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‘In the End, All Hydrogen Needs to Be Green': CEO of German Energy Giant RWE

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  • While there is excitement in some quarters about the potential of so-called green hydrogen, the vast majority of hydrogen generation is currently based on fossil fuels.
  • Speaking to CNBC, RWE CEO Markus Krebber said hydrogen was required "for those parts of the economy which cannot be electrified."

The CEO of German energy company RWE has called for the use of hydrogen in sectors where electrification is just not an option, telling CNBC that "in the end, all hydrogen needs to be green."

In an interview earlier this week it was put to Markus Krebber that Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess had argued hydrogen was not the answer for the German automotive giant.

"I actually agree with Herbert Diess because … he says that hydrogen is not the solution for passenger transportation and I think here, electrification — direct electrification — is the solution," Krebber replied.

"But we need hydrogen for those parts of the economy which cannot be electrified," he said. "So let's think about aviation, maritime transportation, heavy duty trucks, but also … steel and chemicals."

Diess has previously expressed strong views on the use of hydrogen in cars. "It's time for politicians to accept science," he tweeted back in February.

"Green hydrogen is needed for steel, chemical, aero … and should not end up in cars," he said.

"Far too expensive, inefficient, slow and difficult to rollout and transport. After all: no #hydrogen cars in sight."

Hydrogen, which has a diverse range of applications and can be deployed in a wide range of industries, can be produced in a number of ways.

One method includes using electrolysis, with an electric current splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen.

If the electricity used in this process comes from a renewable source such as wind or solar then some call it green or renewable hydrogen.

Today, a variety of colors — including brown, blue, gray and pink, to name a few — are used to differentiate between various production methods for hydrogen. For his part, Krebber explained it was important to be pragmatic about color codes.

"In the end, all hydrogen needs to be green, because green hydrogen is the only fuel which is ... fully decarbonized," he said. In the meantime, industries needed to take decisions to invest in new facilities and make them "H2 ready."

"Of course, there is not enough green hydrogen available in the short term, so you need to allow them to run it first on natural gas then, maybe, on all other colors [of] hydrogen … especially blue," he said. "But the moment green hydrogen is available, to the extent needed, they should switch to green hydrogen."

Blue hydrogen refers to hydrogen produced using natural gas — a fossil fuel — with the CO2 emissions generated during the process captured and stored.

While there is excitement in some quarters about the potential of green hydrogen, the vast majority of hydrogen generation is currently based on fossil fuels.

In recent times, some business leaders have spoken of the issues they felt were facing the emerging green hydrogen sector. In October, for example, the CEO of Siemens Energy told CNBC there was "no commercial case" for it at this moment in time.

Looking at the bigger picture and the development of a hydrogen economy, RWE's Krebber sought to sketch out how existing infrastructure could be used in the years ahead.

"We have, already today, a very dense network of pipelines across Europe," he said. "And actually what we are intending to do as an industry is, we want to repurpose the current fossil infrastructure into the new green infrastructure."

Krebber's view echoes a point made by Marco Alverà, the CEO of Italian firm Snam, earlier this year. In July, Alverà outlined a vision for the future of hydrogen, saying the "beauty" of it was that it could be easily stored and transported.

Speaking to CNBC, he spoke about how current systems would be used to facilitate the delivery of hydrogen produced using renewable sources as well as biofuels.

"Right now, if you turn on your heater in Italy the gas is flowing from Russia, all the way from Siberia, in pipelines," he said.

"Tomorrow, we will have hydrogen produced in North Africa, in the North Sea, with solar and wind resources," Alverà said. "And that hydrogen can travel through the existing pipeline."

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