As more and more people grow aware of the impending effects of climate change, there’s a lot of effort going into finding and developing alternate sources of energy for a cleaner future and cleaner mobility. You’ve got various organizations and energy management consulting firms invested in the matter, and so far, there’s one word that is creating a lot of buzz in the market, and that is hydrogen.
Even though the concept of using hydrogen as a source of energy has been around for a while, it’s only recently that more governments and organizations are showing interest in this fascinating chemical element. With its immense benefits, hydrogen could be the answer we’ve been looking for.
Keep reading to find out what it is and the advantages and challenges of hydrogen investment the world is facing right now.
What is Hydrogen?
Hydrogen is one of the simplest, most basic chemical elements on earth. It is also one of the most abundant elements in the universe, which is why it makes for an excellent alternative energy source. It is a gaseous element that is often found in the composition of water, H2O – hydrogen plus oxygen.
Till now, we’ve been calling hydrogen an alternate energy source, but that’s not entirely accurate. The correct way to describe it would be to call it an energy carrier rather than an energy source.
The problem with most renewable energy sources, such as the sun or wind, is that they are surrounded by an air of variability. The amount of energy these sources can produce is often dependent on the weather conditions or the time or day of the year. This means that there are often times that we might not be able to produce any energy from these sources just when we need it most.
This is also why they are often referred to as Variable Renewable Energy (VRE) and you can see their share in the global electricity mix here, where it’s mostly around 10 to 20% only.
This is where hydrogen comes in. Hydrogen fuel cells can help store excess energy from these renewable energy sources. Hydrogen can then be used to power certain cars and autonomous energy production systems.
How is Hydrogen Produced?
The most common way of producing hydrogen is by reforming some hydrocarbon fuel, such as natural gas, with steam at high temperatures.
Another way is the gasification process, which involves burning charcoal in a reactor and using the resulting released gases to reform and produce hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Lastly, you can produce hydrogen through electrolysis, which separates water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen.
Hydrogen as a fuel offers many benefits for various industries.
Benefits of Hydrogen as the Future of Clean Mobility
The future is bright for hydrogen fuel and is becoming closer to reality every day. The most important benefit of hydrogen fuel is that it has the potential to emit zero emissions.
Where electrolysis breaks water into hydrogen and oxygen, a hydrogen fuel cell in essence does the opposite and burns hydrogen to produce electricity, water, and some heat as well. In producing this electricity, the only thing that the fuel cell is releasing is water vapor, which is harmless to the environment.
Hydrogen offers many advantages to the automotive industry specifically for cleaner and more efficient mobility. The problem with electric cars was that while they provide cleaner transportation, there is a heavy reliance on electricity from the grid. Hydrogen-powered vehicles can be charged much faster as they are charged in a similar way to how you would refuel a petrol or diesel engine.
Hydrogen refills are quite similar to your existing gas refills, so it barely takes a few minutes.
The infrastructure to enable the utilisation of hydrogen fuel cells and hydrogen refuelling availability at a commercial scale is improving and costs are expected to significantly drop this decade.
As hydrogen production technologies and electrolysers improve and projects ramp up, and reducing grid demand and energy storage solutions and decentralisation becomes more valuable, hydrogen’s mobility applications will become more viable for short term and long term markets.
Longer Running Ranges
Currently, some of the longest ranges provided by battery EVs are being matched by fuel cell vehicles. The typical electric vehicles currently offer a range of about 150 to 380 miles on one charge whereas the hydrogen-fueled vehicles offer about 310 to 380 miles.
With these points outlined, one major challenge remains for both EVs and FCEVs – in the forms of recharging losses and storage conversion respectively – and that is achieving optimal energy efficiency.
The Long Road Ahead
As powerful as hydrogen is, its development pathways require further innovation, research and investment commitment from government and related companies.
To really live up to its full potential and serve as a clean source of energy for various sectors and industries, the transition to total green hydrogen production methods that rely on renewable energy sources needs to be embedded in policy and responsible decarbonisation programs.
Currently, great strides still need to be made in terms of reducing the overwhelming shortage of hydrogen refilling stations, in order to make clean mobility a possibility.
There’s also the matter of lithium-ion batteries, which are receiving much more attention and investment than hydrogen right now – as prices of these batteries decrease, the goal of pricing parity for hydrogen cars will be more difficult to achieve.
For all the damage it has done, the coronavirus crisis at least showed us the importance of clean mobility as we saw the sharpest decline in carbon emissions during the peak lockdown period. When he world goes back to normal, these numbers will only rise again, which is realising the importance of switching to alternate sources of energy sooner rather than later should be at the forefront and is becoming more vital day by day.
For deeper insights into the hydrogen economy and other topics linked to energy, natural resources, chemicals and infrastructure, contact Pangea Strategic Intelligence, the world’s platform for better quality, more actionable research.