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Why hydrogen will power heavy industry with zero emissions.

Today, heavy industry accounts for 24% of global greenhouse gas emissions, per a 2022 McKinsey study.1 Two industries in particular, steelmaking and chemical manufacturing, today have production processes with a heavy dependence on fossil fuels, presenting challenges to abate. As we continue our journey toward global decarbonization goals, steel and chemicals will still be fundamental building blocks of our industrial ecosystem. With these industries, among others, facing a hard challenge to decarbonize, it will take a variety of solutions to achieve net-zero carbon emissions.

One solution for reducing emissions from these industries is with clean hydrogen.

While steel and chemical manufacturing are two of the largest markets to be addressed, hydrogen will also play a large role in decarbonizing a wide array of other industries, including refining, electronics, power generation, and glass manufacturing.

Why Hydrogen?

In energy-intensive sectors of our economy like heavy-duty transportation and heavy industry, hydrogen is a practical,
zero-emissions solution to provide power.

What is hydrogen? 

Hydrogen is the universe’s most basic element, with just one proton and one electron. It’s also the most abundant element in the universe, comprising 75% of all matter. It’s found chemically combined with other elements, such as water (which has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom in every molecule of HO).

Where does hydrogen come from?

To produce hydrogen, hydrogen atoms must be separated from the molecules in which they naturally occur on earth. Today, a process called steam-methane reforming is the most common method for producing hydrogen by reacting natural gas or methane with steam to produce hydrogen, with carbon dioxide (CO) produced as a byproduct. 

Hydrogen can be produced with significantly reduced emissions if the CO byproduct is captured and stored in a process called carbon capture for sequestration. 

Hydrogen can be produced with zero emissions through electrolysis, a method that produces hydrogen by using an electrical current to separate water molecules (HO) into hydrogen and oxygen gas (H + O). Furthermore, if the electricity used to produce the electrolysis reaction was sourced from renewable energy—wind, solar, or hydropower—the entire process of hydrogen production can be considered “green,” meaning there are no emissions. 

How can we use hydrogen to decarbonize steelmaking?

Traditional steelmaking requires massive amounts of energy and heat, and the product produced comes at a cost: for every ton of steel produced, nearly two tons of carbon dioxide are emitted into the atmosphere.2 

As both an energy carrier and a reducing agent, hydrogen can be introduced at integrated mills and mini-mills alike to replace fossil fuels in both the ironmaking and steelmaking processes.

Today, natural gas and coal are used across a variety of processes throughout the steelmaking supply chain, even those that have electrified steelmaking to reduce emissions (direct reduced iron and electric arc furnace steelmaking). Moving forward, hydrogen can be introduced as a blended solution—and eventually adopted as a 100% replacement—to fill the role that natural gas and other fossil fuels hold today and to help transition one of the hardest-to-abate industries to net zero in the future.

How can hydrogen help reduce emissions from chemicals manufacturing?

Chemicals manufacturing uses a variety of feedstocks to produce the building blocks for many essential industries throughout the world. Two of these foundational chemicals are ammonia and methanol, each of which are predominantly produced today through methane-based (natural gas) reactions.

Ammonia is the most critical ingredient to fertilizer production, while methanol is commonly used as a feedstock in plastics, dyes, and pesticides production. The industries these chemicals touch means they have a profound impact on our ability to decarbonize downstream industries as well. Both can also act as an energy carrier and can be directly utilized for energy in certain applications.

Alternative production methodologies that utilize hydrogen in a synthesis process can be introduced to decarbonize both ammonia and methanol manufacturing. This will drastically reduce the dependence on natural gas and coal for some of the most critical basic chemicals.

Hydrogen can displace fossil fuels, especially natural gas, to usher in a new era of chemical synthesis without a heavy continued reliance on fossil fuels.

What is Air Products doing to scale clean hydrogen?

To quickly scale clean hydrogen production to decarbonize heavy industry and heavy transportation and to support meeting the world’s 2050 net-zero goal, Air Products is building several of the largest low- and zero-carbon hydrogen plants in the world

With our partners, we’re constructing the world’s largest green hydrogen facility in NEOM, Saudi Arabia, a project that will use 4 gigawatts of clean energy from renewable wind and solar power to generate up to 600 tonnes of zero-emissions hydrogen per day, enough to power more than 10,000 trucks.

We’re also investing billions to build world-scale green hydrogen projects in the US. Our New York facility will use renewable hydroelectric power, and in Texas, we have announced plans with AES to produce zero-carbon hydrogen using solar and wind power. 

Air Products is also a pioneer in producing low-carbon hydrogen from fossil fuel sources, where the carbon dioxide produced is captured and sequestered, reducing emissions in some instances (like at our Hydrogen Energy Complex in Edmonton, Canada) to net-zero. We’re also building a clean hydrogen energy complex in Louisiana which includes the world’s largest carbon sequestration operation.

It’s estimated3 that a switch from fossil fuels to low-carbon hydrogen can propel the industrial sector, along with the heavy-duty transportation sector, to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by 20%

Interested in clean hydrogen solutions?

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1. https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/sustainability/our-insights/sectors-are-unevenly-exposed-in-the-net-zero-transition
2. https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/metals-and-mining/our-insights/decarbonization-challenge-for-steel
3. https://hydrogencouncil.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Global-Hydrogen-Flows.pdf