Towards a sustainable future: the importance of the transition to clean energy sources

Towards a sustainable future: the importance of the transition to clean energy sources

Imagine homes capable of producing the energy needed for household appliances and air conditioning by themselves. Imagine a world where our vehicles roll silently over the roads, emitting nothing but water vapour. This is not a distant dream but a potential reality powered by hydrogen, the hero of the clean energy revolution whose potential is still little known to most.

The current landscape

In the current global landscape, the transition to clean and sustainable energy sources is proving to be essential to ensure a sustainable future for our planet. Currently, fossil fuels are used for 80% of the energy produced worldwide, and energy production is the source of about three-quarters of global annual greenhouse gas emissions. The goals are to reduce these emissions by 50% by 2030 to reach net zero by 2050.

Hydrogen-related technologies will play a large part in this journey. Renewable energies alone will not be sufficient to bring us to the level of net zero emissions. Hydrogen will be an ally capable of extending their range of action and allowing them to penetrate energy-intensive sectors and therefore difficult to abate.

What is Hydrogen?

Hydrogen is a naturally occurring chemical element, and is considered a versatile energy carrier. It consists of a single proton and a single electron, and is the lightest and most abundant element in the universe. There is only one way to get hydrogen: to detach it from the molecules it is combined into. And to do this you need energy.

Hydrogen can be produced from a variety of sources, including water electrolysis, the natural gas reforming process, and other renewable sources such as solar and wind power. When hydrogen is used as an energy source, its combustion or conversion into electricity produces no direct emissions of greenhouse gases or harmful air pollutants. This makes it an attractive option for reducing the environmental impact of human activities, especially as its abundance can help reduce carbon footprints and combat climate change by highlighting long-term sustainability.

Green hydrogen

Hydrogen production methods can have different carbon footprints depending on the energy sources used. Conventionally, production typologies define the produced item with colors. It is not the real hue of the element, which is completely transparent in the gaseous state, rather the color is assigned to define with immediate simplicity the impact of the energy source used to extract it from the molecules with which it is combined. “Black” hydrogen is extracted from water using electricity produced by a coal or oil-fired power plant with the CO2 produced released into the atmosphere.

The "grey" one (equal to 90% of that produced today) has industrial uses and can be the production waste of a chemical reaction, or it can be extracted from methane (which is formed from hydrogen and carbon) or from other hydrocarbons. Hydrogen extracted from fossil hydrocarbons is defined as "blue" where - unlike the "grey" - the carbon dioxide resulting from the process is not released into the air but is captured and stored. The "purple" hydrogen is extracted from the water using the current produced by a nuclear power plant, ie with zero CO2 emissions.

Hydrogen extracted from water using electricity produced by a plant powered by renewable energies, such as hydroelectric, solar or photovoltaic, is "green".

The advantages

The main advantage of hydrogen is environmental and is summarized in the fact that it produces only water vapor when used in fuel cells or burned. But there are other implications that encourage the use of this element.

1. It is versatile because it can be used in different energy sectors, such as industry, transport and power generation by replacing fossil fuels in various processes, including high temperature ones, offering a clean alternative in sectors otherwise difficult to decarbonise .

2. It is an aid to the energy storage problem by enabling the efficient management of energy produced from intermittently available renewable sources, such as hydroelectric, solar and wind power. The excess energy produced at certain times can be used to produce hydrogen through the electrolysis of water and subsequently reused when necessary.

3. It has a high energy density, which means it can hold a large amount of energy in a relatively small volume. This makes it suitable for use in transport, especially for fuel cell vehicles, as it offers a longer range than traditional batteries.

4. It helps reduce energy dependency because it can be produced domestically from renewable sources within a country or community, reducing dependence on imported fossil fuels.

5. It is flexible in its procurement. Hydrogen can be produced locally and from a variety of sources, including water electrolysis, natural gas reforming, and solar and wind energy. This diversification of production sources allows for greater flexibility and resilience of the energy system, reducing dependence on a single energy source.

6. It is a booster to technological innovation because it requires technological developments, research and innovation in various sectors, from production to infrastructure and final uses. This stimulates research and technological development, creating opportunities for economic growth and employment.

7. Due to the ecological implications mentioned above, its use has a favorable impact on that part of the reference community that is sensitive to green issues.

The state of the art

Hydrogen already finds applications in industry, in heating, in the production of electricity and, to a small but growing extent, in transport. The first hydrogen trains, which will travel by producing water vapor, will start circulating in Italy in 2023.

Despite its many benefits, hydrogen as a clean energy source carries several challenges that need to be addressed for its large-scale adoption.

The current energy crisis contributes to making hydrogen production processes and the related costs competitive, which need to be optimized because they are still relatively high compared to conventional energy sources. Hydrogen production technologies, such as water electrolysis, are becoming increasingly efficient and cost-effective, but further progress is still needed to make hydrogen competitive on the market.

Hydrogen is a highly volatile gas and requires specific storage solutions to be used safely and efficiently. Hydrogen must be compressed or liquefied to reduce its volume and make it more portable and usable. This requires dedicated infrastructure for hydrogen storage, which needs to be developed and implemented appropriately.

Furthermore, the transport of hydrogen presents significant challenges due to its low energy density in gaseous form. Hydrogen occupies a larger volume than traditional fuels, requiring dedicated transport infrastructure. Currently, transportation options include high pressure tubing or liquid form transportation, both with associated technical challenges and costs.

The transition to a hydrogen-based economy requires the development of dedicated technologies and infrastructure, such as hydrogen vehicle refueling stations and distribution networks.

The Aliaxis contribution

Ongoing R&D efforts to achieve hydrogen milestones see Aliaxis in the forefront.

With over 60 years of experience backed by industry-leading brands such as FIP and FRIALEN, Aliaxis offers a complete range of integrated piping system solutions to meet the needs of green hydrogen plants, gaseous hydrogen infrastructure networks and a wide range of applications within the Power-to-X ecosystem.

The term Power-to-X indicates the process of converting renewable energy into hydrogen through the electrolysis of water. Green hydrogen acts as a bridge between renewable energies (Power) and a myriad of downstream sectors (X). The Power-to-X ecosystem is where the partnership between renewable energy and hydrogen is created, and is considered a key element in the path to net zero emissions.

As the energy transition to hydrogen proceeds, the need to supply green hydrogen to various sectors and end-use applications will grow. These scenarios will require totally new networks for the distribution of gaseous hydrogen or the upgrading of existing natural gas distribution networks to make them ready for hydrogen.

Aliaxis is ready for the challenge. The Aliaxis product line under the FRIALEN® brand is H2ready® and is suitable for use in fuel gas distribution networks containing up to 100% hydrogen.

Aliaxis solutions consist of pipes, fittings, valves, measuring devices and instrumentation suitable for a wide range of applications in green hydrogen plants.

As part of a company driven by innovation and the ambition to be clearly the global leader in the plastic piping systems industry, the three research and technology centers of Aliaxislocated in Canada, France and India, collaborate with the company's regional and local subsidiaries to create value-added solutions with a positive impact on customers and society.

With design and specification support, custom prefab solutions and installation support Aliaxis is ready for the world we imagine. Free from anthropogenic CO2 emissions, free to breathe.

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