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The new frontiers of hydrogen production and steps forward by Italy and China

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In the traditional hydrogen production industry, hydrogen is derived from fossil fuels. It is the most widely used method and there are mature technologies and industrial devices for this purpose.

The methods mainly include hydrogen production by partial oxidation of heavy oil, by natural gas steam and by coal gasification.

Natural gas and coal reserves, however, are limited and the hydrogen production process pollutes the environment.

According to the requirements of scientific development, this method is obviously not the best choice in the future hydrogen production technology.

Conversely, water electrolysis has a long history in the hydrogen production industry. The commonly used electrolytic cell generally adopts a bipolar filter press structure or a single-stage box structure.

The advantages of such a structure are simple equipment, easy maintenance and low investment. The disadvantage is that it covers a large area and the space-time yield is low. The filter press structure is more complex and the advantages are compactness, space-saving, small footprint and high space-time yield.

Nevertheless, it is difficult to maintain and requires a large investment. With the development of science and technology, a cell with a Solid Polymer Electrolyte (SPE) has emerged. SPE cell materials are easy to obtain, suitable for mass production, and the same number of anodes and cathodes are used for H2 and O2 separation. Its efficiency is higher than that of conventional alkaline electrolysis cells.

The phase flow rate of the SPE cell is the conventional alkaline electrolysis of 1/10 of the tank, and the service life is about 300 days. The disadvantage is that the energy consumption of water electrolysis is still very high.

The water electrolysis industry in many countries remains at the level of the bipolar filter press structure electrolysis cell or single-box electrolysis cell, which is still far behind the level of more advanced industry and research.

The catalytic thermal decomposition of methane to produce hydrogen is accompanied by a large amount of carbon dioxide emissions, but in recent years – due to the thermal decomposition of methane – CO2 emissions can be avoided for hydrogen production.

The decomposition of one mole of hydrogen by methane requires 37.8 KJ of energy and releases 0.05 mole of CO2. The main advantage of this method is that while producing high purity hydrogen, solid carbon is produced which is cheaper and easier to produce, so that carbon dioxide is not released into the atmosphere and the greenhouse effect is reduced.

Because it essentially produces no CO2, it is considered a transition process between fossil fuels and renewable energy. The cost of production, however, is not low: if the carbon by-product has broad market prospects, this method will become promising for hydrogen production.

Biological hydrogen production lies in the fact that hydrogen is produced by microorganisms using hydrogen-containing substances (including plant starch, cellulose, sugar and other organic matter, as well as water) as substrates to produce hydrogen gas at normal temperature and pressure.

So far the hydrogen-producing organisms reported in research can be divided into two categories: photosynthetic organisms (anaerobic photosynthetic bacteria, cyanobacteria, and green algae) and non-photosynthetic organisms (strict anaerobic bacteria, facultative anaerobic bacteria, and aerobic bacteria).

Photosynthetic organisms, cyanobacteria and green algae can use the ingenious photosynthetic structure to convert solar energy into hydrogen energy. Therefore, their research on hydrogen production is much more thorough than that of non-photosynthetic organisms.

Both can photo split water to produce hydrogen. Water photo splitting to produce hydrogen is an ideal way to extract it. However, when cyanobacteria and green algae release hydrogen photosynthetically, the process is accompanied by the release of oxygen.

In addition to low hydrogen production efficiency, the inactivation of enzymes when exposed to oxygen is a key problem that this technology is expected to solve. It is quite simple: anaerobic photosynthetic bacteria compared to blue-green bacteria and algae, an anaerobic photosynthetic hydrogen process that does not generate oxygen.

Due to the complexity and precision of the photosynthetic hydrogen desorption process, research is still mainly focused on screening or breeding of high activity hydrogen-producing strains, cultivating and controlling environmental conditions to increase hydrogen production. All of this is still at the experimental level.

Non-photosynthetic organisms can degrade macromolecular organic matter to produce hydrogen and bioconvert renewable energy materials (cellulose and its degradation products, starch, etc.) to produce energy from hydrogen.

