Earth’s most significant natural resource, capturing 75% of all baryonic mass, is hydrogen. Nonetheless, it has been overlooked for centuries, but what has changed in most recent years? – Hydrogen and the use of the dominant fuel in various sectors, mainly as a power source, is now part of many governmental and private industry policies and plans.
The liquid fuel ingredient of rocket propellent is produced from liquid hydrogen. Therefore, one could think that hydrogen has been around for quite a while already. In 2019, roughly 70 million tons of hydrogen had been turned out worldwide. That figure tops the total needed amount of the primary energy supply of Germany. Yet, this number doesn’t show in any way the potential which can be unleashed by transformed water.
Let’s start by having a glimpse on several options of how hydrogen can be obtained. For once, from diverse domestic resources, e.g. (i) petroleum, (ii) natural gas and (iii) coal. The vast majority of hydrogen is currently generated from fossil fuels and natural gas (∼95% FY2018). Clean energy, converted from renewable energy sources, e.g. (i) solar, (ii) wind, (iii) biomass, and (iv) geothermal, carry the potential to net-zero the gained hydrogen’s CO2 balance. That leaves us with the question why is natural gas still the most favoured energy source for producing hydrogen? There is a simple answer to that – it is still a lot cheaper to generate hydrogen from fossil fuels compared to electricity from low carbon emission energy sources. According to a report by the IEA (International Energy Agency), the total cost of producing hydrogen from renewable electricity incorporates the potential to decrease by 30% until 2030 as a result of declining variable costs of renewables consecutively to scaling up the production of hydrogen.
With the current energy sector in flux, hydrogen is seeing increased demand from a diverse group, such as governments and private sector firms. One can easily relate to this high interest when knowing the advantages hydrogen withholds. Much like LNG, due to its chemical state, it can be transported in the form of (i) gas or liquid via pipeline, (ii) transformed into electricity via the grid, as well as (iii) in the shape of methane and fuel via fright traffic. In addition, the transport of hydrogen can build on existing infrastructure such as millions of kilometres of natural gas and petroleum pipelines. Hence, reducing infrastructural costs and time expenditure to a minimum results in a distinctive competency of this industry. On top of that, hydrogen energy storage is an effective way to store energy over a lengthy period. This energy can then be rereleased by using the different states of the fuel in a combustion engine or a fuel cell.
Governmental regulations and lobbying activities within the energy industry still limit significant investments and therefore, continuous development of the hydrogen sector. With governments showing sincere interest in the maturing of this sector, we hope to see progress soon, especially regarding the level of market entry risk first movers have to take until now. Different standards regarding utilities and the manufacturing thereof limit mass production and therefore the evolvement of economies of scale within the hydrogen sector. Consequently, common international standards would be of great benefit.
To conclude the above stated, international co-operation is vital to accelerate the growth of versatile, clean hydrogen around the world. We can learn from the successful establishment and growth of the global LNG market, and leverage gained knowledge. Scaling up hydrogen in a coordinated way can help spur investments into factories and infrastructure, hence bringing down costs, making hydrogen an even more attractive energy and power source.
In your opinion, where do you see the biggest obstacles for the market penetration of hydrogen as a daily power source?