The Green Hydrogen Dream
The year is 2023, and we’re standing on the precipice of a gargantuan shift in the energy economy. Before us lies a bountiful energy source, the most abundant element in the entire known universe. An energy source of indisputable potential.
Produced via electrolysis, on a planet made up of 71% water, with the only offset being Oxygen, what’s not to like?
Green hydrogen could be the key to unlocking net-zero energy globally.
Imagine green hydrogen displacing our dependence on finite and environmentally harmful fossil fuels…
And it must be Green Hydrogen!
It’s a cut above the rest, as you can see below ⬇️
Grey Hydrogen ⚫ – produced via fossil fuels without carbon capture practice
Blue Hydrogen🔵 – produced via fossil fuels with carbon capture ⬇
Green Hydrogen🟢 – produced via renewable energy.
It could fuel our ships, trucks, and heavy industries and help to decarbonise the entire supply chain.
But why isn’t hydrogen already the new clean energy fuel source?
Why does Hydrogen Leak so Easily?
Hydrogen molecules are so infinitely small, they leak through conventional gas pipes that form nearly all gas line infrastructure across the entire globe. Hydrogen has a tiny molecular size, low molecular weight, high diffusivity, and low viscosity.
Hydrogen leaks through steel, iron, and plastic polymers that form the current pipeline infrastructure. It leaks at every stage of the value chain – at production, storage, and transportation.
It’s more troublesome than methane, with fluid dynamics theory suggesting hydrogen leaks 1.3 to 3 times faster than methane. Liquified Hydrogen may also have high leak rates from boil-off.
Additionally, hydrogen is stubborn and destructive, corroding pipes over time. This embrittlement leads to further leakage. Therefore, high standards of maintenance, inspection, and engineering are required in order to avoid damages and potential costs.
To make matters even worse, the further you have to transport hydrogen, the MORE chances of leakage.
Why is Hydrogen Leakage a problem?
Hydrogen leakage is the greatest threat to the green hydrogen economy for two main reasons:
- Leaked Hydrogen in the atmosphere actually INCREASES warming.
- Hydrogen is extremely flammable and reacts explosively with the air.
Leakage is a Divided Subject
There is currently a divide among hydrogen professionals as to the concerns regarding hydrogen leakage. However, it is evident a green hydrogen economy without adequate safety solutions could rupture the entire supply chain.
The safety procedures and importance of inspection, as well as detection technologies, are the key to protecting our infrastructure.
Additionally, the destruction of pipelines bleeds into disastrous economic consequences for global companies and the vast communities they provide for.
There are currently many methods of hydrogen gas sensing. However, there are no commercially available sensors that can yet detect hydrogen leakage at the levels below the threshold for hydrogen gas flammability which is required to characterise leakage out in the open.
People are wary of Innovation
Another huge concern is that humanity will only readily accept Hydrogen if it is present in their everyday lives.
Electric vehicles are more readily accepted by consumers because our society runs on battery power. We charge our phones, plug in our TVs and our other household appliances, and we see charging docks for electric vehicles.
Currently, Green Hydrogen does not have the presence and reach for the vast majority to accept. Take the innovative Toyota Mirai program for example. They build groundbreaking cars running on Hydrogen power. But why don’t we see these cars on the roads?
Because there are only a few fuel stations in the state alone. But that can be changed…
The Hydrogen Solution
Solving these issues would result in an unlimited clean energy source that would change the entire energy landscape. The most realistic scenario may well be a merger between electric and hydrogen for a totally sustainable economy.
But there is much to be done in revolutionising hydrogen production, storage and transportation…
For a green Hydrogen economy to flourish it requires a transportable fuel as well as innovative battery technologies.
There are hydrogen solutions that don’t include pipelines…. These would mitigate the need for vast, expensive, and time-consuming overhaul of existing natural gas networks.
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Technology
Fuel cells are electrochemical devices that convert hydrogen directly into electricity, with the only offset being water. Paired with green hydrogen, this tech offers high energy efficiency with zero emissions. Fuel cell vehicles (HFCVs) are gaining momentum as an alternative to fossil fuel-dependent engines and even battery electric vehicles.
Are Hydrogen Fuel cells costly?
