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The Future of Hydrogen Energy

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[Power Grid - ETH-Zurich]

 

 

Clean, Affordable, Plentiful Hydrogen. Imagine the Possibilities.

 

 

- Hydrogen 2.0

Hydrogen 2.0 is a smart approach to producing sustainable energy on-demand, where and when it’s needed. Although abundant on earth as an element, hydrogen is almost always found as part of another compound, such as water (H2O) or methane (CH4), and must be separated into pure hydrogen (H2) for use in fuel cell electric vehicles. Hydrogen fuel combines with oxygen from the air through a fuel cell, creating electricity and water through an electrochemical process.

Hydrogen (H2) is a gas, and is the first element on the periodic table. It lacks color, taste, or odor, and is highly flammable. Its molecular formula is H2. Hydrogen is the simplest element on earth -- it consists of only one proton and one electron -- and it is an energy carrier, not an energy source. Hydrogen can store and deliver usable energy, but it doesn't typically exist by itself in nature and must be produced from compounds that contain it. 

Hydrogen is the smallest and most basic element on the periodic table. This element is one of the key components of water, a substance that is vital to life and used for a variety of purposes. Additionally, hydrogen is used for a variety of purposes and within a variety of products for everything ranging from fuel to disinfecting to the creation of a variety of useful products found around the home. 

Hydrogen is already widely used in some industries, but it has not yet realised its potential to support clean energy transitions. Ambitious, targeted and near-term action is needed to further overcome barriers and reduce costs.

 

- Everyday Uses For Hydrogen

Hydrogen is the universe’s most abundant element and the world’s cleanest source of energy. But its use has been restricted by challenges in how to safely harvest, store, transport, and release that energy.

Hydrogen can be used in fuel cells to generate power using a chemical reaction rather than combustion, producing only water and heat as byproducts. It can be used in cars, in houses, for portable power, and in many more applications. Hydrogen is an energy carrier that can be used to store massive amounts of energy for grid resilience and security and it is a critical feedstock for most of the chemicals industry. 

The main uses of Hydrogen are listed below:  

  • commercial fixation of nitrogen from the air in the Haber ammonia process.
  • hydrogenation of fats and oils.
  • methanol production, in hydrodealkylation, hydrocracking, and hydrodesulphurization.
  • rocket fuel.
  • welding.
  • production of hydrochloric acid.
  • reduction of metallic ores.

 

Today, we primarily use hydrogen for oil refining and ammonia production, but there is a growing demand for it in steel manufacturing and in transportation to power vehicles, upgrade biofuels, and even produce synthetic fuels that may use carbon dioxide as a feedstock.

In order to meet this demand, the U.S. Department of Energy is looking at ways to develop new technologies through its H2@Scale initiative to efficiently scale-up the production of hydrogen using all of our nation’s energy sources, including nuclear.

 

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[Switzerland - Civil Engineering Discoveries]

- Demand For Hydrogen

Hydrogen is almost entirely supplied from natural gas and coal today. Hydrogen is already with us at industrial scale all around the world, but its production is responsible for annual CO2 emissions equivalent to those of Indonesia and the United Kingdom combined. Harnessing this existing scale on the way to a clean energy future requires both the capture of CO2 from hydrogen production from fossil fuels and greater supplies of hydrogen from clean electricity.

Producing hydrogen from low-carbon energy is costly at the moment. 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. 

Supplying hydrogen to industrial users is now a major business around the world. Demand for hydrogen, which has grown more than threefold since 1975, continues to rise -- almost entirely supplied from fossil fuels, with 6% of global natural gas and 2% of global coal going to hydrogen production.

As a consequence, production of hydrogen is responsible for CO2 emissions of around 830 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to the CO2 emissions of the United Kingdom and Indonesia combined.

 

- The Hydrogen Economy 

The hydrogen economy is an envisioned future in which hydrogen is used as a fuel for heat and hydrogen vehicles, for energy storage, and for long distance transport of energy. In order to phase out fossil fuels and limit global warming, hydrogen can be created from water using intermittent renewal sources such as wind and solar, and its combustion only releases water vapor to the atmosphere. 

Hydrogen is a powerful fuel, and a frequent component in rocket fuel, but numerous technical challenges prevent the creation of a large-scale hydrogen economy. These include the difficulty of developing long-term storage, pipelines and engine equipment; a relative lack of off-the-shelf engine technology that can currently run safely on hydrogen; safety concerns due to the high reactivity of hydrogen fuel with environmental oxygen in the air; the expense of producing it by electrolysis; and a lack of efficient photochemical water splitting technology. The hydrogen economy is nevertheless slowly developing as a small part of the low-carbon economy.

 

- The Transition Strategy

The need for increased renewable energy generation, coupled with challenges with respect to storage and transportation of hydrogen, means making the leap directly to green hydrogen from fossil fuels is likely impossible. This reality has many industry leaders considering intermediate steps that could enable economies to build out hydrogen infrastructure while waiting for the actual green hydrogen itself to achieve scale.

Blending green hydrogen with natural gas is thought to come with the advantage of decreasing transition costs by making use of existing infrastructure, because so long as the hydrogen inclusion remains low, the blend can be added to pipelines and burned in natural gas turbines. This transition strategy has gained steam particularly in the U.S. and Canada, where access to natural gas means hydrogen could struggle to compete on the basis of cost for years to come. And proponents of blending argue it keeps costs low and enables a gradual replacement of gas infrastructure as hydrogen inclusion rates increase.

 


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