Analytical Center for the Government of the Russian Federation

Experts discussing prospects, risks of hydrogen production in Russia

Hydrogen energy is a promising area of the formation of a new global energy system. What is the current stage of hydrogen production in Russia, and what are the prospects and barriers of the hydrogen market? The issues have been discussed at a roundtable organized by the Analytical Center.

The energy transition is in progress, and hydrogen energy opens up broad vistas for the development of the domestic fuel and energy sector, Analytical Center expert Alexander Kurdin said. “Hydrogen is a low-carbon fuel, which can meet the requirements of countries actively pursuing the de-carbonization policy. There is a vast potential for using domestic energy resources, above all natural gas, in the production of hydrogen in Russia and hydrogen exports. Naturally, this evokes a keen interest of the government," Kurdin said.

Artem Boyev, director of the Tomsk Polytechnic University’s School of Earth Sciences and Engineering, believes that the energy transition process will see adjustments of the energy balance and traditional energy resources will be losing their relevance as time passes. For now, there are a number of barriers to the development of the hydrogen energy market. “Hydrogen energy will not be feasible unless our country has a climate agenda and a carbon tax. This is the driver to push hydrogen energy forward,” Boyev said.

There is a great technological uncertainty caused by different interpretations of hydrogen energy by various countries: some attribute it to green energy, and some believe it’s a separate type of energy, he said. There is not a single global institute to fully undertake the development of the hydrogen energy industry, the expert said. So, it was decided last year to set up a consortium in Russia. It includes research centers, heads of regions and relevant ministries, and industry actors. It is a task of the consortium to converge the available technologies with market needs. “There are a number of technologies, but the market is not ready to implement them,” Boyev said. “For instance, there are fuel elements but no market for them and their use is economically inexpedient. There is readiness to buy hydrogen but there are no scaled-up technologies for doing so.”

Igor Landgraf, chief designer of the Krylov State Research Center, presented an engineering solution, which might solve the problem of extra pure hydrogen production in Russia, to roundtable participants. “We have learned how to make ‘dirty’ hydrogen. Our hydrogen is 99% pure. This is necessary for using hydrogen as a source of electric power in fuel elements,” the expert said. In his opinion, hydrogen technologies should be rapidly developing in Russia. “First and foremost, it is necessary to create a market for consumption, followed by the development of the production market. Or else, there is a risk of overproduction crisis,” Landgraf said.

According to the International Energy Agency, the global demand for hydrogen will grow to over 500 million tonnes per year, roundtable participants said. Considering that governments and motor manufacturers are moving away from traditional internal combustion engines and hence the use of petroleum-based motor fuels, the transport sector is expected to become the largest consumer of hydrogen. This sector will be consuming 158.2 million tonnes of hydrogen by 2070.

The experts noted the existence of specifically Russian barriers to the development of hydrogen energy. This includes the ongoing hefty investments in the oil and gas sector, the high-carbon structure of the Russian economy against the backdrop of the underdeveloped global hydrogen market, the high hydrogen cost for end users due to logistic costs and insufficiently effective technologies, and the absence of hydrogen energy norms and technical regulations and a climate policy. 

These problems should be resolved now, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Andrei Yaroslavtsev said. “In the future, we will be facing serious sanctions for CO2 emissions, which will lead to other problems in other key industries of our economy,” Yaroslavtsev said. “The world aims to develop alternative energy, such as solar batteries and wind generators. They are expected to generate the bulk of hydrogen when hydrogen production will start exceeding the demand. All the other production methods will be strictly regulated.”