Platinum is a key component of the process, making fuel cells costly, however, many RD&D projects are underway to find alternative catalysts that would drastically cut costs whilst enhancing efficiency.
What industries are positively affected?
- Transportation– offers increased range and reduced fuelling. Perfect for buses, trains, and trucks whilst improving air quality around the world.
- Stationary power generation– used in backup power systems for critical infrastructure such as hospitals, data centers and telecommunications.
- Industrial use – offers a green alternative in manufacturing, logistics, remote power, agriculture, and more.
- Personal devices– Fuel cells offer longer-lasting power compared to batteries in mobile phones and laptops.
This would achieve MAJOR wonders for hydrogen acceptance in the market and encourage growth.
🚩 Flag Ship Project 🚩
During the 13-year-long “Hydrogen Highway” initiative, California built a vast network of green hydrogen refueling stations to aid the deployment of FCVs throughout the state.
Subsequently, the project inspired multiple initiatives across the region, and a public-private partnership: The California Fuel Cell Partnership, whose work has placed California as the leading authority on global fuel cell infrastructure.
This has now become a National organisation, changing its name to the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Partnership.
For more information, click here.
Hydrogen can be liquified when compressed and cooled to extremely low temperatures. Cryogenic storage tanks hold this liquid hydrogen, reducing leakage with robust materials and insulation, and making it easier to transport over larger distances. Furthermore, liquified hydrogen has an increased energy density compared to hydrogen gas; less storage space is required for the same amount of energy, reducing the chances of hydrogen leakage.
It’s important to note that Liquified Hydrogen is best used where local hydrogen production is severely limited.
🚩Flag Ship Project 🚩
Japan and Australia put hydrogen collaboration on the map with liquified hydrogen. The Hydrogen Energy Supply Chain project transported liquified hydrogen produced in Australia over to Japan for end use. This key project emphasises the potential for international collaboration in achieving a green hydrogen economy.
For more information, click here.
Ammonia is a greater alternative to reliance on hydrogen pipelines for storage and transportation. Ammonia, with its high hydrogen content, is produced by combining hydrogen with nitrogen extracted from the air in a process called Baber Bosch synthesis. And yes, this can be achieved with renewable energy to create entirely green ammonia.
But what’s the point in all this?
Reduced Leakage Risks with Storage and Transportation
Ammonia has a distinct and pungent odor, making it easy to detect leaks and spills. Ammonia is chemically stable and has an increased density in comparison to Hydrogen. Compressing into a liquid further reduces leakage, and the ease of liquefaction is a bonus, with Ammonia liquefying under moderately low pressure and low temperature. This makes for convenient and cost-effective storage and transportation.
With ammonia, we can utilise our existing pipelines, however, skipping this altogether is the more attractive option. When liquified, Ammonia (and therefore hydrogen) is transported via shipping or tanker vessels.
Additionally, Ammonia, while still flammable, has a higher ignition temperature and narrower flammability range than hydrogen.
Ammonia cracking is a chemical process that involves the decomposition of ammonia into its composite elements – nitrogen and hydrogen. This is achieved using a heat source (Endothermic process). Using a catalyst such as nickel drastically enhances the reaction rate.
The key benefit here is that by decomposing ammonia at the point of use you can tap into hydrogen on demand.
Ammonia in Fuel Cells
Ammonia can be used directly as a fuel source for hydrogen fuel cells, with the only offsets being nitrogen and water.
Solid Oxide Fuel Cells (SOFCs) are another type of fuel cell being explored for ammonia utilization.
Ammonia is converted into hydrogen and nitrogen through ammonia cracking. This hydrogen then powers the fuel cell, while the nitrogen is released as the only byproduct. This approach allows for ammonia usage while leveraging well-established SOFC technology.
RD&D is currently ongoing to optimise this technology. Current problems, or technological opportunities, surround finding an efficient, reliable, and long-term catalyst to break it down.
Japan’s Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field (FH2R) project facilitated the mass usage of ammonia as a clean fuel source. In this project, a 10MW power generation facility was constructed, that used a combination of a solid oxide electrolysis cell (SOEC) system, and a solid oxide fuel cell (SOFC) system, to produce and use hydrogen and ammonia as sustainable fuels.
For more information, click here.
