Five Ways Hydrogen Production Can Tackle Critical Energy Challenges
Hydrogen is the most abundant element on earth and has the most uncomplicated makeup of elements; only one proton and one electron. Although it doesn’t typically exist by itself in nature, it can be easily produced from diverse domestic compounds that contain it. As Hydrogen’s role in the renewable energy market continues to evolve, the conversation around how Hydrogen is produced and which method is the least environmentally risky and costly is still open for interpretation.
Currently, there are two main industrial methods for producing Hydrogen. One is steam reformation of methane, a high-temperature process in which steam reacts with a hydrocarbon fuel to produce Hydrogen. Electrolysis is another standard method, which is the process of taking water and separating H2O into oxygen and Hydrogen.
While more energy-efficient options are being researched and developed, both current methods on the market are more energy-intensive than the Hydrogen they create. Still, Hydrogen’s long-term value is generally carbon-free and can be a valuable energy storage solution. So, what is limiting the commercial use of Hydrogen?
One of the significant challenges for hydrogen production is the cost of transporting mass quantities of fuel. Currently, there are many studies around the efficiency and lifetime of hydrogen production technologies that may provide reductions in the cost of capital equipment, operations, and maintenance, making use more widespread.
This topic is crucial for further research and development because there are five impactful uses of Hydrogen that will positively impact the environment and humanity:
- Energy Production & Storage: Goldman Sachs reported in 2020 that green Hydrogen could supply up to 25% of the world’s energy needs by 2050 and become a U.S. $10 trillion addressable market by 2050. Hydrogen is one of the leading options for storing renewable energy. It can be stored for months without losing energy and transported over long distances, potentially facilitating the ability to provide energy resources to disadvantaged areas.
The potential for hydrogen storage also expands to developing mass amounts of ammonia, which can be used in gas turbines to increase flexibility in power systems or reduce emissions in coal-fired power plants.
- Utilities, i.e., Home Heat & Power: The potential for utilities to harness the flexibility of green Hydrogen may positively balance the high-renewables grid, leading to reduced greenhouse gas and increased flexibility. Hydrogen can be stored for long periods and used for traditional backup power and distribution or consumed directly in gas-fired turbines to produce electricity.
- Develop Green Steel: According to the World Steel Association, steel production accounts for around 7% of human-produced greenhouse gas emissions. Steel production is critical for use in many industries throughout the globe. However, producing steel requires considerable energy, typically generated by burning fossil fuels that produce copious amounts of carbon, contributing to the climate crisis. Hydrogen introduces a potentially “green” method of producing steel. This is achieved through a hybrid process powered by Hydrogen and renewable electricity. Assuming innovations make this method of steel production viable, it would significantly reduce the global carbon footprint of the steel industry.
- Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions: The transportation sector is another primary industry that would be impacted by the widespread adoption of Hydrogen as a fuel. Currently, gasoline used in transportation accounts for one-third of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, creating a significant source of pollution. The shift toward hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles would create no harmful emissions, only water and warm air, which would help to cut greenhouse gas emissions. This shift from fuel to electric transportation would have environmental and health benefits, as nearly half of the U.S. population lives in areas where air pollution levels are high enough to impact public health negatively.
- Fertilizer Production: Roughly half of the Hydrogen produced today is used to make fertilizer and ammonia from fossil fuels. To further minimize waste and pollution, the agriculture industry is looking to shift more production to “green fertilizers,” which are nitrate-based mineral fertilizers with the same chemical and physical composition as fertilizers produced with fossil fuels (natural gas, coal, oil). The significant difference to this process is a much lower carbon footprint when produced with renewable electricity (hydro, wind, solar). Green fertilizers are an impactful way to decarbonize food production.
The potential for Hydrogen is being recognized globally. Several countries have recently published national hydrogen strategies, including Australia, Chile, Germany, the E.U., Japan, New Zealand, Portugal, Spain, and South Korea. The U.S. President and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) recently funded the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law with an $8 billion program to develop regional clean hydrogen hubs (H2Hubs) across the United States. Hydrogen energy may answer many factors of the world’s economic and climate crisis, such as the decarbonization of multiple economic sectors, the addition of good-paying jobs, and a grid powered by clean energy sources. In a world full of potential innovation, I look forward to seeing all the ingenuity that will come throughout the next several years.
Written by Whitaker Irvin Jr.
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