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UNESCO should be the debate moderator on the future of hydrogen energy

© Форпост Северо-Запад

One of the trendiest topics today in the concepts of the coming world order is alternative energy sources and, as the flagship of this trend, hydrogen energy. For the sake of making way for new types of energy carriers, Europe is even planning to impose a special tax on goods that emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere during their production. If this idea is implemented, Russian exporters will lose between 3 and 4.8 billion dollars a year. The Russian Ministry of Energy, which has prepared a roadmap for the development of hydrogen energy in Russia, is also on track.

There is no doubt that scientific research in this field, carried out, among others, at St Petersburg Mining University, is important and necessary. But it is premature, to say the least, to talk about a large-scale transition to hydrogen with specific figures and dates. Let me remind you - for now, although alternative energy has been implemented in Europe for decades, its existence on a purely commercial basis is still impossible. It is in addition to conventional hydrocarbons and is subsidised by the state.

As for hydrogen, the cost of its production, both from water and from methane, today is many times more expensive than oil and gas production and not comparable even to wind generators or solar energy. And the question is not only about mobile installations, but also about stationary plants.

The problems of hydrogen storage and transportation are not solved. But any schoolboy knows from physics schoolbooks that it's extremely active chemical element, it is the real enemy of metal constructions, makes them more fragile and destroys gradually. This means that the current pipeline system will come under imminent attack, above all at the welded joints. To rebuild it at the mercy of a substance which is of little industrial use is rather bizarre. All the more so when it comes to the impact on the environment - the production of hydrogen from methane produces carbon monoxide and then the greenhouse gas CO2 itself.

These and other issues are analysed in detail in the article 'Barriers to the implementation of hydrogen initiatives in the context of global energy sustainability', where a team of authors looks at various scientific aspects of the challenges facing hydrogen energy. On the basis of this publication, the International Centre for Competence in Mining Education, under the auspices of UNESCO, will hold a wide-ranging online discussion with leading scientists, engineers, managers of major energy companies from Russia and other countries. I invite all interested parties to participate. Only in this way, and not behind closed doors of high offices, can the strategy and tactics of steps in the development of a new direction be born. Hydrogen power engineering requires a very balanced and cautious approach. The voice of both industrialists and scientists is crucial here.

There are three trends in mass media coverage of the subject. The first is publications about "sensational" discoveries and breakthroughs, made by almost graduate students of universities and little-known companies, which are filled with terms poorly understood by ordinary people. The second is the scaremongering about the hydrogen bomb being placed under humanity. All this is simply ridiculous. But the third one - the statements of some politicians and quasi-professionals about the possibility almost tomorrow to abandon hydrocarbons, the reserves of which are the unconditional market advantage of the Russian Federation, in favor of hydrogen, looks voluntaristic; because the current level of technology, given the latter's high flammability and chemical reactivity, is clearly insufficient.

Hydrogen power engineering has to be dealt with. It is necessary to spend the corresponding public money on its research and scientific support of pilot projects, first of all, within the framework of university science and research institutes. We need to discuss it at various conferences, such as the Russian-German Feedstock Forum or the Russo-British Feedstock Dialogue, conduct experiments in quiet laboratories, create samples of the same methane-hydrogen turbines at existing industrial sites. This is the obvious future. But the foundations of that future will be underpinned by conventional energy sources for decades to come.

Here it is reasonable to ask: Why then is the EU discussing the introduction of a tax on carbon-emitting goods? Including oil and gas exported from Russia. After all, it turns out that, in essence, this decision contradicts the EU's energy security doctrine.

It is clear to me that such statements are politically motivated. Under the pretext of fighting for ecology and the need to reduce CO2 emissions, Western public opinion is inculcated with the idea that hydrocarbons are a kind of cave fuel. And that states with large reserves of oil or gas, most notably Russia, are barbarians who are leading the destruction of the planet. In reality it is just a tool to fight for markets, which will continue to grow in the foreseeable future.

Vladimir Litvinenko, Rector of St. Petersburg Mining University

Source: Rossiyskaya Gazeta