Hydrogen is an appealing fuel since one kilogram carries roughly three times the energy of a comparable amount of diesel or gasoline. And if we can make it cleanly and cheaply, it might be crucial in cleaning up a variety of complicated essential industries.
The majority of today’s hydrogen is made by mixing natural gas with high-temperature steam, which is an energy-intensive process that emits enormous volumes of carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas that causes climate change. However, electrolysis, which involves sending an electric current through water to break it down into its constituent atoms, produces a small but growing amount of hydrogen. Although this process needs a lot of energy, it creates the least amount of damaging emissions when power is provided from sustainable sources like wind or solar energy.
Currently, producing this sort of hydrogen, dubbed “green hydrogen,” costs almost three times as much as producing hydrogen generated from natural gas (mostly methane, whose molecules consist of one carbon atom bonded to four hydrogen atoms).. That cost, however, is now half of what it was ten years ago.
The production technique might become substantially less expensive as wind and solar costs continue to plummet and the economies of scale surrounding green hydrogen generation begin to pay off. Green hydrogen has the potential to become a crucial fuel for a carbon-free future if this happens. Simultaneously, as carbon capture technology advance, we will be able to extract hydrogen from natural gas without emitting substantial volumes of CO2.
Hydrogen’s relevance stems in part from its adaptability, since it may be used as a substitute for a variety of fossil fuels, including coal, oil, and natural gas. When all of these kinds are burned, carbon dioxide is produced, but when pure hydrogen is burned within a turbine, just water vapor is produced. However, because of the high temperatures used in the manufacturing process, it also encourages the generation of hazardous nitrogen oxides. Fuel cells, which mix hydrogen and oxygen to make water and energy – the polar opposite of electrolysis – without creating nitrogen oxides, are another approach to utilise hydrogen.
Hydrogen may be used to power vehicles such as automobiles, buses, trains, and planes, either through fuel cells or by directly burning it. Hydrogen may also be used to provide zero-carbon heat for steel, cement, and other sectors. Green hydrogen may be utilized to substitute hydrogen as a feedstock in a variety of applications, from refineries to fertilizer plants, lowering carbon dioxide emissions. Some industrial locations, such as steel mills and chemical factories, can also make use of the oxygen created as a by-product.
Regardless of how hydrogen is produced, securely storing and transporting it remains a challenge, especially for certain promising uses like aviation. (Do you recall the Hindenburg? The accident of a German hydrogen-powered passenger airship in 1937 put an end to the use of airships for regular passenger flights.) As a result, combining hydrogen with carbon – which may be gathered from the atmosphere or from stacks in a process known as air capture – to make industrial liquid hydrocarbon fuels that are easier to handle than hydrogen is another alternative. These liquid fuels may be a more environmentally friendly alternative to gasoline or diesel.
Hydrogen may also be used to store energy produced by renewable energy plants, which can subsequently be turned back into electricity to supply the grid if the winds die down, the sun goes down, or demand for power rises.
With so many possible applications, the International Energy Agency (IEA) projects that by 2050, hydrogen would offer more than 10% of world energy consumption, creating more than 11 million gigawatt-hours of energy per year, which will necessitate infrastructure. Producing, storing, and transporting hydrogen costs more than $4 trillion.
“A great wave of potential has developed since the beginning of 2020,” says Christoph Noyers, head of green hydrogen projects at Uhde Chlorine Engineers, a division of German giant ThyssenKrupp. The quantity of large-scale, realistic projects in the horizon is astounding.
Throughout Europe, hydrogen valleys have been formed – regional schemes that place electrolysis units in locations that may serve industrial needs Mtaddh. Thyssenkrupp is taking part in a green hydrogen consortium worth 89 million euros ($107 million), supported by a German government grant of 30 million euros, not far from Hamburg in northern Germany. A refinery, a cement mill, power generators, and an offshore wind farm are all part of the concept.
Green hydrogen will first replace part of the gray hydrogen utilized in the refinery (gray hydrogen is the designation given to hydrogen obtained from natural gas). The German company then plans to make by combining hydrogen and carbon dioxide gathered from the cement factory. Methanol, as well as several intermediate chemicals and industrial fuels, are used in airplanes.
Another green hydrogen partnership will use disused gas pipes to carry hydrogen gas around 240 kilometers (150 miles) to the southwest. The group intends to construct a 100-megawatt electrolysis facility. From here, he plans to deliver hydrogen to the Ruhr industrial area through a 130-kilometer pipeline network.
If the reuse of these pipelines is successful, the electrolysis plants connected to the old pipes will be able to deliver green hydrogen to nearly all major industries in Germany, relieving pressure on Germany’s overburdened electricity grid and supplying Ready from energy reserves during the dark periods when the wind is not blowing.
Meanwhile, large initiatives in the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Japan, and China were initiated. Despite the fact that the hydrogen produced by these projects will initially be costly, McKinsey estimates that by 2030, the cost of green hydrogen will be comparable to the cost of gray hydrogen, thanks to falling electrolysis and renewable electricity generation costs, as well as rising carbon costs.
Public policies will be vital if hydrogen is to realize its full potential. To begin, regulators and lawmakers will need to establish regulations that allow existing natural gas pipelines to transport hydrogen as well — a process known as “blending” — and that require carbon emissions reductions to meet hydrogen demand.
Some of this is already taking place. Late this year, Germany made a big move, exempting green hydrogen generators from some additional power tariffs. This was, in reality, the government’s acknowledgement that green hydrogen is a natural extension of renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Other rules under consideration in Germany and across Europe, such as the European Commission’s Renewable Energy Directive, demand reductions in carbon emissions from refineries, steel mills, and other heavy sectors.
Similar laws are required in the United States to move toward green hydrogen, according to Jack Brauer, associate director of the University of California-Electricity Irvine’s and Advanced Energy Program, although conversations have only just began.
While European governments compel natural gas pipelines to take green hydrogen, with amounts as high as 12% in the Netherlands, gas field operators in the United States frequently reject the combination.
Preventing hydrogen mixing is a significant challenge for Brauer. He notes that California already has a regulation mandating a third of the hydrogen injected into fuel cell vehicle filling stations to originate from renewable sources, but green hydrogen is currently hard to get by. Producers might develop more viable electrolysis facilities in distant, sunny, or very windy places if they could leverage existing natural gas pipes as a distribution network, according to Brewer.
There are also several technological challenges to solve, and the amount of wind and solar energy required to operate a global network of electrolysis facilities is massive. And, according to Prawer, a sustainable future would be impossible to achieve without a substantial dependence on hydrogen. He might be correct.