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10:27 PM  December 14, 2020

Energy+climate: TPU acting rector on hydrogen technologies potential

© предоставлено пресс-службой ТПУEnergy+climate: TPU acting rector on hydrogen technologies potential

TOMSK, Dec 14 – RIA Tomsk, Elena Taylasheva. Energy balance redistribution will begin in the world next year: after "carbon tax" introduction in Europe, the energy obtained from fossil fuels will greatly increase in price. Hydrogen is the most sustainable alternative, but more expensive. How and who will make hydrogen technology cheaper, TPU Acting Rector Andrey Yakovlev told in an interview.

- Hydrogen is the main hope of alternative energy. Big bets are being placed on it, but at the same time there are many skeptics, whose main claim is the high cost of this type of energy. How do you feel about it?

- Expensive or inexpensive - it's a matter of how you count. It used to be like this: you came to the market with cheap energy (for example, methane), your price is 1,5 times lower than that of competitors, and you easily occupied a niche. But now the world has changed: climate must be added to energy.

You come to the market, say you have cheap energy, and they calculate how much damage CO2 emissions have caused to the environment by its production, and add that amount as a tax. And that's a different economy.

The carbon tax is now in some EU countries, in Canada, in some US states. In 2021, its introduction will be considered throughout Europe. That is, a global rebalancing of energy is coming. Hydrogen will play an important role in it; it is no coincidence that it is present in the energy strategies of leading raw materials companies such as SHELL, Chevron or BP, and so on. For example, BP writes: "Our goal is zero (carbon) emissions by 2050 or sooner".

© предоставлено пресс-службой ТПУ
"If the country does not revise the energy balance, it could lose huge amounts on exports - according to experts' estimates, losses could amount to more than 2,5% of GDP", - Andrey Yakovlev told.
- Why is hydrogen energy worse or better than other alternative types?

- Hydrogen is mostly in a bound state, and you really need to spend a certain amount of energy to extract it. And then energy is needed to deliver it for use.

But the same applies to any other type of alternative energy. Let's say you put solar panels all over the Sahara. Everything is fine, the source of energy is inexhaustible, it is getting cheaper... But how can energy be delivered to Europe? If by power wires, you need a separate expensive infrastructure. Plus, energy needs to be accumulated, that is, to build batteries, because there is no generation (of energy) at night. The same goes for wind farms.

As an energy accumulator, hydrogen is simpler in this sense, because power plants based on it can be located anywhere (for example, in hard-to-reach places in the north), their operation does not depend on external factors (such as the sun or wind).

- Is it probably the easiest way to get it from water?

- It's easier - that's for sure: you yourself can buy a device, a water electrolyzer, and generate hydrogen. The problem is that you will spend significantly more energy on this process than you will receive as a result. For example, now the world produces about 70 million tons of hydrogen per year, which requires 3600 terawatt-hours of electricity. This is more than the whole of Europe generates.

- When you came to Tomsk Polytechnic University, I take it that you made this topic one of the strategic ones?

- First you had to understand what is. After all, one cannot say: "We are starting to deal with hydrogen, because today it is trendy!". There has to be a groundwork. Tomsk Polytechnic has had this groundwork for decades. During this time, schools, experience, understanding, vision have developed. Plus there is infrastructure - a nuclear reactor, accelerators, all of this greatly helps the development of technologies.

© пресс-служба Томского политехнического университета
We are leaders not because we declared ourselves to be them, but because others recognize our priority. Let me give you an example - the Russian-German forum on hydrogen recently ended, where the parties told each other about current projects.

Speakers were Alexander Novak (Deputy Prime Minister), Denis Manturov (Minister of Industry and Trade), representatives of the Ministry of Energy and the Russian Academy of Sciences. The German colleagues had an equally high composition. Many colleagues noted TPU as a university that provides breakthrough solutions. By the way, Germany is investing tens of billions of euros in hydrogen energy.

- What interesting projects do you have?

- Our scientists are engaged in methods of obtaining, storing and using hydrogen. There is a group that is developing the replacement of platinum catalysts with inexpensive cubic tungsten carbide and molybdenum catalysts. There is a group that develops coatings that protect structural materials from hydrogen exposure.

Several research groups are developing technologies for hydrogen producing using low-temperature plasma, underground electrophysical conversion, coal gasification with CO2 capture and utilization, and electrochemical activation of biowaste.

Moreover, they are "engaged" - they are not just writing articles (albeit in highly rated journals). There is a result that you can "touch with your hands" - look at a prototype or, say, see the results of experimental tests.

- What do you think, will hydrogen be able to significantly squeeze out traditional energy sources?

- The world will not give up hydrocarbons, this is impossible. But hydrogen will definitely have a niche. Look at the speed at which hydrogen refueling stations are being built, what ambitions China has to produce hydrogen vehicles... Therefore, energy rebalancing must be kept "on the radar" and these technologies must be developed to be among the leaders.

For this purpose, in Russia we initiated the creation of the Technological Hydrogen Valley consortium of research universities. We need to understand what is in science? What stage is the technology at? And what kind of team do we have? What are the production capabilities?

A lot of companies are interested in hydrogen technologies and are already engaged in them - these are Gazprom, Rosatom, SIBUR, Severstal, Russian Railways, NOVATEK, KAMAZ... At the end of December, we organize a "hydrogen" conference on the basis of TPU, and a lot of enterprises write to us, they want to see what Russia has in this area. After all, these developments can give real breakthroughs.

Here, for example, quadcopters. Now a 10-kilometer autonomous flight is considered an achievement, but if we put hydrogen engines on them, which are light in themselves (unlike a lithium-ion battery) and generate electric current without emissions, then a 300 kilometers flight range is easy enough!

© предоставлено пресс-службой ТПУ
"Hydrogen can be directly converted into electrical energy without combustion, without CO2 emissions (the output is only distilled water). There are already hydrogen-powered train in Germany, hydrogen buses in Great Britain, hydrogen cars in Japan", - says TPU Acting Rector Andrey Yakovlev.
- Is a Hydrogen Valley a physical phenomenon or just an organizational one?

- Physical: this is real land on which you can settle, build part of the overall business chain. This is the place where frontier science enterprises are born, where the university is included in the business environment. Where, after all, there are special tax regimes apply.

- What is big business already investing in?

- There is an ambition to create hydrogen-powered railway transport in Russia, it was taken over by several companies, key ones - Russian Railways, Rosatom and Transmashholding. The project is being implemented in Sakhalin.

A whole business chain is being built: there is a company that will produce hydrogen (Rosatom is here for a reason), there are those who will produce cars of a new type, there are those who will produce fuel cells. Finally, there is Russian Railways, which will operate all of this.

- Is Tomsk Polytechnic somehow built into this chain? Sakhalin State University seems to be a member of the hydrogen consortium...

- Of course, and we are now starting to actively work with Russian Railways, with Rosatom.

That is why we are building a consortium and holding a conference. You can argue for a long time - it's expensive, cheap, profitable or not ... But you really need to weigh your strengths, understand where we are strong, and where you need to "train" to catch up. In general, there is huge, just huge potential! We need to unite efforts, build a chain in order to give each other authority and, of course, responsibility.

The new economy is taking shape; no one will be elbowing each other, but everyone must help each other. Then hydrogen could become a growth point - both economic, scientific, and engineering.

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