WHY HYDROGEN. The European Union plans to install by 2030 at least 40 gigawatts of renewable power and accompanying electrolyzers for the sole purpose to make huge volumes of hydrogen to run a major share of its economy. Hydrogen can do most of the things we can do with natural gas but, unlike natural gas, it can be made and then burned without producing any greenhouse gases or other pollutants. Hydrogen gas can be compressed and stored in tanks and transported in pipelines and trucks. It can be used as fuel for transportation, heat for industrial processes and feedstock for chemicals and other products. NASA has used hydrogen as rocket fuel for decades. Hydrogen is already used for clean running city buses and in forklifts in warehouse buildings. Companies like Nikola, Toyota (the Mirai), Hyundai (the Nexo) and Honda make vehicles that run on hydrogen-powered fuel cells. A fuel cell is a device that combines hydrogen from a tank with oxygen from the air to create water; a chemical reaction produces electrons which power an electric motor. Hydrogen is used in the production of fertilizer, carbon steels, special metals and semiconductors. Hydrogen can also be used to fuel “peaker” power plants to power the electric grid at times of high demand.
HOW TO MAKE “GREEN” HYDROGEN. Hydrogen is derived from compounds that contain hydrogen like the methane in natural gas (CH4) or water (H20). Most of the hydrogen produced in the US today is made through steam reformation of the methane in natural gas and releases great quantities of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. In contrast, green hydrogen is made from just water with electricity through electrolysis. An electrical current from renewable sources splits water into hydrogen and oxygen.
HOW MUCH DO WE NEED. Bloomberg New Energy Finance estimates that we will need to shift 24% of global energy demand from fossil fuels to green hydrogen to get to a net zero emission global economy. To meet this goal, the International Renewable Energy Agency estimates that the world will need the equivalent of 6 to 8 times more electrical generation from renewable non-polluting energy than we currently have today to just make hydrogen – and that is on top of the massive new amounts of renewable energy we need to separately power the electrical grid.
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST. The cost to produce green hydrogen through electrolysis has dropped 40% in the last 5 years, but it is still much higher than what it costs to make hydrogen from natural gas. In order to drive costs down, we need large scale demand to create economies of scale. This will require government mandates (as being enacted by the EU), subsidies and a tax on carbon to incentivize industries to make the switch.
WHO’S WORKING ON IT. NEL is a Norwegian electrolyzer company developing a full network of green hydrogen production, transport, storage and fueling stations in Europe. Air Products and Chemicals, the world’s largest producer of industrial gasses (from fossil fuels), just announced a massive venture in Saudi Arabia to produce green hydrogen powered by 4 GW of solar and wind. Plug Power and Ballard are building hydrogen-based fuel cells to power vehicles and provide stationary and backup power for data centers and other applications. There are many others.