Research shows its advantages over photosynthetic organisms. Research on this type of microorganisms as a source of hydrogen began in the 1960s. Around the late 1990s, Chinese scientist Ren Nanqi and others researched and developed the biological hydrogen production technology of organic wastewater fermentation using anaerobic activated sludge and organic wastewater as raw materials.

This technology overcomes the limitation that biological hydrogen production technology must use pure bacteria and fixed technology, and creates a new way to use non-immobilized bacteria to produce hydrogen. Pilot test results show that the biological hydrogen production reactor has the highest continuous hydrogen production. The ability to achieve certain quantities and the production cost is about half of the hydrogen production cost of the water electrolysis method.

With specific reference to China, in his speech delivered in September 2020 during the debate at the 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly, President Xi Jinping announced that China would enhance its autonomous contribution to tackle pollution problems and would “strive to peak carbon dioxide emissions before 2030 and achieve carbon neutrality before 2060.”

In October 2020, peak carbon and carbon neutrality were included for the first time in the Fourteenth Five-Year Plan (“The Path to Decarbonization”).

In April 2021, during the video meeting between China, France and Germany, President Xi Jinping once again recalled this tough battle and stressed that China and Europe should strengthen climate policy dialogue and cooperation in the field of green development, so as to make climate change – the pillar of Sino-European cooperation – relevant.

It is a general trend for China and Europe to strengthen the climate policy dialogue and cooperation in the field of green development, and it is also in their common interest.The latest generation of photovoltaic technology for power generation and hydrogen production from ocean waves (green renewable energy through clean renewable energy), which have long been proposed by China, are attempts and initiatives to achieve the goal of carbon peak and carbon neutrality.

In this regard, the Memorandum of Understanding (November 25, 2019) between the International World Group and the National Ocean Technology Center – directly run by the Chinese Ministry of Natural Resources, led by Lu Hao – and IWG-Eldor Group’s proposals regarding state-of-the-art technologies – currently available – to be developed in partnership for the Chinese market, constitute the first substantial progress achieved in this field.

The Chinese government is strongly committed to the path of low carbon energy transition that allows a significant reduction of CO2 emissions, converting energy production from oil combustion in traditional industrial sites to green (clean) sustainable energy from renewable sources in the Silk Road.

Eldor Group is already operating in the Chinese territory in the automotive sector or in the production of engines and components for electric motors (ELDOR Automotive Powertrain) in Dalian (Liaoning Province). It is the production centre for the Asian market of ignition systems of manufacturing excellence.

These are projects in an advanced phase of development with “pilot” plants already operating in Italy, which can be carried out in China and in any part of the world, with the support of local investors.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Energy transition is a global challenge that needs an urgent global response

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COP26 showed that green energy is not yet appealing enough for the world to reach a consensus on coal phase-out. The priority now should be creating affordable and viable alternatives 

Many were hoping that COP26 would be the moment the world agreed to phase out coal. Instead, we received a much-needed reality check when the pledge to “phase out” coal was weakened to “phase down”. 

 This change was reportedly pushed by India and China whose economies are still largely reliant on coal. The decision proved that the world is not yet ready to live without the most polluting fossil fuels. 

 This is an enormous problem. Coal is the planet’s largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, but also a major source of energy, producing over one-third of global electricity generation. Furthermore, global coal-fired electricity generation could reach an all-time high in 2022, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

 Given the continued demand for coal, especially in the emerging markets, we need to accelerate the use of alternative energy sources, but also ensure their equal distribution around the world.

 There are a number of steps policymakers and business leaders are taking to tackle this challenge, but all of them need to be accelerated if we are to incentivise as rapid shift away from coal as the world needs. 

 The first action to be stepped up is public and private investment in renewable energy. This investment can help on three fronts: improve efficiency and increase output of existing technologies, and help develop new technologies. For green alternatives to coal to become more economically viable, especially, for poorer countries, we need more supply and lower costs.

 There are some reasons to be hopeful. During COP26 more than 450 firms representing a ground-breaking $130 trillion of assets pledged investment to meet the goals set out in the Paris climate agreement. 

