Can hydrogen become the green fuel of the future?

Can hydrogen become the green fuel of the future?

Can hydrogen become the green fuel of the future?

Achieving safe, cost-effective, and scalable hydrogen fuel technology has long been considered a kind of holy grail in the renewable energy field. There’s nothing worse when hydrogen is burned than water vapor – the definition of net zero – and the molecule is abundant in nature.

Hydrogen has the potential to circumvent the two biggest challenges in fuel production: sourcing and extraction on the one hand, and harmful emissions on the other.

Attracted by these opportunities and a slew of global energy subsidies, startups and industrial giants alike have poured R&D hours into hydrogen projects in hopes of gaining a foothold in this burgeoning alternative fuel niche.

“When it comes to hydrogen, there’s a tendency to think of it as a miracle fuel because it’s a fuel that can be used without emitting greenhouse gases,” Raphael Hanoteaux, Gas Politics’ senior policy adviser for E3G, told The Weather network.

“Right now, hydrogen is a fuel of the future – we mainly use it for industry,” he added.

HYDROGEN V1.00 00 13 21.Still040—Getty

HYDROGEN V1.00 00 13 21.Still040—Getty

Concept illustration of a hydrogen filling station. (Getty)

hydrogen breakthroughs

In the last few months, however, that has changed. Several companies have presented prototypes or plans for hydrogen-powered aircraft. TrainsRacing cars and trucks – just to name a few examples.

In January, aerospace company ZeroAvia, a leader in the development of hydrogen fuel cell technology for use in aircraft, safely completed a test flight of a partially hydrogen-powered light aircraft.

Last summer, Germany – which signed an agreement to produce and transport hydrogen in partnership with Canada – announced the launch of 14 passenger trains also running on the zero-emission fuel.

And in early 2022, carbon reduction company First Mode unveiled a heavy-duty truck powered by a hydrogen fuel cell engine, operating at South Africa’s Mogalakwena mine.

These advances are remarkable. Although hydrogen fuel cell technology has been around for decades, it has never been used in sectors like aviation – which accounts for 3 percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – or mining, which accounts for 7 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, nearly half of which comes from the transport vehicles themselves.

Supporting these new ventures are international subsidies and incentives aimed at boosting the energy transition, such as the American Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) – a nearly $400 billion piece of legislation – and similar legislation in the EU passed just last week proposed their “Green Deal” industrial plan.”

Collectively, such plans mark the first time global investment in decarbonization hits the $1 trillion mark, and they include sizeable investments in hydrogen technology — as does the Canadian government’s budget update last quarter.

This investment is key to lowering the cost of hydrogen production, which remains a significant constraint in the industry because the combustible form of hydrogen must be produced through very energy-intensive processes, unlike fossil fuels, which require far less processing.

Click here to watch the video

Production of hydrogen fuels

The first step in this direction is the expansion of hydrogen production capacity, which is already well underway here in Canada. Hydrogen production plants are planned in Alberta, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia in the coming years.

But there is another obstacle to producing hydrogen for use as a fuel in industry and transport. The energy used to isolate combustible hydrogen is often the very fossil fuel that hydrogen would replace in a net-zero world.

“The production of hydrogen involves a lot of electricity. Greenhouse gases can form there,” Murray Thomson, a professor in the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the University of Toronto, told The Weather Network.

For example, through an agreement with Air Products Inc., the plant to be built in Alberta would produce hydrogen using a primary energy source of natural gas (also known as methane gas).

The project is being billed as “net-zero” because the plant would capture and store greenhouse gas emissions, but some green energy advocates argue that producing “clean” hydrogen from “dirty” fossil fuels — known as “blue hydrogen” — would save the planet Purpose missed, from a climatic point of view.

HYDROGEN V1.00 02 11 05.Still043 - Getty

HYDROGEN V1.00 02 11 05.Still043 – Getty

“Green hydrogen” is hydrogen produced from zero-emission renewable sources such as wind and solar power. (Getty)

How “green” is it?

Critics claim that the fossil fuel industry, which is losing market share to renewable energy, is pushing blue hydrogen for financial reasons, not to improve the climate. Research has found that fossil fuel lobby groups have spent more than $70 million to promote blue hydrogen in the EU.

In contrast, some studies are wary of moves to use hydrogen in transport or to heat homes, arguing that such a move will only undermine electrification of transport or the shift to heating homes with heat pumps that are six times more efficient are called hydrogen boilers.

Or they advocate “green hydrogen”, i.e. hydrogen produced from emission-free renewable sources such as wind and solar energy.

“The idea is to produce hydrogen from renewable electricity produced by electrolysis,” Hanoteaux explained.

The Nova Scotia and Newfoundland plants would both produce hydrogen entirely from wind power — in the latter case, a 3-gigawatt wind farm near Stephenville.

With the advent of these green sources of production, hydrogen could play a bigger role in sectors where batteries are less useful – such as automotive. B. in the high heat industry and in heavy-duty traffic.

“Replacing coal in steelmaking, replacing kerosene for airplanes, replacing diesel fuel for trucks,” Thomson said.

“There are many applications where electricity and electric batteries don’t really work, and hydrogen is a way to replace those fossil fuels with something that doesn’t produce greenhouse gases,” he added.

And simpler and cheaper methods of producing hydrogen may be emerging. Just last week, researchers at the University of Adelaide in Australia announced they have made hydrogen fuel directly from seawater.

“We split natural seawater into oxygen and hydrogen with nearly 100 percent efficiency to produce green hydrogen by electrolysis, using a base and cheap catalyst in a commercial electrolyser,” said co-leader of the research, Professor Shizhang Qiao.

The work could pave a path to affordable green hydrogen and mark the beginning of a boom for the industry.

Thumbnail: A hydrogen-powered truck on the highway. (Getty)


Show More

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button