The Role of Hydrogen in Achieving Sustainable Energy Goals

25 January 2024

7 Minute Read

The push to achieve net zero goals has gained unprecedented momentum within the energy and process industries. Still, the International Energy Agency (IEA)’s recent report cites the need for “rapid progress” to achieve these ambitious targets. One key area requiring immediate acceleration is the deployment of hydrogen and hydrogen derivatives. And for good reason: Low-carbon hydrogen has emerged as a key lever for decarbonizing hard-to-abate sectors. Simply put, it’s difficult to underestimate hydrogen’s role in decreasing fossil fuel dependency and enhancing our overall energy security.

The good news is that hydrogen production is hardly new; the oil and gas industry has produced it at scale for decades, during which time it has gained immense, specialized knowledge. However, hydrogen has historically been produced through processes that create significant emissions. To achieve our industry’s sustainability targets, it will require the rapid development of a new hydrogen ecosystem that deploys all sources of low-carbon hydrogen, including hydrogen produced through renewable- or nuclear-powered electrolysis and traditional natural gas reforming technologies retrofitted with carbon capture solutions.

Deploying this new hydrogen value chain will require increased investment, a strong policy focus and market-ready solutions that support safe, scalable infrastructure. In each of these areas, rotating equipment plays a key role — and we’re committed to pioneering progress alongside fellow energy and process industry innovators.

Hydrogen’s Promise as a Clean Energy Carrier

Energy experts have now reached a near-universal consensus that hydrogen is a pivotal lever for achieving net zero targets. The U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy describes hydrogen’s effectiveness not only in decarbonizing petroleum refining and ammonia production, but in reducing emissions across numerous other hard-to-abate industries. The International Energy Agency (IEA) cites the clean energy carrier’s ability to power heavy-duty and other vehicles, transforming the carbon footprint of the transportation sector. The agency also highlights the production and storage of hydrogen as a pathway for long-duration energy storage, which makes it uniquely qualified to help integrate renewables into the electricity system.

Says the IEA, "There is now a broad expectation that the most secure and competitive energy system of the future will be oriented around variable renewable electricity, raising the challenge of how to deliver it affordably to as many energy uses as possible. Producing hydrogen from water using electricity is among the most effective ways to store this electricity over long periods and thereby use it in places that are hard to reach with electricity or for purposes that do not match the time profile of renewable power generation.”

Given its versatility and energy storage capabilities, it’s not surprising that the IEA has named hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels as one of five pillars for decarbonizing the energy sector. As net zero deadlines near, the agency is placing even more importance on hydrogen — and the world is following suit.

Momentum Surrounding Low-Carbon Hydrogen

The global momentum for hydrogen is undeniable. Just four years ago, only three countries had hydrogen strategies. Today, according to the IEA, 41 governments accounting for nearly 80% of global energy-related CO2 emissions have adopted hydrogen strategies. In its Global Hydrogen Review 2023, the IEA cited record-breaking demand for hydrogen. A significant portion of demand stemmed from traditional uses in refining and industry, but new applications — such as hydrogen in steel and ammonia production, and hydrogen in fuel cell trains — also saw increased demand. However, efforts to stimulate demand for low-carbon hydrogen still lag behind what is required to achieve net zero by 2050.

The IEA indicates thatless than 1% of the world's hydrogen is produced through low-emissions methods, and a significant portion of increased demand was fulfilled through hydrogen produced with conventional methods. According to IEA estimates, less than 1Mt of low-emissions hydrogen was produced in 2021. Two avenues for bridging this critical gap include water electrolysis and retrofitting traditional natural gas reforming technologies with carbon capture technologies.

Electrolysis and Renewable Hydrogen Innovation

Electrolysers, vital for creating low-emission hydrogen using renewable or nuclear energy, have experienced a marked rise in production capacity in recent years. In 2022 alone, manufacturing capacity grew by more than 25% to 11 GW annually.