Methanol is another alternative as a hydrogen carrier. A liquid at ambient room temperature allows for easier storage and transportation in tanks and drums.
Methanol production often relies on carbon emissions, but this is mitigated by the use of carbon capture. Methanol carrying green hydrogen would also help reduce emissions along the entire production process.
Green methanol can be produced from biomass gasification or with green hydrogen. This methanol contains lower carbon emissions when undergoing steam reforming for green hydrogen use. This gas can then be used as feedstock for fuel cells or other hydrogen-based applications.
Anywhere green hydrogen is generated, (where there is a renewable energy source + water) it is one diverter valve away from compression into a storable and transportable e-methanol fuel for decarbonised ships, cars, and heavy industries such as cement and steel production.
Methanol is therefore a viable option in the short term.
Hydrogen Shot – huge hydrogen growth potential
Clean and affordable hydrogen power isn’t a mere fantasy, but a genuine possibility. Thanks to the US Energy Earthshots Initiative, the hydrogen dream is looking all the more likely. The first of these ‘Earthshots’ is centered on Green Hydrogen.
The hydrogen shot lays the foundations on which to deploy green hydrogen at scale within the American Jobs Plan, including necessary support for demonstration projects.
What’s the target?
1-1-1 – decrease the price of hydrogen by an astounding 80%. That’s $1 per 1 kilogram in 1 decade.
It is wise to think of the opportunities. At this price, it would open the doors to new markets and applications for hydrogen. Imagine steel production, clean ammonia production, or even energy storage and heavy-duty trucks entirely revolutionised for the green economy.
As well as…
- Carbon dioxide emissions reduced by 16% by 2050.
- Revenues rising to $140 billion.
- The creation of 700,000 jobs by 2030.
The Hydrogen Shot Summit and Hydrogen Program Annual Merit Review positively engaged stakeholders. Hydrogen growth is on the up with funding in 2022 doubling, reaching $400 million in the President’s Fiscal Year 2022 Budget Request.
For more information, click here.
Green Hydrogen can only advance as fast as Renewable Energy
Green hydrogen production is entirely reliant on renewable energy for the electrolysis process. Blue hydrogen projects are a viable option whilst renewable energy infrastructure is being developed on a larger scale, which requires significant investment.
Using green hydrogen where we can, and blue where necessary provides ample time for R&D and safety analysis, as well as providing opportunities for outstanding engineers to work on new, technologically advanced structures to accommodate purely green hydrogen for the future.
A large-scale renewable energy development would ensure green hydrogen is readily accessible, more mainstream, and present in the public consciousness, therefore raising adoption of the fuel itself.
Advanced Infrastructure Development
To address hydrogen’s volatile nature, technological advancements in infrastructure design are vital for expansion and for an entirely sustainable energy economy.
New infrastructure must be designed to handle hydrogen at high pressure whilst ensuring safety, efficiency, and the mitigation of any drastic financial losses. Outstanding engineering and meticulous planning is necessary to prevent leakage at all stages of the value chain.
Factors to consider are material selection, corrosion prevention, and developing new and advanced sealing mechanisms. Ensuring the integrity of the infrastructure is integral to its success, whilst preventing any drastic damage to the environment and supply chain at large.
Location, Location, Location
It is vital to establish infrastructure alongside renewable energy sources so that green hydrogen can be produced and stored efficiently for shorter transport routes.
The deployment of infrastructure close to where hydrogen will be used minimises distances and therefore reduces the risks of leakage.
In conclusion, the road to a green hydrogen economy is complex due to Hydrogen leakage, leaking at rates that we cannot yet measure.
We know the harms of hydrogen leakage on the world at large. In an unmanaged system hydrogen would be far worse than simply using fossil fuels alone…
But with advances in infrastructure, the innovative solutions in hydrogen fuel cell technology, ammonia, and methanol could solve the glaring issues and help transition the world into a more sustainable future.
The Hydrogen Dream is possible, it might just need you to help it on its way.
Get in touch
Are you looking for an opportunity in the green hydrogen economy?
Or a new partner to transform your hiring efforts?
Then get in touch with our Hydrogen recruitment expert Simon Grant, whose expertise in the industry, vast network, and knowledge will get you the position or the talent you need to thrive.