The Advantages of Hydrogen for Israel’s Transition to a Clean Energy Economy
So why should Israel store energy as hydrogen?
- As more and more countries around the world announce national hydrogen strategies, the supply of green hydrogen will grow significantly;
- Hydrogen is the only solution to decarbonize certain industries such as steel production, chemicals and heavy transportation via air, sea and land;
- Just as happened with the solar PV and wind markets, forecasts indicate that the price of green hydrogen is expected to fall dramatically as their production infrastructure expands;
- As energy in the form of hydrogen, or in a hydrogen carrier such as ammonia, can be stored, transported and used for power generation when and where needed, hydrogen can replace the need for expensive investment in standard electricity transmission and distribution lines;
- Incorporating hydrogen in resilient local microgrids can reduce the need for costly, pollutant gas peaker plants, as already demonstrated in the case of the Long Ridge Energy Terminal in Ohio.
Israeli technologies have brought to the world pioneering advancement in many sectors from cybersecurity to artificial intelligence, from advanced printing solutions to irrigation to sophisticated medical devices. In the transition to renewable energies, there has been some lag, but today Israel is catching up quickly and moving rapidly to accelerate its adoption of green energy, and hydrogen-related technologies will certainly play a key role in this energy transition.
To date, renewables produce only some 6% of Israel’s energy, but the government has updated its renewables target from 17% to 30% by 2030 and the Israel Ministries of Energy and of Enivronmental Protection are now debating whether or not Israel will set a renewables target of 50% by 2050 or an 80% reduction of emissions. Meanwhile public policy bodies such as the Heschel Center for Sustainability’s NZO Program believe that Israel can in fact achieve 95% renewable energy by 2050. To achieve any or all of these ambitious targets and to meet Israel’s growing demand for electricity, Israel will need to store the massive amounts of energy produced by solar PV and other intermittent power sources, and here hydrogen and ammonia will be able to play a key role.
Advantages of hydrogen fuel cells
Hydrogen and fuel cells offer many advantages to the energy sector; fuel cells offer clean, quiet, reliable operations and do not require charging like batteries. The energy density of fuel cells exceeds that of batteries; the fuel cell will drive ten times the distance or for ten times the duration compared to a battery of the same size. Electrolyzers and fuel cells are being called upon to produce energy for projects sprouting up in more and more distributed locations where high capacity of renewable energy is produced and needs to be stored on site as the world rushes to accelerate efforts to reduce dependence on fossil fuels to reduce global warming.
Considered by many the ultimate source of energy, clean hydrogen can serve versatile purposes for heating, power generation and industrial applications. With increasing investments and incentives from industry, academia and government, hydrogen-based technologies are expanding and diversifying.
Governments around the world are executing strategies and roadmaps with incentives and policies to reinforce the role of hydrogen in the energy sector. Across Europe, Japan, China and now the U.S. billions are invested to fortify the hydrogen economy. In parallel, almost every day we read about large concerns in the transportation and energy sectors launching innovative projects involving fuel cells and hydrogen fuel.
While in the past most of the industrial “grey” or “brown” hydrogen used is produced from fossil fuels in processes involving carbon emissions, today the trend to produce green hydrogen from surplus renewable energy is growing, increasing its efficiency and reducing its still high cost. In the transition, some producers are capturing and sequestering the carbon emitted during industrial hydrogen manufacture – the result is referred to as “blue” hydrogen, which is more expensive than “grey” but less expensive than “green” hydrogen. While in 2018 the cost of green hydrogen production was between $3-8 per kg. versus $1-3 for grey (Source: “The Future of Hydrogen” IEA Paris 2019) forecasts indicate that until 2050 the price of green hydrogen will fall below $2 per kg. (Source:“Hydrogen Economy Outlook” BNEF 2020)
Hydrogen and fuel cells are making the greatest traction in the heavy transport industries (trucks and buses, trains, ships and even airplanes) markets very sensitive to price and operating expenses that need distribution of fueling stations along standard routes, reducing the hydrogen fuel transport costs. In addition to heavy transport, hydrogen is making inroads in the CHP sector as well as in chemicals and heavy industry such as steel production. We are also seeing some uptake of hydrogen fuel cells in the standard automotive market, such as Hyundai who will invest $6.7 billion in hydrogen technologies. Large-scale logistics and data centers are looking to fuel cells to efficiently power robots and mobile machinery. Hydrogen and fuel cells are also gaining traction in hybrid distributed power networks and microgrids, where they complement other renewable energy sources.
