Why Hydrogen Can’t Solve Everything
Read Time: 5 Minutes
Hydrogen fuel is a tantalizing technology that has the capacity to provide clean power for several products and decarbonize entire industries. But the gas is not a panacea, and there are several challenges to its widespread adoption, including cost and lack of infrastructure. To dig deeper into this topic, GLG’s Sam Stopps hosted a teleconference with Kris Hyde, PhD, GLG Network Member and former Technology Development Manager at ITM Power. What follows is a version of their conversation edited for length and clarity.
Can you introduce hydrogen and its different forms, including blue, gray, and green hydrogen?
Hydrogen is a clean fuel that does not produce carbon emissions. It’s quite reactive, so we don’t find it in the environment as a pure gas. If we want hydrogen, we need to create it. There are three main types:
Gray hydrogen is the most common form of hydrogen. About 77 million tons of gray hydrogen are produced each year. It is produced from splitting methane in natural gas, a fossil fuel, and the extraction process produces carbon emissions.
Blue hydrogen is similar to gray but includes carbon capture and storage, which makes it less polluting. However, it is more expensive to produce, and there are questions about what percentage of the carbon emissions remain locked in the ground. About 1 million tons are produced each year.
Green hydrogen is the most environmentally friendly form of hydrogen, but it is the most expensive to produce. Its production has recently been increasing due to technological advancements and improved products on the market. Just 0.1 million tons are produced each year.
Overall, hydrogen is not yet cost-competitive with fossil fuels. It is possible that hydrogen could become a major fuel in the future, but uncertainty remains about its viability.
Can you discuss the barriers to green hydrogen becoming commercially viable and if the current energy price crisis sweeping Europe has exacerbated this?
The cost of electrolysis is a major barrier to the widespread adoption of hydrogen as a fuel because it requires a lot of power, and the cost of electricity has gone up in recent years. That’s made electrolysis more expensive.
Another barrier is the lack of infrastructure. There are not enough hydrogen fueling stations, and the pipelines for transporting hydrogen are not yet in place.
The cost of production can be reduced by improving the efficiency of electrolysis and by using renewable energy sources to power electrolysis. Governments and private companies would need to be interested in building infrastructure for hydrogen production and distribution.
Safety concerns associated with hydrogen would need to be addressed by developing new technologies and by educating the public about hydrogen.
If these challenges can be addressed, hydrogen has the potential to be a major fuel in the future. It is a clean, versatile, and abundant fuel that could help to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.
Can you discuss which states of the economy have already adapted hydrogen as an alternative to fossil fuels, such as steel, and how those projects are currently going?
There’s certainly no industry or sector that has outright said, “Okay, green hydrogen is the direction for us.” But several industries do use it, despite the cost of production, the lack of infrastructure, and the safety concerns associated with hydrogen.
Many projects are used for demonstration purposes, showing how hydrogen can be used for refueling cars, buses, trucks, and trains. Industrially, hydrogen is being used for ammonia production, and there have been some large-scale orders from this sector.
Steel production and oil refining use it. Oil refiners have decarbonization goals, and hydrogen is useful in that pursuit, especially green hydrogen.
Then there are things like using hydrogen as a direct replacement for natural gas. But they’re mostly small demonstration projects with hydrogen.
Can you share your views and if you think hydrogen should be used in some circumstances for home heating or if this isn’t a practical use of hydrogen when there are alternatives, such as heat pumps, available?
Possibly, but there are cost issues to solve first.
Hydrogen can be used to heat homes, but it is currently more expensive than natural gas. Hydrogen can be blended with natural gas and used in existing gas boilers, but the infrastructure for transporting and distributing hydrogen is not yet in place.
Heat pumps are a more efficient way to heat homes than traditional gas boilers. However, they require a different type of heating system within the house, such as underfloor heating, and the electricity grid may not be able to handle the increased demand for electricity from heat pumps.
Both heat pumps and hydrogen have the potential to reduce carbon emissions from home heating. However, there are still some challenges that need to be addressed before they can become mainstream technologies.
In your view, what are the next sectors that could adopt hydrogen going forward? And do you see any interest in using hydrogen for transport, such as trains or aerospace?
Hydrogen is a promising fuel for transportation, but it is currently more expensive than batteries. Hydrogen is better suited for larger vehicles, such as buses and trains, while batteries are better suited for smaller vehicles, such as cars and motorbikes.
Many cities are introducing clean air zones where you simply can’t drive big diesel vehicles around, which is exactly the scale of vehicle that is ideal for hydrogen. It’s an issue at construction sites.
Trains are another transport that could use hydrogen. Right now, trains with big diesel engines are coming into cities with clean air zones. Electric is an option, but the cost of electrifying train lines is crazy. There is a market for putting a hydrogen train on a line that you are in the process of electrifying or intend to electrify in a few years.
Hydrogen is a potential fuel for shipping, particularly if it is liquefied, and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is currently introducing targets for reducing emissions from shipping.
About Dr. Kris Hyde:
Dr. Kris Hyde is a leading U.K. authority on the hydrogen market and has over 20 years’ experience in the space. Dr. Hyde is a Director at Hollingworth Design, consultant to the European Marine Energy Centre (EMEC), and Director at his own consulting firm, HYDErogen. Previously, Dr. Hyde was Technology Development Manager at ITM Power. In this role, he worked on translating ITM’s newly developed membranes and cells initially into working demonstrations of fuel cells and electrolyzers, then into products for the market.
This article is adapted from the GLG Teleconference “Hydrogen: Demand and Applications in 2023.” If you would like access to this event or would like to speak with experts like Kris Hyde or any of our approximately 1 million industry experts, contact us.\
Questions Asked During the Teleconference:
- To start, can you provide an introduction to hydrogen and its different forms, including blue, gray, and green hydrogen?
- Can you discuss in more detail the production rates globally for blue, gray, and green hydrogen?
- Can you discuss the barriers to green hydrogen becoming commercially viable and if the current energy price crisis sweeping Europe has exacerbated this?
- Can you discuss which states of the economy have already adapted hydrogen as an alternative to fossil fuels, such as steel, and how those projects are currently going?
- Can you share your views and if you think hydrogen should be used in some circumstances for home heating or if this isn’t a practical use of hydrogen when there are alternatives, such as heat pumps, available?
- Can you provide a bit more detail about different types of electrolyzing hydrogen technologies?
- In your view, what are the next sectors that could adopt hydrogen going forward? And do you see any interest in using hydrogen for transport, such as trains or aerospace?
- Do you have any closing remarks or final thoughts for our participants?
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