To achieve IEA’s net zero scenario, 50% of the required total of 100 MT hydrogen must be produced clean by 2030, with 50 Mt of hydrogen produced through electrolysis and 30 Mt through carbon capture enabled reforming. In its latest report, the IEA states that “if all announced projects for hydrogen electrolysis capacity are realized, they would provide around 70% of what is required in the NZE Scenario by 2030.”

Barriers to Scaling the New Hydrogen Ecosystem

To realize hydrogen’s potential as a clean energy carrier, it will require the buildout, deployment and scale-up of an entirely new energy ecosystem. Despite the surge in momentum behind renewable hydrogen, numerous barriers must be addressed in order to accelerate this progress.

  1. High Production and Transportation Costs: Producing low-emissions hydrogen is significantly more expensive than producing gasoline.
  2. Insufficient Investment: According to IEA estimates, spending on electrolyser installations doubled between 2021 and 2022, reaching $0.6 billion globally. An additional $0.5 billion was spent last year on projects aimed at producing renewable hydrogen with CCUS. Still, the IEA’s Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario outlines the need for $41 billion of spending on electrolyser installations in 2030 — a figure that requires 70% growth per year through the decade’s end.
  3. Lack of Global Standards: There is an urgent need for globally accepted standards for hydrogen production, storage and transportation — all currently lacking.
  4. Safety and Infrastructure: Building hydrogen infrastructure requires financial prudence and a rigorous emphasis on safety. Hydrogen's intrinsic properties render it highly flammable, making safety paramount, while its cryogenic nature requires special considerations, especially concerning future seal requirements.
  5. Transport Challenges: Many critical hydrogen transport innovations are still in the developmental phase, posing key barriers to accelerated deployment of the new hydrogen ecosystem.
  6. Technology Gap: Despite progress in the rate of renewable hydrogen innovation, more investment in technology is needed to scale up deployment.

The potential of hydrogen as a clean energy source is clear, However, deploying and scaling the new hydrogen ecosystem faces numerous barriers that underscore a need for focused, market-ready innovations.

The Role of Innovation in Shaping the New Hydrogen Ecosystem

As net zero deadlines inch closer, renewable hydrogen innovation has reached new heights. Upwards of 100 pilot projects are utilizing hydrogen and its derivatives in shipping. And according to a recent report by the IEA and European Patent Office (EPO), renewable hydrogen patents are increasing rapidly. Nearly 80% of all patents related to hydrogen production in 2020 involved technologies related to climate change concerns, with electrolysis-related technologies representing a key standout. As the IEA rightly notes, strong policy can help reduce the cost of low-emission hydrogen. However, this new hydrogen value chain will not be safe or scalable unless we accelerate technological innovation.

At John Crane, we’re fully committed to supporting global efforts that address climate change and are taking concrete steps to reach net carbon neutrality by 2050. A key part of this commitment is investing in technologies that power our sustainable future, today. We were investing in sustainable solutions long before net zero targets transformed our industry’s approach to environmental practices, and we have been leading the way in hydrogen sealing and filtration innovation for more than four decades. Our innovations are market-ready, reliable and already enabling some of the world’s leading renewable hydrogen initiatives.

We have supplied thousands of dry gas seals to hydrogen applications since producing the first gas seal suited for hydrogen compression in 1979. More than 5,000 of our seals, filters, couplings and systems are in use in hydrogen related applications today — and we’re not done innovating yet. As we enter our second century of operation, we’re investing in the solutions that shape the hydrogen ecosystem of tomorrow. Our focuses include the hydrogen sealing and filtration technologies of the future, leading-edge digital solutions and hydrogen-ready services that support our industry in achieving its ambitious decarbonization goals.

As innovation ramps up, global collaboration is equally critical to scaling up a new hydrogen value chain that impacts nearly every sector and aspect of our society. At John Crane, we’re partnering with Hydrogen Europe and other energy transition pioneers to accelerate progress — to the benefit of our industry and planet alike.

