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Hydrogen Energy – Is It Worth the Hype?

WHAT IS HYDROGEN?

Hydrogen is a zero-carbon fuel that produces only water as a by-product when consumed in a fuel cell. Hydrogen energy is produced from a variety of domestic resources including natural gas, biomass, solar power, wind power, nuclear power, and water electrolysis. Hydrogen’s zero-carbon waste and variety of use make it an attractive option for fuel in transportation and electricity generation, as well as for ammonia production and product refinement. It has been embraced as the “clean fuel of the future” by lobbyists over recent years.

There are three main types of Hydrogen. Firstly, ‘grey’ Hydrogen. Grey Hydrogen is extracted from natural gas (fossil fuels) and is currently the most widely extracted form of Hydrogen. This process emits CO2, which is not typically used as a by-product. Secondly, ‘blue’ Hydrogen, which is known throughout the gas industry as “decarbonised” Hydrogen. Blue Hydrogen is made from natural gas (fossil fuels), and the carbon produced as a by-product is captured and stored for use. Lastly, ‘green Hydrogen’, also known as ‘renewable Hydrogen’, is considered to be the ultimate goal of Hydrogen as a fuel. Green Hydrogen is made from the electrolysis of water, powered by renewable energy.

WHY USE HYDROGEN ENERGY?

Hydrogen Energy technology has been used for many years now, but only recently has a global interest in the technology become more widespread.  Hydrogen is bountiful in supply, and whilst it is resource-intensive to harness, it is essentially an infinite energy source. There’s no possibility of it running out. Hydrogen can be stored for long periods of time and has the potential to decarbonise the industrial energy sector and vastly improve energy efficiency in buildings. Experts have also highlighted that vehicles driven by Hydrogen fuel cells can be used in tangent with Electric Vehicles to help decarbonise the transport sector.

Hydrogen Energy Decarbonisation

The Paris Agreement has identified Green Hydrogen Energy as one of the key solutions to meeting the worldwide zero-emissions target. Governments around the world are including Hydrogen as part of their strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and the versatility of Hydrogen is attracting stronger and stronger interest from a diverse range of governments and companies across the globe. Investments in hydrogen can help foster new technological and industrial development in economies around the world, creating new career opportunities in Renewable Energy.

WHAT ARE THE DRAWBACKS?

Although Hydrogen is the most common element in the Universe, it requires a vast amount of energy to extract from fossil fuels and water and to break the chemical bonds that allow it to be released. It is not energy efficient – round trip efficiencies for hydrogen synthesis, treatment, energy storage, transport, power generation are around just 40%. This makes the production of Hydrogen extremely expensive. What’s more, research and innovation are needed to make Hydrogen harnessing cheaper and more sustainable. Hydrogen’s lower density means it needs to be stored and transported under high pressure, which is costly and carries safety risks.

A Hydrogen Container
Liquefied Hydrogen in a High-Pressure Container

Less than 1% of the global total annual Hydrogen production is Green Hydrogen. Primarily, it is fossil gas companies that lobby for the use of Hydrogen Energy, because most Hydrogen Energy produced is Grey Hydrogen, which is harnessed using carbon-heavy methods. Therefore, gas lobbyists are using the “Hydrogen Hype” to preserve the fossil-fuel-based means of production, allowing them to profit off Energy marketed as “Green”, which is actually derived from unsustainable, pollutive sources. This is having a significant impact on communities and ecosystems around the world.

WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE?

There is no doubt that Hydrogen will have a key role to play in our net-zero targets and search for sustainable renewable energy solutions, but global strategies need to focus on decarbonisation and improved efficiencies. To make the move towards real renewable energy and sustainable climate solutions, society must focus on making the production of Green Hydrogen cheaper, safer, and more efficient. This is why it’s vital that decision-makers have a solid grasp of the different types of Hydrogen extraction and technologies, and how to make decisions that will benefit the environment and society as a whole, without blindly buying into the Hydrogen Hype.

If you are interested in learning more about the advantages and uses of different Hydrogen technologies or are looking to implement Hydrogen in your projects, click here.

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