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Building the Right Ecosystem for Hydrogen as a Fuel Source in ASEAN

The Australia – Singapore Hydrogen Demonstration Hub Workshop forms, is part of an effort by a consortium led by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and Kellogg Brown & Root Limited (KBR) to engage with stakeholders and address vital issues surrounding the use of hydrogen as a source of fuel for economic progress. Som Shantanu, Engineering Director, for GE Gas Power – Asia, recently presented his views at the workshop on GE’s capabilities to use hydrogen as a viable fuel source for power generation, particularly in the gas-based simple and combined cycle space.

Shift in Energy Dynamics

The power sector has evolved tremendously over the past decade and we are witnessing a significant shift from conventional sources of energy such as nuclear, coal and gas, towards more ‘environmentally-friendly sources of energy’ such as renewables and hybrids to power nations worldwide.

Countries such as Europe, Japan and Korea, among many others, have made huge investments in renewables, citing it as the most viable solution for a low carbon future. The U.S. Energy Information Administration, in its ‘International Energy Outlook 2019’ report, forecasts that renewables will account for almost half, at 49%of total global electricity output by 2050, with solar generation projecting the most growth. However, given the growth in the renewables space, there are realistic deployability and availability challenges that makes conventional power generation with low carbon emission a more attractive option.

Here in Asia, renewable energy is gaining strong momentum, as the industry is pacing towards filling the 200GW (~50%) capacity gap over next decade. In the ASEAN region of Thailand where there is an increase in shares for renewable generation, the issue of renewable integration is becoming increasingly important.

“If we look at the underpinning pillars to the future of energy – Reliability, Affordability, and Sustainability as fundamental attributes, many are fast realizing that exclusive reliance on renewables is not the answer. There are challenges with the availability of such power generating sources, that impacts grid resilience. You would need stronger muscles on the ground to supplement this. A robust power supply system would still comprise of conventional clean power generation as the core, with renewables as the icing to the cake. The power industry today, realizes this and are pivoting to explore cleaner gas power as the foundation.”, says Som.

Gas as the Core, Renewables as Icing to the Cake

Gas will play a huge role in the power generation mix, globally. As countries are looking to increase capacity and upgrade aging assets, cleaner gas power technology serves as an optimum, dependable and agile solution to power generation.

Here in ASEAN, economic growth and the need for electrification is driving the demand for power, with expected orders of close to 200GW of new units within the next decade. Currently, natural gas leads as the primary source of electricity generation for the region.

Now let’s look at its impact to climate change. GE’s gas turbines emit carbon in the range of 9-25ppm every second on base load conditions depending on the gas turbine’s class or frame and the combustion system used. While this is relatively smaller compared to conventional power sources such as coal, yet over time this will adversely affect the environment. Environmentalists, government stakeholders as well as power plant operators are asking OEM providers to reduce carbon emissions to an almost negligible amount. Technology adjustments such as remote or auto-tuning as part of GE’s Opflex® suite of solutions coupled with a range of advanced Dry Low NOx (DLN) Combustion systems can help, but only to a certain extent.

Is Hydrogen as a Fuel Source the Answer?

“If technology poses a limit to our ability to reduce carbon emissions using natural gas or liquid fuel, can we look at the problem from a different angle? Let’s talk about using a different fuel. Hydrogen for example, can produce low to zero carbon emissions,” says Som.

Hydrogen is a simple, clean yet tricky fuel. It is abundant and can be produced from a variety of sources such as from natural reserves through industrial and petrochemical processes. While it does not exist by itself in nature, it can be produced from compounds that contain it.

However, while hydrogen seems like a promising solution, there are challenges surrounding large-scale production economics and its safe industrial usage:

  1. Safety: There are operational challenges to safely using hydrogen as a fuel. Its low luminosity challenges flame detection methods. Its ability to diffuse through seals could pose additional safety hazards. OEM providers would need to implement additional precautions to redesign their systems to mitigate these risks.
  2. Volume to produce energy: A significant volume of hydrogen gas (i.e. three times the amount of natural gas) is required to produce the same amount of energy when compared with natural gas fuel. In addition, the high cost of hydrogen production today is also a headwind.

There are different processes that are utilised today to generate the right amount of hydrogen needed for power production. For example, steam methane reforming (SMR) is a technique that is used by refineries. Though cost effective, this process generates carbon, and is akin to moving the problem from the power plant to refineries’, and is thus, not an attractive solution when you look at the scale.

Green hydrogen produced through electrolysis of water is another option. In this process, a significant amount of energy is used to separate hydrogen and oxygen molecules from water. The challenge to this process, is that huge amounts of energy is needed to produce the required fuel for power generation. The potential differentiator could be the use of renewables technology to generate the needed electricity for electrolysis – and this is where green hydrogen could become a viable proposition for in the future.

How can ASEAN play a role in building this ecosystem?

“The key to the success of hydrogen as a fuel source is our ability to manage production cost, while scaling up infrastructure to handle large volumes of hydrogen fuel, safely. If we could encourage more stakeholders such as policy-makers, suppliers and academia to get engaged in exploring ways to bring down the cost of hydrogen production and increase its accessibility – then this would become a game changer in making blended hydrogen a viable fuel source”, says Som.

In ASEAN, Singapore is stepping up to embrace this new change. Today, Singapore utilizes over 9 million tons of natural gas annually. Singapore is working with industry leaders to completely replace usage with a sustainable mix of renewables and Green Blue hydrogen alternatives.

At a recent work-out session at the Australian High Commission in Singapore, November last year, Toh Wee Khiang, Director of the National Energy Transformation Office (EMA) indicated that Singapore is keen on exploring hydrogen as a viable fuel option for power generation, transportation and marine industries. He then proposed a challenge to Australian fuel producers to bring renewable hydrogen into Singapore at a landing cost lesser than $1.5 per kg, by 2030.

Technology providers such as GE play a crucial role in continually enhancing the machines capabilities to run on diverse fuel ranges types. Today, GE gas turbines can operate on a variety of fuel sources including gases with a wide range of heating values, like steel mill gases, Syngas, Lead CH4 fuel, NG, higher order H – Shale gas and high H2 fuels. Over 70 GE gas turbines support power generation with various blends of hydrogen as illustrated below.

 

Manufacturers such as GE continue to make advancements to their machines to handle various blends of hydrogen as a fuel. For example, GE’s 9HA.02 gas turbine with the state-of-the-art DLN2.6e combustion system can handle 50% hydrogen. With a 50% hydrogen blend on this frame, an operator would be able to save about 20% in carbon emissions.

It is important that power generation technology today, allows for a wide variety of fuels including hydrogen. However, while technology is an important factor, other attributes such as production cost (The cost of hydrogen today is in the range of $30-47/MMBTU while natural gas price ranges between $3-4/MMBTU in the US or SGD6/MMBTU in Singapore), infrastructural establishment to handle and store hydrogen safely and accessibility of this fuel to power generation companies are crucial to the success of a diverse generation mix. Governments must collaborate with the right influencers to remove barriers and shape the future of energy.

 

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