Slow uptake of hydrogen in Israel
To date, the uptake of renewable energy and hydrogen in Israel lags behind other countries and the country has not published a national hydrogen strategy including strong governmental support, incentive programs or plans to develop the hydrogen supply chain or related technologies.
Israel’s energy economy would benefit from investments in hydrogen infrastructure and innovative technologies such as green ammonia fuels and from the removal of the regulatory obstacles posed by the Israel Electric Authority and Israel Electric Corporation. Alignment with other countries’ progressive hydrogen energy strategies would require an integrated effort by different governmental offices from the Ministry of Environmental Protection through the Ministries of Finance, Energy, Economy and Science & Technology together with academic research and technology institutions and with private industry, where some forward-thinking private companies elect to take a large portion of the responsibility and financial risks upon themselves. By working together, these parties could substantially accelerate the advancement of a hydrogen economy in Israel.
Israeli fuel producers are already planning to include hydrogen in their future. After closing their plant in the Haifa Bay, the Israeli national refinery company Bazan turned its focus to hydrogen; to date it has a hydrogen production capacity of 8 million tons per hour. Government-owned Tashan, the national petroleum distribution company, is working on a hydrogen storage strategy. Private company Sonol is planning to open a hydrogen fueling station within 3 years, while Paz has invested in GenCell alongside Israeli entrepreneur Benny Landa and the Japanese concern TDK.
While progress has been slow, the Israeli government has made efforts to bring together public and private interests to develop innovative fuel alternatives to petroleum, among these hydrogen. The Ministry of Energy has financed several projects, including initiating with Bazan in 2019 the first hydrogen fueling station in Israel. In 2020 the Italian concern SNAM signed contracts with three Israeli startups to advance LNG-hydrogen solutions.
GenCell the blue and white fuel cell pioneer
Estimated to have a market potential of some 150 billion dollars, hydrogen and fuel cell technologies are advancing rapidly. In Israel the blue and white fuel cell pioneer GenCell has developed the ability to extract hydrogen from ammonia, enabling a dramatic cost reduction in comparison to other technologies on the market. While hydrogen is touted to be a great solution for energy transport and storage, the costly and complex infrastructure and logistics required to transport hydrogen and the considerable energy required to compress or liquefy hydrogen so as to store it efficiently adds to the costs; GenCell resolved this challenge with ammonia, an economical, safe and highly available industrial chemical that is easy to transport, has high hydrogen density and is entirely carbon-free. The ultimate hydrogen carrier, a twelve-ton tank of ammonia provides enough hydrogen to power an off-grid telecom tower or rural electrification for as long as an entire year.
Hydrogen is the focus for several Israeli energy-tech companies. GenCell, which has successfully minimized its production costs by eliminating noble metals from its fuel cells and has developed a method to extract hydrogen from ammonia carried out a successful IPO on the Tel Aviv stock exchange and recently won a substantial tender to deploy fuel cells to back up substations for the state-owned utility in Mexico and announced an R&D project to develop a novel approach for green ammonia synthesis. In parallel Bazan invested alongside Sumitomo, Hyundai and the Gates Foundation in H2Pro, a new R&D company that has developed an innovative technology to split water into hydrogen and oxygen via its unique electrochemical thermally activated chemical “E-TAC” process, which is said to require 30% less energy than electrolysis. Expanded opportunities for local deployments in Israel would accelerate the route to market for these energy-tech companies.
While in the short run hydrogen production is still more expensive than other alternatives, long-term investment in these technologies is economically and environmentally worthwhile. Israel’s high solar capacity gives the country a competitive advantage for green hydrogen production. Meeting Israel’s future energy needs with hydrogen will necessitate a joint public-private effort involving both traditional and new players in the energy market.
Although a bit slow in relation to the rest of the world, the transition to hydrogen, and especially to green hydrogen, in the Israeli energy market is now well underway. As happened elsewhere, traditional power stations based on coal and natural gas are being replaced by new distributed energy resources such as solar PV fields, wind stations and hybrid microgrids that combine different means of electricity generation and storage, among these lithium-ion batteries, compressed air solutions and hydrogen fuel cells. In Israel’s dynamic energy market conditions – where the demand for power and the need to cut CO2 emissions are continuously rising while the levelized cost of energy is continuously falling, the role of hydrogen in the Israeli energy market is only expected to strengthen.
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