Aanjagers van Technologie Sophie & Gijs - Hydrogen can save future generations
The climate is changing, but people are not changing with it. It is only when it is felt in the wallet and we can take a holiday less often that we still want to make positive climate choices. In fact, how many droughts and floods must come before we wake up? Surely it is embarrassing with what ease we ruin the earth. Sophie, are you actually climate conscious?
Yes, but I am no saint. I find it quite difficult to make the right choices day in and day out. I don't always succeed and that does bother me. It’s important to think about the climate and what can be done differently. I also think about how future generations will cope with the wrong decisions of today and the inaction of our and previous generations. For me, I very much want to do the right thing. For example, think three times before buying a new piece of clothing, but also realise that my decision is a drop in the ocean. How do we get society to ensure that the state of the climate determines the choices made? Politicians need to stand up and make a grab for consumers' wallets. Bring on those increased taxes, the polluter pays. Then let's not get new trousers, then let's not go on an airline holiday, it's not two to twelve, it's two past twelve. Gijs, what will the energy transition actually do for your future?
My future looks good if there is enough implementation for the energy transition to succeed, if not, my future is not a nice prospect. It's slow going, when I look at the 2030 and 2050 climate targets, I think, "That's tomorrow!" There is still too little knowledge among the general public about hydrogen to realise the climate goals. For instance, energy is needed to make hydrogen, because hydrogen is an energy carrier, you have to put that energy in first. When this is renewable energy then we call it green hydrogen. That's what we want, right?
Green hydrogen is still hardly available, it is still too expensive, and there is too little green electricity for generation, which can often also be used more efficiently for direct electrification. I also want to underline that while it is hugely important to develop technology, we also no longer have time for perfection. Good enough is also good. As long as progress is made!
Climate change is rumbling on anyway, and implementing all this new technology takes time, too much time.
It also takes so much offshore wind, we are really not there yet. Those few wind farms are nowhere near enough. In addition, there is a great opportunity in reducing CO₂ emissions; industry really has to step back now if we want to achieve the climate goals. Processes need to be cleaner, a lot of good technology has already been developed, but it is just not going to work out that it will contribute to achieving the climate goals on a large scale. More is really needed, for instance large-scale deployment of flexible electrolyzers that work at times when solar energy is available and generate green hydrogen. Technology can really have a positive impact on the future.
And our -own- behaviour. If awareness goes up, if climate becomes a subject in high school and if people feel the negative climate choices they make in their own pockets, they will start making better choices. If you want to start making a difference, you not only have to address the system, but also make better choices at the individual level. Make sure you are aware of the climate problem and what you are doing to continue it.
That's where we really have a job to do, Gijs! We are Aanjagers van Technologie, we are the voice of the future, we can make a difference. As hard as it is sometimes to make a difference already in my immediate environment, we have to persevere, persist, tackle. We believe that technology can play a big role and are studying engineering. With our degree in our pocket, we will be able to contribute to the companies and organisations where better climate choices need to be made. Politics must also stand up, address behaviour, intervene to achieve a new standard. What is normal? Flying to the sun four times a year with a price fighter or agreeing on the maximum number of flight movements per person per year?
Agreed Sophie, it could all be more drastic. Without awareness there is no urgency. The consequences of negative climate choices must be felt where they belong. There are enough small things that can be done to make a difference, and it adds up. By being conscious about it, you will almost automatically act better. Turn down the heating in winter, shower for a shorter time, switch to cooking on electricity. Leave the car at home and take the bike more often, reduce consumption, insulate your house, eat plant-based food more often...
And find a job where you can put your knowledge to work for positive climate choices. There's no need to wait, we don't have time at all for an energy transition that maintains our current energy needs. We can also ask for a system change from the bottom up, and that really starts with using less energy yourself, but also looking around you and making suggestions where we can do a little less. Have you ever noticed that shop windows are lit up at night? Why on earth? Let's just agree with each other that this is really not desirable. Let's help each other use less energy instead of everyone figuring it out for themselves. Yes, this is idealistic, but not geeky. Here, too, politics is allowed to stand up and think along, drive, lead the debate. The French already give a good example: if the air conditioning is on in a shop, the customer should close the outside door properly after entering and leaving, so that no unnecessary energy is lost.
Surely everyone should know what is going on? Should know what they themselves can do to meet climate targets. And should know what technology contributes to a solution. There are so many opportunities with hydrogen and nobody knows anything about it!
For example, what I miss in the coverage of hydrogen deployment is an idea of how much needs to be produced to meet current energy needs. Mapping that data would lead to more awareness. Suppose you want to continue on this footing, we continue to consume energy like candy, what do we all have to do to generate the energy needed to do that?
You'd think we'd know that by now, producing even more figures. It is important to realise that we are using green energy to make hydrogen. But in using hydrogen, energy is lost again. The directly generated usable electricity is therefore 30% efficient. Not surprisingly, then, electrification is usually preferred to using an energy carrier, such as hydrogen. An electric passenger car will be preferable to a hydrogen car for the time being.
Still, you cannot always resort to electrification. Especially in heavy industry, hydrogen is needed. In heavy transport or in industry where high temperatures are required, hydrogen has the upper hand. This is precisely where electric alternatives are not (yet) possible.
And also consider the overloading of the electricity grid. To fully electrify, the grid has to be massively reinforced. An expensive process.
Like hydrogen, electrification requires a lot of metal, think batteries, cables. Every technology development comes with a metal requirement. We only avert a metal crisis by using less energy, thus requiring less technology development.
Storing a lot of energy in the form of hydrogen is easier than large batteries, though. Hydrogen can serve as a buffer for solar energy, whereas solar cells suffer from seasonal fluctuations, where you have a lot of sun in summer and a bit less in winter. Storing hydrogen in particular is a solution for energy needs in the less sunny seasons. As a result, hydrogen is always constant and available, during all weather types. Hydrogen can also help transport energy. Cheap renewable energy from southern countries is now transported via gas. If the existing gas network is converted, it can be transported by hydrogen.
Anyway, hydrogen alone is not the answer to the climate crisis, neither is electrification. It is and will remain important to develop multiple technologies side by side to achieve the maximum feasible. Complemented by collective behavioural change, making individual positive climate choices, we will get there. Will it be a bright future after all.
Writer: Kaat Rijkers
Photography: Niels van Loon
About Sophie and Gijs
Sophie de Hont (23 years old), student Applied Physics, Eindhoven University of Technology
Gijs Mescher (22 years old), student Applied Physics, Eindhoven University of Technology
About Aanjagers van Technologie (Technology Boosters)
We, the Aanjagers van Technologie, are a group of ambitious, socially engaged students from the 4 Technical Universities in Delft, Eindhoven, Twente and Wageningen; an initiative of the 4TU.Federation. We drive technological innovation. As the voice of the future, we accelerate urgent transitions, tackle societal challenges and work towards a sustainable future. With the support and expertise of the 4 TUs, we work on concrete projects in the fields of Circular Economy, Energy, Healthcare and Agriculture. More information: www.4tu.nl/aanjagersvantechnologie