Promise of Hydrogen
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is focused on developing technologies that can produce hydrogen at $2/kg by 2025 and $1/kg by 2030 via net-zero-carbon pathways. This is in direct support of the Hydrogen Energy Earthshot goal of reducing the cost of clean hydrogen by 80% to $1 per 1 kilogram in 1 decade. In this edition we explore why Hydrogen is being considered as the next clean energy fuel source.
What to expect today:
The promise of Hydrogen
Applications of Hydrogen
The promise of Hydrogen
Hydrogen and energy have a long shared history – powering the first internal combustion engines over 200 years ago to become an integral part of the modern refining industry.
When hydrogen is used as a fuel, it releases only water as a byproduct, unlike coal that releases harmful carbon particles. This makes hydrogen a zero-emission clean fuel, at least at the point of use. Producing hydrogen from coal in a large, central facility means pollution control can be put in place. Particulates, and potentially carbon dioxide, can be removed from the gas stream very efficiently.
Types of hydrogen
Depending on the type of production used, different colors are assigned to the hydrogen. Let’s see how many of them are really “clean”:
Green hydrogen: It is the one produced with no harmful greenhouse gas emissions
Blue hydrogen: It is produced mainly from natural gas, using a process called steam reforming. It is also described as ‘low-carbon hydrogen’ as the steam reforming process doesn’t actually avoid the creation of greenhouse gases
Gray hydrogen: It is created from natural gas, or methane, using steam methane reformation but without capturing the greenhouse gases made in the process
Black and brown hydrogen: Using black coal or lignite (brown coal) in the hydrogen-making process, these are the absolute opposite of green hydrogen and the most environmentally damaging
While the above list is how the majority of hydrogen is produced today; there are other ways in which hydrogen is being produced as well:
Pink hydrogen: It is generated through electrolysis powered by nuclear energy
Turquoise hydrogen: It is made using a process called methane pyrolysis to produce hydrogen and solid carbon
Yellow hydrogen: It is made through electrolysis using solar power
White hydrogen: It is a naturally-occurring geological hydrogen found in underground deposits and created through fracking
Cost of hydrogen
Green hydrogen produced with renewable resources costs between about $3/kg and $6.55/kg, according to the European Commission's July 2020 hydrogen strategy. Fossil-based hydrogen costs about $1.80/kg, and the commission estimated the cost of blue hydrogen at about $2.40/kg.
IEA analysis finds that the cost of producing hydrogen from renewable electricity could fall 30% by 2030 as a result of declining costs of renewables and the scaling up of hydrogen production.
The hydrogen technology investments from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law in the US are a major component of President Biden’s plan to decarbonize the industrial sector, which accounts for a third of domestic carbon emissions. Today, the U.S. produces about 10 million metric tons of hydrogen annually, compared to approximately 90 million tonnes produced per year globally. The Law includes $8 billion for Regional Clean Hydrogen Hubs; $1 billion for a Clean Hydrogen Electrolysis Program; and $500 million for Clean Hydrogen Manufacturing and Recycling Initiatives.
Challenges of scaling up hydrogen
A world desperate for a climate-friendly fuel is pinning its hopes on hydrogen, seeing it as a way to power factories, buildings, ships and planes without pumping carbon dioxide into the sky, however, there are a few roadblocks it must overcome before becoming the energy source for the future:
Impact on Climate Change: Depending on how it’s made, distributed and used, it could even make warming worse over the next few decades
Weight and Volume: The weight and volume of hydrogen storage systems are presently too high, resulting in inadequate vehicle range compared to conventional petroleum fueled vehicles
Cost: The cost of on-board hydrogen storage systems is too high, particularly in comparison with conventional storage systems for petroleum fuels.
Storage: Optimizing the volume, durability, leakage, and cost of the tank also remains a challenge. While liquid hydrogen tanks can store more hydrogen per unit-volume, research needs to be done to minimize leakage and maximize container lifetime.
If you are interested further, The Future of Hydrogen provides an extensive and independent survey of hydrogen that lays out where things stand now; the ways in which hydrogen can help to achieve a clean, secure and affordable energy future; and how we can go about realizing its potential.
Applications of Hydrogen
Hydrogen fueled mining truck
After investing as much as $70 million on its own to back the concept, Anglo American Plc, aone of the largest mining companies in the world, revealed a new 220-ton vehicle capable of carrying about 290 tons of ore without producing global warming emissions in the process. Instead of having a tank of diesel that powers the motor, hydrogen is used as the fuel cell and mixes with oxygen to create water in a chemical reaction catalyzed by platinum, which generates the electricity needed to power the motors that drive the wheels. It only emits water vapor and the company says it has the potential to reduce on-site diesel emissions by up to 80%. (Check out our previous articles on mining here.)
Sustainable aviation fuel
Airbus and Linde, a global industrial gases and engineering company, have signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work on the development of hydrogen infrastructure at airports worldwide. The agreement follows a cooperation agreement signed in Singapore in February and covers collaboration on global supply chains for hydrogen, from production to airport storage, including the integration of refueling into normal ground handling operations. In addition, Airbus and Linde will analyze the potential of Power-to-Liquid fuels - a type of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) made from the synthetically produced liquid hydrocarbon through the conversion of renewable electricity. (Read our previous article on hydrogen powered planes here.)
HS2, a major high-speed rail network plans to cut travel times between London and other major urban centers in England. Designed and built by a firm called AJC Trailers, and supplied by GAP Group, the buildings use solar panels backed up by a hydrogen fuel-cell. The “Ecosmart ZERO” cabins, as they’re known, provide kitchen, toilet and changing room facilities for workers. Designed to be low noise, they emit only water vapor. In relatively simple terms, a fuel-cell combines hydrogen and oxygen to generate electricity, heat and water.
Hymotiv is an Indian startup that is developing a hydrogen fuel cell EV. The startup’s technology utilizes hydrogen-powered automobile propulsion systems and is retrofittable to fossil fuel-based vehicles. It also develops an in-wheel electric drivetrain and a harmonic drive emission control valve. Together, Hymotiv’s solutions enable clean and green energy solutions for passenger cars, heavy-duty vehicles, as well as energy storage.
Recommendations from the team
Energy.gov - Check out quiz based on Hydrogen and Fuel Cells
CNBC - What Is Green Hydrogen And Will It Power The Future? (16 min video)
The Economist - Hydrogen: fuel of the future? (8 min video)