 The benefits of existing investment are also becoming clearer. Global hydrogen initiatives, for example, are accelerating rapidly, and if investment is kept up, the Hydrogen Council expects it to become a competitive low-carbon solution in long haul trucking, shipping, and steel production.

 However, the challenge remains enormous. The IEA warned in October 2021 that investment in renewable energy needs to triple by the end of this decade to effectively combat climate change. Momentum must be kept up.

 This is especially important for countries like India where coal is arguably the main driver for the country’s economic growth and supports “as many as 10-15 million people … through ancillary employment and social programs near the mines”, according to Brookings Institute.  

This leads us to the second step which must be accelerated: support for developing countries to incentivise energy transition in a way which does not compromise their growth. 

Again, there is activity on this front, but it is insufficient. Twelve years ago, richer countries pledged to channel US$100 billion a year to less wealthy nations by 2020, to help them adapt to climate change. 

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development estimates that the financial assistance failed to reach $80 billion in 2019, and likely fell substantially short in 2020. Governments say they will reach the promised amount by 2023. If anything, they should aim to reach it sooner.

There are huge structural costs in adapting electricity grids to be powered at a large scale by renewable energy rather than fossil fuels. Businesses will also need to adapt and millions of employees across the world will need to be re-skilled. To incentivise making these difficult but necessary changes, developing countries should be provided with the financial support promised them over a decade ago.

The third step to be developed further is regulation. Only governments are in a position to pass legislation which encourages a faster energy transition. To take just one example, the European Commission’s Green Deal, proposes introduction of new CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans, incentivising the electrification of vehicles. 

This kind of simple, direct legislation can reduce consumption of fossil fuels and encourage industry to tackle climate change.

Widespread legislative change won’t be straightforward. Governments should closely involve industry in the consultative process to ensure changes drive innovation rather than add unnecessary bureaucracy, which has already delayed development of renewable assets in countries including Germany and Italy. Still, regardless of the challenges, stronger regulation will be key to turning corporate and sovereign pledges into concrete achievements. 

COP26 showed that we are not ready as a globe to phase out coal. The priority for the global leaders must now be to do everything they can to drive the shift towards green energy and reach the global consensus needed to save our planet.

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Pakistan–Russia Gas Stream: Opportunities and Risks of New Flagship Energy Project

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source: twitter

Russia’s Yekaterinburg hosted the 7th meeting of the Russian-Pakistani Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Scientific and Technical Cooperation on November 24–26, 2021. Chaired by Omar Ayub Khan, Pakistan’s Minister for Economic Affairs, and Nikolai Shulginov, Russia’s Minister of Energy, the meeting was attended by around 70 policy makers, heads of key industrial companies and businessmen from both sides, marking a significant change in the bilateral relations between Moscow and Islamabad.

Three pillars of bilateral relations

Among the most important questions raised by the Commission were collaboration in trade, investment and the energy sector.

According to the Russian Federal Customs Service, the Russian-Pakistani trade turnover increased in 2020 by 45.8% compared to 2019, totaling 789.8 million U.S. dollars. Yet, there is still huge potential for increasing the trade volume for the two countries, including textiles and agricultural products of Pakistan and Russian products of machinery, technical expertise as well as transfer of knowledge and R&D.

Another prospective project discussed at the intergovernmental level is initiating a common trade corridor between Russia, the Central Asia and Pakistan. Based on the One-Belt-One-Road concept, launched by China, the Pakistan Road project is supposed to create a free flow of goods between Russia and Pakistan through building necessary economic and transport infrastructure, including railway construction and special customs conditions. During the Commission meeting, both countries expressed their intention to collaborate on renewal of the railway machines fleet and facilities in Pakistan, including supplies of mechanized track maintenance and renewal machines; supplies of 50 shunting (2400HP or less) and 100 mainline (over 3000HP) diesel locomotives; joint R&D of the technical and economic feasibility of locomotives production based in the Locomotive Factory Risalpur and other. The proposed contractors of the project might be the Russian Sinara Transport Machines, Uralvagonzavod JSC that stand ready to supply Pakistan Railway with freight wagons, locomotives and passenger coaches. In order to engage import and export activities between Russian and Pakistani businessmen, the Federation of Pakistan Chamber of Commerce signed a memorandum with Ural Chamber of Commerce and Industry, marking a new step in bilateral relations. Similar memorandums have already been signed with other Chambers of Commerce in Russian regions.

