ambitions.

What is ANGEA’s role in the hydrogen economy?

ANGEA’s membership comprises some of the most significant gas and energy companies in the globally supply chain. Through the provision of raw materials, application of technical expertise, research and development, and construction of production facilities, these companies will have a major role to play in ensuring Asia has access to affordable hydrogen (and ammonia) with the lowest possible emissions footprint.

Examples of the progress ANGEA members are making in hydrogen and ammonia include ExxonMobil’s proposed Baytown blue hydrogen projects, which could eventually produce a billion cubic feet of hydrogen per day.

JERA, meanwhile, is partnering Thailand’s Electricity Generating PLC (EGCO) in a study on the potential use of hydrogen and ammonia in electricity generation, and working with another ANGEA member in Mitsubishi Heavy Industries on a demonstration power plant at Singapore’s Jurong Port that would run on 100 per cent ammonia.

ANGEA is an industry association representing LNG and natural gas producers, energy buyers, suppliers and companies in APAC. Based in Singapore, it works in partnership with governments and societies across the region to deliver reliable and secure energy solutions that achieve national economic, energy security, social and environmental objectives and meet global climate goals.