What is Our Future Energy?
One of the biggest concerns on everyone’s minds is the security of clean energy in the future. We have followed the renewable energy growth since its birth through new installations of wind farms, solar panels, and hydroelectric dams but, what is next? How can we really reach a net-zero world? Can it be through using Hydrogen?
What is Hydrogen?
In chemistry terms, Hydrogen is the element with the symbol H and an of atomic number 1. It is the most abundant chemical element, estimated to contribute 75% of the mass of the universe. But while it is present in nearly all molecules in living things, it is very scarce as a gas – less than one part per million by volume.
Most of the hydrogen available today is produced using energy from hydrocarbons, particularly natural gas. Hydrogen produced in this way is known as “grey” hydrogen. Hydrogen can be extracted from fossil fuels and biomass, from water, or from a mix of both.
Hydrogen is already widely used in some industries. However, its potential to support clean energy transitions has not yet been realised.
So how can Hydrogen help us towards a greener future?
Currently, we know when natural gas is burnt it releases not only water vapour but also carbon dioxide. The only waste product of burning hydrogen is water vapour. Therefore, It is a cleaner option but the main issue is how we burn this.
Blue hydrogen is produced from non-renewable energy sources.
Green hydrogen is produced using electricity to power an electrolyser. This splits apart hydrogen from water molecules. This process produces pure hydrogen with no harmful by-products.
Therefore, we should aim to produce “green hydrogen” that can potentiallybe produced from renewable sources. This has the potential to decarbonise different sectors.
If we use renewable energy sources such as wind and solar to power green hydrogen production, we would be 100% sustainable.
However, we do not need to rule out the use of blue hydrogen. This quote from Shell PLC explains the need for blue hydrogen:
“Shell’s ultimate goal is to produce green hydrogen, through electrolysis, using renewable power such as wind and solar. But moving quickly in the energy transition means both green and blue hydrogen can play a role in the decade ahead. Blue hydrogen is produced from natural gas and later decarbonised, using carbon capture and storage.”
Carbon capture involves trapping carbon dioxide at its source, transporting it to a storage location (usually deep underground) and isolating it. This means we could potentially grab excess carbon dioxide right from the source, creating greener energy.
What Sectors use hydrogen? What sectors should be using hydrogen?
Hydrogen can be used more widely. Today, hydrogen is mostly used in oil refining and for the production of fertilisers. For it to make a significant contribution to clean energy transitions, it needs to be adopted in sectors where it is almost completely absent at the moment such as transport, building and power generation.
Investments in hydrogen can help foster new technological and industrial development in economies around the world. This will also create skilled jobs.
If Hydrogen is so good, then why is it not seen more?
Clean and widespread use of hydrogen in global energy transitions faces several challenges:
- Producing low-carbon hydrogen is very expensive at the moment but this could fall by 30% by 2030. Fuel cells, refuelling equipment and electrolysers would all benefit from mass manufacturing.
- Development of hydrogen infrastructure is slow, and this is holding back widespread adoption. Just like you have a petrol station for petrol and diesel to fill up cars, hydrogen needs the same infrastructure in order to achieve widespread adaptation as a fuel source. Tackling this requires planning and coordination that brings together national and local governments, industry, and investors.
- Regulations currently limit the development of a clean hydrogen industry.
- Transportation and storage of hydrogen.
- Effective use Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage (CCUS/CCS) technologies
There is plenty of potential for green hydrogen, however technologies must mature before we reach a scalable and economically viable hydrogen economy
Until green hydrogen becomes feasible, blue hydrogen is a transitory, but important, energy source to bank on. Further development of cheap and effective CCUS/CCS technologies will be key to enable widespread use of blue hydrogen.