— Today, the ties between Russia and Pakistan are objectively strengthening in all areas including economic, political and military collaboration. But we, as businessmen, are primarily interested in the development of trade relations and new transit corridors for export-import activities. For example, the prospective pathways of the Pakistan-Central Asia-Russia trade and economic corridor project are now being actively discussed at the intergovernmental level, — said Mohsin Sheikh, Director of the Pakistan Russia Business Council of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry. — For Islamabad, this issue is one of the most important. Based on a similar experience of trade with China, we see great prospects for this direction. That is why representatives of Pakistan’s government, customs officers, diplomats and businessmen gathered in Yekaterinburg today.

However, the flagship project of the new era of the Pakistan-Russia relations is likely to be the Pakistan Gas Stream. Previously known as the North-South Gas Pipeline, this mega-project (1,100 kilometers in length) is expected to cost up to USD 2,5 billion and is claimed to be highly beneficial for Pakistan. Being a net importer of energy, Pakistan will be able to develop and integrate new sources of natural gas and transport it to the densely populated industrialized north. At the same time, the project will enable Pakistan—whose main industries are still dependent on the coal consumption—to take a major step forward gradually replacing coal with relatively more ecologically sustainable natural gas. To enable this significant development in the Pakistan’s energy sector, Moscow and Islamabad have made preliminary agreements to carry on the research of Pakistan’s mineral resource sector including copper, gold, iron, lead and zinc ores of Baluchistan, Khyber Pukhtunkhwa and Punjab Provinces.

A lot opportunities but a lot more risks?

The Pakistan Stream Gas Pipe Project undoubtedly opens major investment opportunities for Pakistan. Among them are establishment of new refineries; the launch of virtual LNG pipelines; building of LNG onshore storages of LNG; investing in strategic oil and gas storages. Yet, it seems that Pakistan is likely to win more from the Project than Russia. And here’s why. The current version of the agreement signed by Moscow and Islamabad has been essentially reworked. According to it, Russia will likely to receive only 26 percent in the project stake instead of 85 percent as it was previously planned, while the Pakistani side will retain a controlling stake (74 percent) in the project.

Another stranding factor for Russia is although Moscow will be entitled to provide all the necessary facilities and equipment for the building of the pipeline, the entire construction process will be supervised by an independent Pakistani-based company, which will substantially boost Pakistan’s influence at each development. Finally, the vast bulk of the gas transported via the pipeline will likely come from Qatar, which will further strengthen Qatar’s role in the Pakistani energy sector.

Big strategy but safety first

The Pakistan Stream Gas Pipeline will surely become an important strategic tool for Russia to reactivate the South Asian vector of its foreign policy. Even though the project’s aim is not to gain a fast investment return and economic benefits, it follows significant strategic goals for both countries. As Russia-India political and economic relations are cooling down, Moscow is likely to boost ties with Pakistan, including cooperation in economy, military, safety and potentially nuclear energy, that was highlighted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov during visit to Islamabad earlier this year. Such an expansion of relations with Pakistan will allow Russia to gain a more solid foothold in the South Asian part of China’s BRI, thus opening up a range of new lucrative opportunities for Moscow.

Apart from its economic and political aspects, the Pakistan Stream Project also has clear geopolitical implications. It marks Russia’s growing influence in South Asia and points to some remarkable transformations that are currently taking place in this region. The ongoing geopolitical game within the India-Russia-Pakistan triangle is yet less favorable for New Delhi much because of the Pakistan Stream Project. Even though the project is not directly aimed to jeopardize the India’s role in the region, it is considered the first dangerous signal for New Delhi. For instance, the International “Extended troika” Conference on Afghanistan, which was held in Moscow last spring united representatives from the United States, Russia, China and Pakistan but left India aside (even though the latter has important strategic interests in Afghanistan).

