Editorial August 2023 Hydrogen a Clean Flexible Energy Carrier Yes No

Rajiv Parikh

15 Aug 2023
Hydrogen is the simplest and most abundant element on earth, it consists of only one proton and one electron. Hydrogen can store and deliver usable energy, but it doesn’t typically exist by itself in nature and must be produced from compounds that contain it.

Hydrogen can be produced from diverse sources. Hydrogen can be produced from Natural Gas which is a fossil fuel. However, electricity from the grid or from renewable sources such as biomass, geothermal, solar and wind is also used to produce hydrogen. In the longer term, solar energy and biomass can be used more directly to generate hydrogen as new technologies make alternative production methods cost competitive. This is the new revolution and enterprises are investing to produce this green hydrogen.

Ways to Produce Hydrogen

Most hydrogen can also be produced through steam methane reforming, a high-temperature process in which steam reacts with a hydrocarbon fuel to produce hydrogen.Another common hydrogen production method takes water, and separates the molecule H2O into oxygen and hydrogen through a process called electrolysis. Electrolysis takes place in an electrolyzer, which functions much like a fuel cell in reverse—in-stead of using the energy of a hydrogen molecule, like a fuel cell does, an electrolyzer produces hydrogen from water molecules.

Biological processes can also produce hydrogen through biological reactions using microbes such as bacteria and microalgae. In these processes, microbes consume plant material and produce hydrogen gas. There are many ways to produce hydrogen using sunlight, including photo biological, photo electrochemical, photovoltaic-driven electrolysis, and solar thermochemical processes.

Hydrogen is an energy carrier, not an energy source and can deliver or store a tremendous amount of energy. Hydrogen can be used in fuel cells to generate electricity, or power and heat. Today, hydrogen is most commonly used in petroleum refining and fertilizer production, while transportation and utilities are emerging markets. Hydrogen is a clean fuel that, when consumed in a fuel cell, produces only water, electricity, and heat.

The greatest challenge for hydrogen production, particularly from renewable resources, is providing hydrogen at lower cost. For transportation fuel cells, hydrogen must be cost-competitive with conventional fuels and technologies on a per-mile basis. Reliance Industries is one such enterprise looking to produce green hydrogen and aims to bring down production cost to just $1 per kg by 2030. According to one report from the Times of India, Reliance has secured 74,750 hectares of land in Gujarat on a 40-year lease for its green hydrogen project. It is also working with equipment manufacturers to secure green hydrogen supply chain and distribute the same through it Jio-BP outlets. Currently, producing green hydrogen production costs comes to be around $8-$9 per kg, compared to less than $4 per kg from traditional fuels and feedstock. Several companies are working on producing Hydrogen Internal Combustion Engine (H2ICE) technology. For this to work, the supply chain for Hydrogen fuel cells are required. The group state that these Hydrogen powered vehicles have an impressive travel range of around 400 km on a single fill.

Elon Musk from Tesla have already rejected the idea of hydrogen as tool for energy storage. Musk may be dismissive about Hydrogen’s role in the energy transition but many other influential voices are optimistic for hydrogen for H2ICE. Musk was asked if he thought hydrogen had a role to play in accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels. “No,” he replied. “I really can’t emphasize this enough — the number of times I’ve been asked about hydrogen, it might be ... it’s well over 100 times, maybe 200 times,” he said. “It’s important to understand that if you want a means of energy storage, hydrogen is a bad choice.” Expanding on his argument, Musk went on to state that “gigantic tanks” would be required to hold hydrogen in liquid form. If it were to be stored in gaseous form, “even bigger” tanks would be needed, he said. In 2019, the IEA said hydrogen was “one of the leading options for storing energy from renewables and looks promising to be a lowest-cost option for storing electricity over days, weeks or even months.”

The Paris-based organization added that both hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels were able to “transport energy from renewables over long distances — from regions with abundant solar and wind resources, such as Australia or Latin America, to energy-hungry cities thousands of KM’s away.” In June 2020 he tweeted “fuel cells = fool sells,” adding in July of that year: “Hydrogen fool sells make no sense.”

“It does not naturally occur on Earth, so you either have to split water with electrolysis or crack hydrocarbons,” he told the Financial Times. “When you’re cracking hydrocarbons, you really haven’t solved the fossil fuel problem, and the efficiency of electrolysis is poor.”

“The efficiency of electrolysis is ... poor,” he told the Financial Times. “So you really are spending a lot of energy to ... split hydrogen and oxygen. Then you have to separate the hydrogen and oxygen and pressurize it — this also takes a lot of energy.”

“And if you have to liquefy ... hydrogen, oh my God,” he continued. “The amount of energy required to ... make hydrogen and turn it into liquid form is staggering. It is the most dumb thing that I could possibly imagine for energy storage.”

“Whether we do it with electrolysis or we do it with carbon capture, we need to generate hydrogen in a clean way,” DellaVigna said. “And once we have it, I think we have a solution that could become, one day, at least 15% of the global energy markets which means it will be over a trillion-dollar market per annum.”


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