Power-to-X: A key component in the global energy transition
Renewable energy from wind turbines and solar is key to decarbonizing everything we can electrify directly - but electrification is not a feasible solution for all the energy-intensive industries. We need other energy sources to decarbonize sectors such as aviation or shipping, and this is where Power-to-X comes in, it bridges the gap between a wind turbine and the fuel tank of an aeroplane.
What is Power-to-X?
Power-to-X refers to a range of technologies that convert electricity, particularly from renewable sources, into other forms of energy or products. This conversion process is primarily driven by the production of hydrogen through electrolysis - a process in which water is split into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity. The resulting hydrogen, known as green or clean hydrogen when produced using renewable electricity, can either be used directly or serve as a base reactant to produce a variety of energy carriers and raw materials. By changing the form of renewable energy from electricity to molecules, it becomes better suited to decarbonizing industries that cannot be directly electrified fully and at scale.
What can we do with Power-to-X?
The versatility of Power-to-X is encapsulated in the variable 'X', which represents the various energy carriers or raw materials produced from green hydrogen. Hydrogen and its derivates can be used for a wide variety of purposes. Green hydrogen can power transportation as a zero-emission alternative for fuel cell vehicles. It can be used as an energy source to reduce the carbon footprint in industries such as steel and chemicals that are otherwise difficult to decarbonize. It can store excess renewable energy, that can then be converted back to electricity, enabling a stable energy grid. It can also be used in gas turbines or combined with natural gas to produce electricity with reduced emissions, providing a bridge towards cleaner energy generation.
Green ammonia is one of the derivates that can be made from hydrogen. It is produced by combining green hydrogen with nitrogen and is a carbon-free fuel that holds significant potential in power generation, as a fertilizer and as a hydrogen carrier. Another derivative, eMethanol, is produced when green hydrogen is combined with captured CO2. These renewable liquid fuels, eMethanol and green ammonia, both hold great promise in the transportation sector, where their properties make them practical alternatives to fossil fuels. Additionally, green hydrogen can be transformed into Sustainable Aviation Fuel, a synthetic fuel that can power aeroplanes without requiring any modifications to the existing global aviation infrastructure.
Why is Power-to-X important?
The road to net zero by 2050 will not be paved by any one single idea or technology. The global energy transition is complex and requires a multitude of complimentary solutions to successfully lower carbon emissions on a global scale and mitigate climate change. Power-to-X technology is one of these key solutions.
By providing carbon-neutral alternatives to fossil fuels, Power-to-X offers a viable pathway to significantly lower carbon emissions in carbon-intensive sectors that are difficult to electrify and account for around 30% of global emissions.
According to the International Energy Agency’s World Energy Outlook Report 2023, global low-emissions hydrogen demand will reach over 400 million tons in 2050 to enable a net zero scenario. This demand covers hydrogen for industry, transport, transport fuel production, power and more.
Power-to-X will also be a vital resource in preserving and maximizing the use of power produced from the world’s expanding renewables energy grid. Energy surplus can be converted into energy carriers, such as green hydrogen and its derivatives, and subsequently stored for later use and transported to areas where they’re needed. Furthermore, Power-to-X technologies enable the integration of higher proportions of renewable energy into our energy system. They provide a means to balance the grid by offering demand-side flexibility and enabling the use of excess renewable energy that would otherwise go to waste.
Sector coupling is enabled through Power-to-X technologies, which is the integration of energy consumption and production across different sectors, such as electricity, heating, transportation and industry. This is important for increasing the overall efficiency of the energy system and for ensuring a reliable energy supply. Power-to-X technologies also contribute to economic development by creating new industries and jobs in the renewable energy sector, driving technological innovation and helping to reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels.
Power-to-X technologies are a key enabler of the energy transition as they help to decarbonize various sectors where it would otherwise be difficult to lower carbon emissions. As we continue to innovate and optimize these technologies, they will play an increasingly crucial role in our path towards a sustainable and carbon-neutral future.
This was originally published on World Economic Forum's website 14 November 2023. You can see it here.