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Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba

Haley Zaremba is a writer and journalist based in Mexico City. She has extensive experience writing and editing environmental features, travel pieces, local news in the…

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Norsk Hydro ASA Leads In Green Hydrogen Aluminum Production

  • Norwegian firm Norsk Hydro ASA successfully produced the world’s first batch of aluminum using green hydrogen, demonstrating its potential to replace fossil fuels in heavy industries and make a significant dent in global carbon dioxide emissions.
  • The International Energy Agency (IEA) is encouraging Oman to leverage its high-quality renewable energy resources and vast available land for large-scale renewable hydrogen production.
  • Concerns have been raised about the indiscriminate use of green hydrogen, particularly in regions like Africa where renewable energy is urgently needed for local development and economic growth.
Green Hydrogen

Green hydrogen is heating up. Across the world, rapid advances in technology related to the green hydrogen sector are being accompanied by increasing investor attention and political support. The potential benefits of scaling up green hydrogen production and broadening its applications across and along manufacturing supply chains are hard to overstate.

Hydrogen can be combusted like fossil fuels, but leaves behind nothing but water vapor. What’s more, it burns at such high temperatures that it could replace emissions-heavy fuel sources like coking coal, thereby revolutionizing some of the world's dirtiest industries. “Replacing the fossil fuels now used in furnaces that reach 1,500 degrees Celsius (2,732 degrees Fahrenheit) with hydrogen gas could make a big dent in the 20% of global carbon dioxide emissions that now come from industry,” Bloomberg Green wrote last year in report titled “Why Hydrogen Is the Hottest Thing in Green Energy.” Indeed, weaning the steelmaking industry off of fossil fuels alone would be a major step forward toward meeting global emissions targets. 

Just this week, Norwegian firm Norsk Hydro ASA announced that they successfully made the world’s very first batch of aluminum using green hydrogen instead of natural gas. “Green hydrogen can remove hard to abate emissions from fossil fuels in processes where electricity is not an alternative, both in the aluminum industry and in other heavy industries,” said Per Christian Eriksen, head of Norsk Hydro’s renewable hydrogen arm, called Hydro Havrand. “This test is part of developing commercial fuel switch solutions and to demonstrate that hydrogen can be used in aluminum production.”

Meanwhile, the International Energy Agency is pushing Oman to get into the green hydrogen game, as the sultanate is uniquely positioned for a large-scale renewable hydrogen operation. IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol himself presented the new Agency’s report, Renewable Hydrogen from Oman: A Producer Economy in Transition, to Oman’s Minister of Energy and Minerals Salim Al Aufi. The report argues that “Oman’s high-quality renewable energy resources and vast tracts of available land make it well placed to produce large quantities of low-emissions hydrogen – a fledgling industry today that can attract investment to diversify and expand the country’s export revenues while reducing its natural gas consumption and emissions.”

Norway and Oman have one thing in common that makes them great candidates for green hydrogen expansion – more renewable energy production potential than they could ever possibly consume themselves. This is paramount for the sustainability and pragmatism of a large-scale green hydrogen operation. In fact, critics have pointed out that in many – if not most – contexts, green hydrogen is probably not the best use of renewable energy. 

Hydrogen is only as green as the energy source that is used to make it. Hydrogen made with fossil fuels – which is already commonly used in global industry – is called gray hydrogen, and that which is made with natural gas (which is still a fossil fuel, but lower in emissions than oil or coal) is known as blue hydrogen. In order to be “green,” hydrogen has to be made with renewable energies like solar, wind, or hydropower.

Renewable energy is needed for so many applications in the global green energy transition – namely, for electricity – that diverting too much green energy toward hydrogen production could be counterproductive. A new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) warns against the “indiscriminate use of hydrogen,” cautioning policy-makers to weigh their priorities carefully and to consider that extensive use of hydrogen “may not be in line with the requirements of a decarbonised world.”

This is a particularly valid concern in Africa, another frontier for green hydrogen production. But in Africa, the green hydrogen would be produced on behalf of Europe, which largely lacks real estate for large-scale solar and wind farms, but which Africa has in spades. The problem is that Africa desperately needs that clean energy production capacity to power its own development and economic growth, but global powers are increasingly gaining purchase in the region for their own energy security interests. On the one hand, these deals are extremely attractive to African leaders, who stand to make plenty of cash off of the arrangements. But in the long term for the African economy and African emissions targets, and in the short term for the African people, it’s a raw deal

By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com 

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  • DoRight Deikins on June 16 2023 said:
    For one who doesn't know much about aluminum production, this sounds like quite an amazing feat. That to which they are referring is the production of extrusions, most likely from pre-produced ingots. That does not require a lot of high temperature heat. To quote the article: "The Norwegian producer replaced natural gas with green hydrogen during a test at its extrusion plant in Navarra, Spain, it said in a statement on Thursday." In fact, it is almost too easy to soften and melt aluminum, as anyone who has used aluminum wiring for electricity would attest.

    The refining of the alumina and the production of the ingots is a high temperature process and it would be great if hydrogen could find a use for that. But even that has been done for years using totally renewable energy. I know since I led a team that installed such a burner in an aluminum plant near Albany, NY last century.
  • Dan Scott on June 23 2023 said:
    In addition to H2 as a good fuel for combustion, it can also be thought of as an alternative way to store surplus renewable energy at times when the local demand is below the current production. The added advantage of viewing H2 and/or NH3 as stored energy is the ability to more easily transport/trade than stationary batteries.

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