As part of global decarbonisation efforts, hydrogen is being touted as the go to alternative fuel. The size of the global hydrogen market is predicted to be as much as $12 trillion by 2050.
Given water is the main feedstock for hydrogen production, a boom in the prospective hydrogen market could present a range of opportunities for water and wastewater businesses, according to a BluTech Research report.
The report says growth is expected in the number of green hydrogen projects, specifically those where hydrogen is produced by water electrolysis powered by renewable energy. The size of these plants is also expected to scale up significantly in the coming years.
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The European Union anticipates up to $557 billion (€470 billion) will be invested into hydrogen production and infrastructure by 2050, with annual capital expenditure running at $200 billion. The EU expects to invest between $29-50 billion (€24-42 billion) on electrolysers and $260-400 billion (€220-340 billion) on scaling-up production and directly connecting 80 to 120GW of solar and wind energy capacity to electrolysers between 2020 and 2030.
However, the report notes that while there is a global agenda to push for green hydrogen, there are concerns about the amount of water and renewable energy needed.
Report author Kim Wu, a research analyst at BlueTech Research: “Water demand could be a concern for the large number of green hydrogen projects being planned, particularly for water utilities and councils, or in water-stressed areas as some hydrogen projects might expect to use tap water supplied by local utilities.”
Water and wastewater businesses have role to play in hydrogen economy
Still, as Wu points out, water utilities could have a unique role to play in the burgeoning hydrogen economy. “There are different pathways that water utilities can produce hydrogen at their wastewater facilities and benefit from implementing those processes,” he said.
Conventionally, hydrogen has been produced via steam methane reforming (SMR) using natural gas as the feedstock. To date, 90% of hydrogen from methane or light hydrocarbons is produced from SMR and the hydrogen produced is mostly used as a chemical feedstock.
“With companies and governments leading and actively pushing towards net zero carbon emissions, there is an ongoing shift in which hydrogen is now being considered as the clean energy carrier in addition to a chemical feedstock,” explained Wu.
Green hydrogen projects also rely on the availability of, and investment in, renewable energy infrastructure. Suitable hydrogen storage and transport facilities will also be needed and amount to significant investment costs, the report suggests.
Paul O’Callaghan, BlueTech Research CEO/founder: “After years of research and development, anticipation and slow market growth, the hydrogen economy is beginning to take off, fuelled by the pressing global agenda to decarbonise.
“Our research highlights different opportunities for water and wastewater businesses in the growing hydrogen technological and economic landscape. A particular focus will be on green in green hydrogen production, in which hydrogen is produced by renewable energy through electrolysis.”
The Water and Hydrogen Economy report is available online.