With the recent withdrawal of the U.S. military forces from Afghanistan, Moscow has become literally the only warden of Central Asia’s security. As Russia is worried about the possibility of Islamist militants infiltrating the Central Asia, the main defensive buffer in the South for Moscow, the recent decision of Vladimir Putin to equip its military base in Tajikistan, which neighbors Afghanistan, seems to be just on time. Obviously, Islamabad that faces major risks amidst the Afghanistan crisis sees Moscow as a prospective strategic partner who will help Imran Khan strengthen the Pakistani efforts in fighting the terrorism threat.

From our partner RIAC

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How wind power is transforming communities in Viet Nam

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In two provinces of Viet Nam, a quiet transformation is taking place, driven by the power of renewable energy.

Thien Nghiep Commune, a few hundred kilometres from Ho Chi Min City, is a community of just over 6,000 people – where for years, people relied largely on farming, fishing and seasonal labour to make ends meet.

Now, thanks to a wind farm backed by the Seed Capital Assistance Facility (SCAF) – a multi-donor trust fund, led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – people in the Thien Nghiep Commune are accessing new jobs, infrastructure and – soon – cheap, clean energy. The 40MW Dai Phong project, one of two wind farms run by SCAF partner company the Blue Circle, has brought new hope to the community.

For the 759 million people in the world who lack access to electricity, the introduction of clean energy solutions can bring improved healthcare, better education and affordable broadband, creating new jobs, livelihoods and sustainable economic value to reduce poverty.

“It’s not only about the technology and the big spinning wheel for me. It’s more about making investment decisions for the planet and at the same time not compromising on the necessity that we call electricity,” said Nguyen Thi Hoai Thuong, who works as a community liaison. “The interesting part is I work for the project, but I actually work for the community and with the community.”

While the wind farm is not yet online, a focus on local hiring and paying fair prices for land has already made a big difference to the community.

“I used the money from the land sale to the Dai Phong project to repair my house and invest in my cattle. Currently, my life is stable and I have not encountered any difficulties since selling the land,” said Ms. Le Thi Doan.

Powering change

The energy sector accounts for approximately 75 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). UNEP research shows that these need to be reduced dramatically and eventually eliminated to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.

Renewable energy, in all its forms, is one of humanity’s greatest assets in the fight to limit climate change. Capacity across the globe continues to grow every year, lowering both GHGs and air pollution, but the pace of action must accelerate to hold global temperature rise to 1.5 °C this century.

“To boost growth in renewables, however, companies need to access finance,” said Rakesh  Shejwal, a Programme Management Officer at SCAF. “This is where SCAF comes in. SCAF works through private equity funds and development companies to mobilize early-stage investment low-carbon projects in developing countries.”

The 176 projects it seed financed have mobilized US $3.47 billion to build over one gigawatt of generation capacity, avoiding emissions of 4.68 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent each year.

But SCAF’s work isn’t just about cutting emissions. It is bringing huge benefits across the sustainable development agenda: increasing access to clean and reliable electricity and boosting communities across Asia and Africa. SCAF will be potentially creating 17,000 jobs.

This is evident in Ninh Thuan province, where the Blue Circle created both the first commercial wind power project and the first to be commissioned by a foreign private investor in Viet Nam.

Here, the Dam Nai wind farm has delivered fifteen 2.625 MW turbines, the largest in the country at the time. These will generate approximately 100 GWh per year. They will avoid over 68,000 tCO2e annually and create more than an estimated 302 temporary construction and 13 permanent operation and maintenance jobs for the local community.

Students from the local high school in Ninh Thuan Province were also given the opportunity to meet with engineers and technicians on the project, increasing their knowledge about how renewable energy works and opening up new career paths.

SCAF, through its partners, is supporting clean energy project development in the Southeast Asian region and African region. SCAF has more than a decade of experience in decarbonization and is currently poised to run till 2026.

UNEP

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