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Interview to Carlos Fúnez

“The main advantage of the hydrogen vector in comparison to the electricity vector is that it is easy to be stored.”

We start the year with a technological challenge: hydrogen, that is capturing attention as energy vector and it can play a basic role in the energy transition. This month we have interviewed Carlos Fúnez, head of the Open Innovation Unit at the Spanish Hydrogen Centre. He has talked to us about hydrogen technologies and fuel cells. 

What will be the role of hydrogen in the energy transition?

Hydrogen will play a key role in the energy transition as an energy vector, because it can integrate renewable energies in the present energy system. According to the report Hydrogen Scaling-up: A sustainable pathway for the global energy transition by the Hydrogen Council, in 2050, 18% of the final energy demand will be supplied by hydrogen, 6 giga tons of CO2 will be abated, creating a €2.5 trillion market and providing jobs related to hydrogen technologies for more than 30 million people.

What is the situation of the hydrogen research in Spain?

In Spain we have an interesting capacity to research hydrogen technologies and fuel cells. A clear example is the Spanish Hydrogen Centre. It was established in 2007 to help Spanish entities to develop hydrogen technologies and fuel cells. This state-of-the-art centre is equipped with advanced technology and equipment to research the whole hydrogen value chain.

Which are the most advanced countries in the development of hydrogen technology?

The most advanced countries in the development of hydrogen technologies are the ones with a clearly-defined strategy and strong government support. In Europe, the lead countries in hydrogen technologies and fuel cells are Germany, France, UK, The Netherlands and Norway. Also, outside Europe: Japan, Korea, China, Australia and USA —California to be precise—.

What are the existing technologies to produce hydrogen?

Nowadays, there are different technologies available to produce hydrogen, but, in my opinion, the most interesting technologies are the ones that use renewable energies. The most outstanding technologies in this field are water electrolysis using renewable energies and the reform, gasification and pyrolysis systems, mainly of biomass and waste material (urban, farming, industrial, etc.).

Can hydrogen be stored?

Of course, it can be stored. The main advantage of the hydrogen energy vector in comparison to the electricity energy vector is that it is easy to be stored. Once hydrogen is produced, it can be stored for the time it is necessary with no quantity limitation. There are different technologies that are already commercially available such as: compression, liquefaction, metal hydrides, organic liquids, chemical compounds, etc.

And, finally, what are the applications for hydrogen in the market?

Hydrogen can have many final applications. The most representatives are, for example: the use of hydrogen as alternative fuel for vehicles, lorries, coaches, trains, ships and even airplanes; the use of hydrogen as a renewable energy storage system to manage renewable power plants, the use of hydrogen to stabilize electrical grids. Furthermore, hydrogen can be generated and injected in the existing natural gas grid up to a 20% in volume. It will allow us to reduce the same percentage of natural gas imports. Also, synthetic natural gas can be produced by mixing hydrogen with carbon dioxide using the Sabatier process. Then, this synthetic gas can be injected in the present natural gas grid without limitations. Hydrogen and nitrogen from the air can be mixed to produce ammonia using the Harber-Bosch process. It is later used to produce fertilizers, explosives, for cooling systems, etc. and hydrogen can be mixed with carbon dioxide to generate methanol using the Fischer-Tropsch process. It is later used as raw material for different industries and as fuel for vehicles and homes.

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Carlos Fúnez

dfunezCarlos is a Mining Technical Engineer specialized in Energy Resources, Fuels and Explosives from Escuela Universitaria Politécnica de Almadén, a Mining Enegineer specialized in Fuels and Energy from Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingenieros de Minas de Madrid, Electrical Engineer from Escuela de Ingeniería Minera e Industrial de Almadén and holds a PhD in Mining Engineering from Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. Now, he is head of the Open Innovation Unit at the Spanish Hydrogen Centre and associated professor at the Escuela de Ingeniería Minera e Industrial in Almadén.