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Can Hydrogen Be Used As An Energy Source

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  • hydrogen, energy, uses for hydrogen
  • Posted date:
  • 01-09-2021
Can Hydrogen Be Used As An Energy Source

We explore the question: Can hydrogen be used as an energy source? This article looks at the various uses of hydrogen and how demand has grown for this fuel source.

Can hydrogen be used as an energy source?

Hydrogen can be a clean fuel and was mentioned as one of three pathways within the NECP (the U.K.'s National Energy and Climate Plan) draft of December 2018, while in the final plan of January 2020, under the "Beyond 2032" header, it was mentioned as one of the "low-carbon heating technologies with the potential to support the scale of change needed". 

The three pathways remained within this final draft, being electricity, hydrogen, and negative emissions pathways, whereas the Scottish Energy Strategy offers two pathways being electricity or hydrogen for the future. 

This shows the promise of not only hydrogen as an energy source but also a clean one. In terms of actualised ideas, Orkney, an archipelago in Scotland, already utilises hydrogen through a project known as Surf 'N' Turf, which creates hydrogen through renewable sources. 

Can hydrogen be used as an energy source?

It is of note that to some, hydrogen produced through environmentally friendly methods leading to it being clean fuel has been dubbed as green hydrogen. 

It poses the potential of becoming far more prevalent in future years, as companies, governments and individuals are becoming more concerned and forced to act on environmental issues such as global warming. 

Hydrogen, as of current, has been adopted by many. However, currently, hydrogen is primarily produced through fossil fuels, so while hydrogen is a clean-burning fuel, not all used hydrogen comes from 'clean' sources. 

There exists a colour spectrum to determine the environmental impact of the sourcing of the hydrogen involved. 

The main sources for the commercial production of hydrogen are as follows: natural gas, oil, coal and electrolysis. There is also potential for solar, wind, geothermal, thermal, biomass and nuclear methods. 

The source used for hydrogen is important, as while the end result is the same, it changes the environmental impact that the whole process involves. This led to the rating system of hydrogen, which is colour coded for ease. 

However, it isn't entirely consistent in all areas. When hydrogen is produced in ways that don't create harmful emissions, it can be referred to as green hydrogen. This is an aspect that is seeing increasing levels of attention and promise from and about, and for a good reason. 

If fundamental problems are solved, it is an energy source that could be integrated across various sectors leading to a greener planet; it can help for emissions targets to be met or beaten. However, it is not an energy source.

Hydrogen can be produced through differing processes. The fundamental five methods are thermal-chemical processes (reforming, gasification and decomposition) of fossil fuels, biomasses and biofuels. 

The second is electrolysis, the third being thermal-water splitting, then the fourth the photo-electrochemical processes being photo-electrolysis or photolysis. Finally, biological processes are also used as a hydrogen production pathway, with examples being photolysis, fermentation, and electrolysis that happens within micro-organisms. 

The primary production pathway at current is thermal-chemical processing relating to fossil fuels, which is the most cost-effective but still has emissions when considering the whole process, thus meaning it isn't green hydrogen. 

This aspect of hydrogen as a fuel is still being further researched to find the potential of each method and how viable it would be, and in what scenarios. It is important to know what methods are useful as they require different infrastructure to operate from and require different base materials to extract hydrogen from. 

The previously mentioned Surf 'N' Turf project in Orkney uses surplus electricity from their renewable energy sources to split water, meaning the hydrogen gas can be used as fuel.

Energy carriers, as opposed to energy sources, can deliver and store energy. They are an intermediary in an energy supply chain, as they store the energy from a primary source to then be distributed to the end uses. 

When hydrogen is used within a fuel cell, it can then generate electricity or power and heat. When hydrogen is consumed within a fuel cell, it produces water as the only by-product, as opposed to fossil fuels which have far more harmful emissions which have to be controlled. 

Due to the nature of hydrogen, there are a variety of ways in which it can be stored, manipulated and transported, thus increasing the potential that it has in the world.

Various uses for hydrogen

Currently, the utilisation of hydrogen is predominantly decided by industry, with oil refining, methanol production, ammonia production and steel production all being weighty. 

However, this is primarily with hydrogen supplied by fossil fuels, which still involves emissions harmful to the environment. 

There is a growing market for hydrogen fuel cell transport, as while public transport such as trains are still being researched, some steps have been taken towards the use within cars and trucks. 

Aspects of transport such as aviation and shipping still require further exploration. In buildings, hydrogen has the potential to be integrated into existing networks, which could be through hydrogen boilers. 

Various uses for hydrogen

For power generation, integration could also be possible, as well as alongside renewable energy, it could allow for more significant reserves of energy. Hydrogen fuel cells allow for the chemical energy of hydrogen to be used to produce electricity efficiently. 

Using these fuel cells also allows for a great deal of variance in output, as they can be designed to power laptops or utility power stations depending on the need. This, therefore, allows for greater coverage of sectors than some alternatives, and fuel cells notably can be far more efficient than combustion engines. 

Demand for hydrogen

Demand for hydrogen

The demand for hydrogen has grown consistently across industries. However, the majority of demand is still within specific industries which rely on fossil fuels to source hydrogen. 

Hydrogen has been receiving increased attention, partly due to media involvement and more attention from governments and entrepreneurs.

An example of this is the International Energy Agency being asked to conduct a report as requested by Japan under their G20 presidency to investigate the current usability of hydrogen, guidance on further implementation, and guidance for future developments. 

At current, there is concern that while hydrogen is being used, the production is still contributing to emissions negatively, despite the fact that demand for "clean" hydrogen is still growing, despite the resultant associated costs. 

Currently, one of the major issues with hydrogen is the relative cost. While many are hopeful that research and continual development will help lower this cost, it is currently a barrier that affects green hydrogen's ability to be incorporated far more than otherwise sourced hydrogen. 

Growing support

The number of countries adopting or changing policies that support investment in hydrogen is on the uptick, which is also true for the sectors that are adopting hydrogen in some capacity. 

This is also furthered by the increased spending over recent years going into hydrogen energy research as well as the development itself. This shows that it is becoming an increasingly visible option for businesses and countries. 

As a collective, we are becoming nearer to having a comprehensive idea of how hydrogen could be implemented in differing sectors and a better understanding of the viability, which is increasingly important with growing concerns over global warming. 

investment in hydrogen

The fact that hydrogen can act as clean fuel by being an efficient energy carrier could represent scalability to the future. Countries and businesses want to be more green and are setting targets relative to emissions. 

Having access to hydrogen could be a huge boon for clean energy and the future of energy. Currently, the U.S. Department of Energy aims to target three large factors of concern in the use of hydrogen: cost, performance, and durability. 

These are still key challenges regarding fuel cells and hydrogen as an energy source; however, more resources are constantly being allocated towards these issues.

If you are looking for  private hydrogen production in the UK contact our specialist team today for information and advice.