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UNESCO Must Act as a Facilitator for Discussions on the Prospects of Hydrogen Energetics

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Experts and researchers representing virtually all post-industrial and developing countries, joined by the authorities of UNESCO, as part of the work of the International Competence Centre for Mining-Engineering Education under the auspices of UNESCO, presented an analysis of recent trends in the global energy market in their relation to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

  • Growth of national economies in many countries relies on energy efficiency. Yet the carbon intensity of the energy sector does not decrease on the global scale. Instead, over the last years, it has been rising at a rate of 0.4% per year.
  • Concept formation involving the total restructuring of the power industry by transforming to renewable energy sources (RES), digitalising the electrification system, including transportation, and adopting hydrogen technologies has become a matter of intergovernmental discussions.
  • Enhancing renewable energy development is an economically controversial but necessary step in the view of its social and environmental impact. However, further development of hydrogen infrastructure may pose a potential threat to global energy development, as is demonstrated in the following article:
Litvinenko, V. S., Tsvetkov, P. S., Dvoynikov, M. V. and Buslaev, G. V. (2020) “Barriers to implementation of hydrogen initiatives in the context of global energy sustainable development”, Journal of Mining Institute, 244, p. 421. DOI: 10.31897/pmi.2020.4.421.

It is also worth noting that initiators of countless ‘breakthrough projects’ neither follow the interdisciplinary approach nor perform an integral assessment of this chemical element’s properties when considering its use in global energy. At the same time, scientists and researchers point to several issues preventing the widespread use of hydrogen:

  1. The chemical element is harmful to metal structures.
  2. Physical and volumetric characteristics reduce the overall efficiency of existing power systems.
  3. Hydrogen economy lacks the necessary foundation — physical infrastructure and market regulation mechanisms.
  4. High flammability and reactive properties of hydrogen constitute a danger not only if used in traditional global energy systems but also at transportation and storage.
  5. Finally, scientists remind that hydrogen formation occurring in case of an accident at nuclear power stations remains an unsolved issue as of now.

Under the current situation, risks posed by the implementation of hydrogen-involving projects exceed potential ecological benefits by far. There is a need to conduct numerous joint interdisciplinary studies to lay out a comprehensive approach to understanding the role of hydrogen in the future of global energy.

Based on the results of existing studies, suggestions for UNESCO may be elaborated, with a focus on hosting professional discussions on initiatives in the large-scale introduction of hydrogen into global energy in connection with SDGs. UNESCO’s role, in turn, does not have to be limited to a venue wherein leading scientists and industry experts discuss hydrogen solutions. In the meantime, it can act as an international public regulator of hydrogen-related initiatives given the tightening of climate policies.

As noted by participants of the discussion held by St. Petersburg Mining University, timely and professional determination of the global energy agenda will allow for more efficient concentration of global community’s investment resources on the adoption of promising technology initiatives in energetics. The latter is supposed to happen through increasing energy efficiency at all stages of the supply chain — starting with the extraction of commodity resource and ending with its consumption.