Accelerating ahead with hydrogen in the tank

Alongside battery drive, sustainable hydrogen is considered the major enabler when it comes to reducing carbon dioxide emissions from road traffic and other transport. Vattenfall is already working on several fuel projects with sustainable hydrogen as an important ingredient. But the possibilities are many – below we set out the most important ones.

The world’s transport consumes almost 10 billion litres of oil per day. In a year this results in roughly 7 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. Petrol and other oil-based fuels must be replaced by something better to reduce the impact on our climate, and it needs to happen soon. Using batteries works well for passenger cars and shorter road transport, in many other cases, hydrogen-based fuels are more suitable, and the solutions are already there.

“Hydrogen is a good alternative when direct electrification is difficult, for example where excessively large and heavy batteries are required. Hydrogen can be used either directly as a fuel or to produce other fossil-free fuels”, says Mikael Nordlander, director Industry Decarbonisation at Vattenfall. He has for several years worked on developing the use of hydrogen, above all to drive climate change in industry processes. A project that has received a great deal of attention is HYBRIT in northern Sweden set up to produce fossil-free steel.

Offshore wind becomes sustainable aviation fuel

Currently, sustainable fuel production takes up most of Mikael Nordlander’s time. On the Swedish west coast, two fuel companies, St1 and Preem, plan to start the manufacturing of sustainable so-called electrofuels using hydrogen from offshore wind power and non-fossil carbon dioxide captured from emissions from the forest industry or similar.

The plans are for a total annual production of more than one million cubic meters of electrofuel, mainly to the aviation industry where the requirements for the mixing of sustainable fuel every year will get stricter. HySkies is another project for sustainable aviation fuel that Vattenfall is running together with Shell and SAS, among others.

Most obvious trend

But there are many ways hydrogen can power vehicles. For example, it can be used directly as fuel in an engine, or to produce electricity in a fuel cell. The question is which technology will in the future be dominant within the various transport sectors?

“All the variants have their use,” Mikael Nordlander says. “The most obvious trend we see is probably in sustainable electrofuel for aviation. There, the requirements for mixing will gradually increase over the coming years and at the moment it is difficult to see any good alternative to hydrocarbons for long flights, although I know that there are projects looking at hydrogen in itself as a fuel. For long and heavy transport at sea, it is more like guesswork. Right now, it seems that methanol, which can be produced with the electrofuel method, is the strongest competitor, or possibly ammonia. Fuel cells and pure hydrogen can probably compete to a greater extent in terms of heavy road transport, especially if the industry starts to use hydrogen in their processes, as hydrogen will then be widely available also for the transport sector.”