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Klaus Wölfers guest commentary „HYDROGEN AND POLICY” in the magazine Austria Innovativ 2-23

Green hydrogen from renewable energy or pink hydrogen from nuclear power to cope with the climate crisis: the positions on this are very different in the EU, while in China, the USA, India, Russia, Japan and South Korea have long been working on modular nuclear reactors.

Carbon dioxide can be used to avoid carbon emissions, as long as it is produced "green" or "pink". "Green" hydrogen, produced from renewable energy, is recognized as eligible by all EU countries. The situation is different for "pink" hydrogen, generated by nuclear power, which some countries such as Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Spain reject as dangerous and negative. For other countries such as France, Finland, the Czech Republic, Hungary or Bulgaria, nuclear energy is indispensable and ecologically valuable. Such internal controversies are unknown or overcome in China, the USA, India, Russia, Japan or South Korea. Work on small, modular nuclear reactors has long been underway there, which also serve the local availability of hydrogen. These global developments will shape future climate solutions.

Consequences of the war

The war in Eastern Europe and the disruption of the trade flows have put storable H2 at center stage, especially in Europe, which has been hit hard by shortages and rising prices. The search for alternatives to Russian gas has been joined by a frenetic quest to find new sources of hydrogen. Political reservations were thrown overboard and even far-flung production opportunities for green hydrogen, such as in South Africa, America and countries like Namibia, Morocco, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Canada or Chile are being pursued. At the same time, the U.S. has made significant progress with the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA, 2022), the USA has cleverly simplified its production regime, so that half the world is already diverting investment capital to the USA, especially since "pink" hydrogen is also tax-privileged there. This stimulates new applications and puts pressure on the EU to act. When hydrogen is shipped, among other things as ammonia, there are considerable "friction losses" due to transport costs and time, for example, marine pollution and shrinkage. It would stand to reason to move industry to green hydrogen production sites in the deserts of Namibia, Chile, or the UAE, or to avoid long transports through trade-offs.

Many open questions

Hypes and ideological attitudes make any forecast for H2 difficult: For example, will France become the main producer of cheap hydrogen, which will then, among other things, power H2 airplanes? If it is possible to provide affordable CO2-free H2, will Europe's blast furnaces actually use it, even if it does not provide the same product quality as natural gas? Will the West's economic war with Russia continue? Will its effects be containable or will there be an escalation of war and sanctions that slows the shift away from fossil energy and the advance of hydrogen? How will people react to the first major H2 explosion accident? Will some, as with the tsunami that damaged the Fukushima power plant and sealed Germany's "nuclear phase-out", suddenly want to "get out" of hydrogen? In any case, it is worthwhile to follow the role and legal regulation of hydrogen, not least the underexposed landscape of the French hydrogen industry.

This article originally appeared in the magazine Austria Innovativ 2-23.