Hydrogen fuel tech could be on the verge of a breakout

hydrogen fuel tech

In terms of the worldwide adoption of zero-emission transport, lithium-ion battery technology is still leading the race. However, it may be a mistake to assume that will always be the case, and that there is an inevitable shift from traditional gasoline and diesel fuels to electric vehicles. The hydrogen fuel cell vehicle could yet be a contender for the frontrunner in zero-emission vehicles.

According to forecasts by the Hydrogen Council – a worldwide initiative of over 50 top energy, transport and industry businesses with a long-term mission to develop the global hydrogen economy – hydrogen will provide 18% of global energy requirements by 2050, while hydrogen fuel is predicted to power over 400 million passenger vehicles worldwide, as well as more than 20 million trucks and 5 million buses. If the Hydrogen Council’s predictions are correct, the hydrogen fuel market would create 30 million jobs around the globe, and reach a worth of around $2.5 trillion.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there were only 6,558 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles in the United States – against over 260 million passenger vehicles registered in the nation. There are a number of reasons for that lack of uptake. For one, hydrogen fuel vehicles aren’t widely available in many areas of the U.S. But a bigger problem is the lack of infrastructure – as of March this year, there were only 39 hydrogen refueling stations nationwide … Thirty-five of which are in the state of California.

Moreover, there is still the potential for exponential growth in the adoption of hydrogen-fueled cars. If that seems a reach, we need to look at hydrogen vehicles and fuel tech in comparison to the increase in the adoption of electric cars. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, there were just 4,736 electric vehicles sold between 2008 and 2010, while in 2018 alone, there were more than 360,000 electric vehicle sales in the United States. Similar growth in the sale of hydrogen fuel vehicles is absolutely possible – but that is reliant upon both government and industry buy-in, and investment in both vehicle technology and, perhaps more importantly, infrastructure to support hydrogen fuel.

Hydrogen technology is indeed on the verge of a breakout, and so is renewable hydrogen production technology, such as Clean Energy Enterprises’ Advanced Gasification technology, delivering practical waste-to-energy solutions to our clients nationwide.

Can hydrogen change the global clean energy landscape?

hydrogen technology

Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, but in its gaseous form is very rare on Earth; it exists mostly in the form of chemical compounds such as water, hydrocarbons and generally speaking organic matter. That means that we need to employ industrial processes to produce useable hydrogen gas. Currently, the most commonly used process is reforming of natural gas – 95% of the hydrogen now generated in the United States is produced using this method. Unfortunately, this process also produces carbon emissions, which are released into the atmosphere – unless relatively costly carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) solutions are employed.

While it hasn’t yet seen widespread adoption, another method of cleaner hydrogen production exists: electrolysis. By using green energy to electrolyze water, hydrogen gas is produced, with only oxygen as a by-product. While inroads are being made into industrial-scale production of hydrogen by electrolysis, costs can remain prohibitive. However, as renewable energy becomes more efficient and less costly, industrial electrolyzing technology and waste to energy technologies become more readily available, along with increasing global pressure to decarbonize, we are likely to see green hydrogen production become more widely adopted in the coming years.

Hydrogen has many advantages as we push toward a greener and more decarbonized industrial global society. As a fuel source, it is significantly more energy-dense than electric batteries. While personal and commercial electric vehicles have seen widespread adoption in recent years, batteries still don’t carry sufficient charge in relation to weight to allow for practical use in longer-distance transportation such as long-haul trucks, ships and air transport. In addition, batteries take a significant time to fully charge.

Advances in hydrogen fuel production technologies could begin to address some of these issues.

Hydrogen also has the potential to supplement or even replace the natural gas which is currently widely used for home heating in North America, Europe and parts of Asia. While replacing natural gas with electrical heating could be costly, and has the potential to tax electricity generation and distribution capacity during cold periods, utilizing hydrogen as either an additive to natural gas or eventually as the sole fuel could be achieved more efficiently.

If major natural gas producing nations – such as countries in the Middle East – do start switching to hydrogen, the way could be paved for a smoother, swifter and more realistic transition to a global hydrogen economy.

At Clean Energy Enterprises we see this approach being combined with the development of cleaner, renewable hydrogen production solutions. Advanced Gasification efficiently breaks down organic matter molecules to isolate hydrogen gas and recover it, in an environmentally safe manner. That will help to tackle our considerable organic waste and biomass disposal issues – that is, clean waste-to-energy solutions that deliver a win-win outcome.

A clean hydrogen future is coming

clean hydrogen

There is an ever-stronger global consensus that clean hydrogen solutions will form a vital part of mankind’s transition to a future of sustainable energy. Clean hydrogen can help cut carbon emissions from both transportation and industrial sources. However, the widespread adoption of cleaner hydrogen production isn’t without challenges. In this article we’ll look at three types of hydrogen production – sometimes referred to respectively as “gray,” “blue” and “green” – and some of the factors that affect their adoption.

Today, most hydrogen generated is gray hydrogen, which is produced industrially from natural gas – this is currently the cheapest hydrogen production method. The downside of this process is that it produces significant carbon emissions. That is problematic in terms of environmental effects, but it also has a considerable impact in terms of cost. The current production price of gray hydrogen is around $1.70 per kilogram, primarily driven by the price of natural gas. However, natural gas prices vary around the world, and market-driven price raises in the near future may present challenges. Another important consideration is the costs imposed by carbon emissions trading systems. In the European Union, the price of CO2emissions is in the region $30 per ton, but this could increase to as much as $45 per ton within the decade, potentially increasing the price of gray hydrogen by over 30%.

A cleaner type of production is blue hydrogen, in which carbon emissions are captured and stored or reused. As with gray hydrogen, the price of blue hydrogen is highly dependent upon natural gas prices. However, the cost of carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) is another major factor, with costs in the range of $60 to $80 per ton of CO2. While that puts European blue hydrogen production at a higher cost than gray hydrogen, that could change in the coming years as the cost of carbon emissions increases while CCUS costs are likely to reduce due to innovation and scaling.

The cleanest form of production is green hydrogen, which is produced using renewable energy sources and without carbon emissions. Green hydrogen is produced by electrolysis of water, at an estimated current cost of between $4 and $6 per kilogram. Currently, worldwide electrolysis capacity is both costly and limited, resulting in green hydrogen’s high price compared to other production methods. However, as the technology becomes more widespread, industry analysts expect electrolysis costs to reduce by around 70% over the next decade. The cost of green electricity required for the electrolysis process is also an important factor in the price of green hydrogen, and future efficiencies in solar and wind energy production may also help to bring costs down. One should also note that solar energy is actually not as green as we may think, due to the significant CO2release caused by the production of the photovoltaic panels. 

At Clean Energy Enterprises, we believe that the clean hydrogen revolution has already begun, and our own BT Advanced Gasification technologies – which produce green hydrogen directly from biomass – are playing their role in it. While renewable energy costs have come down in recent years, there is still a high cost on the input side of electrolysis. Hydrogen from biomass or waste is of course green if the feedstock is biomass only; it would be considered blue hydrogen if it includes fossil-origin plastic waste. And in both cases, it brings a much lower cost into the production equation. In addition, it is always possible to capture and store the short cycle CO2produced during our transformation process. In that case, we would even be carbon-negative, actually removing CO2from the atmosphere, not merely preventing additional discharge.

Our hydrogen production solution also addresses another major environmental issue: the treatment and remediation of accumulating waste, including plastics that typically do not degrade over time.