Optimizing Rotating Equipment Across the Hydrogen Value Chain

The renewable hydrogen value chain is incredibly complex, requiring specialized solutions that deliver safety, sustainability and operational efficiency. From supply to end-user applications, every segment in this supply chain relies heavily on rotating equipment and filtration. By leveraging our legacy of technology leadership, innovative solutions and service excellence, we’re helping customers around the world achieve their decarbonization goals through the power of renewable hydrogen.

Hydrogen Production

To support electrolysis systems, we deliver specialized pump and compressor sealing solutions and filters. Our hydrogen solutions also include traditional SMR or ATR with carbon capture systems, as well as concentrated solar sealing solutions.

Hydrogen Transport

To ensure the safety and reliability of hydrogen transport, John Crane provides market-ready hydrogen pipeline compression seals, turboexpander seals and low-temperature filters for liquefaction efficiency, cryogenic storage and boil-off gas recovery solutions, and fuel supply system components that deliver peak reliability amid the demands of hydrogen transport.

Alternative Carrier Transport

John Crane leads the way in compressor and pump sealing and power transmission solutions for ammonia, methanol or LOHC conversion. We also deliver specialized filtration equipment to support safe, reliable marine transport and fueling.

End Use Applications

To support a scalable new hydrogen ecosystem, we deliver tailored solutions for a range of industries, including refining and chemical processing, green steel, fertilizer production and synthetic fuels.

Solving Mission-Critical Challenges Across the Hydrogen Value Chain

Our solutions are designed to overcome critical hydrogen compression, pumping and filtration challenges, both now and as the renewable hydrogen ecosystem continues to evolve.

Hydrogen Compression Solutions

John Crane has a rich, proven legacy of ensuring the safe, efficient compression of hydrogen and other gases. Our market-ready hydrogen compression solutions include dry gas and wet seals, high-performance couplings and comprehensive seal support systems including critical gas filters as well as lube oil filters. Whether addressing the unique demands of gases like hydrogen, carbon dioxide and ammonia or the specifications of various compressor types, our solutions enhance efficiency, boost reliability and maximize mean time between repair (MTBR). Our rotary seal gas booster and seal gas recovery systems further enhance the reliability and sustainability of these processes.

Hydrogen Pump Solutions

Our mechanical seals, seal support systems, couplings and filtration solutions deliver unmatched reliability and safety in global hydrogen value chain applications, contributing to the scalability of this essential new energy ecosystem. Our solutions address critical challenges of pumps across the hydrogen value chain, including critical water intake, cooling water and circulation pumps in green hydrogen production; essential services like amine, lean solution, CO2 and boiler feedwater in blue hydrogen production; ammonia, methanol, liquid organic hydrogen carriers (LOHC) production and reconversion; and the transport and storage of hydrogen and/or its derivatives.

Hydrogen Filtration Solutions

Filtration is pivotal across the hydrogen value chain, ensuring optimal quality and safeguarding vital equipment such as compressors, turbines, heat exchangers and fuel cells. John Crane's filtration solutions address a range of complex needs, from seal gas and fuel gas conditioning to specialized systems in electrolysers and hydrogen refueling stations. By optimizing these processes, our filtration solutions deliver peak reliability and sustainability.

View our interactive hydrogen brochure to learn more about John Crane’s portfolio of market-ready solutions.

Powering a Sustainable Future, Today

As the energy and process industries race to achieve ambitious net zero goals, hydrogen has emerged as a critical lever for decarbonizing hard-to-abate sectors. But along with its promise as a clean energy carrier, renewable hydrogen also poses key challenges for operators and regulatory bodies alike. It will require focused investment, leading-edge technological innovation and global collaboration to accelerate the deployment of the new hydrogen ecosystem.

Across this new hydrogen value chain, rotating equipment plays a mission-critical role. At John Crane, we’re building upon our legacy of innovation by delivering market-ready renewable hydrogen solutions — the kind that enable our customers to achieve their net zero goals and unlock our industry’s sustainable future. Shape your new energy reality today with our proven hydrogen experts.

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