Hydrogen derived through electrolysis has been touted as a possible solution that could help us achieve a decarbonised future. This fuel source could serve as a viable replacement for fossil fuels such as natural gas due to its clean-burning characteristics, as it does not produce carbon-dioxide.
Hydrogen is expected to play a larger role in helping important sectors of the global economy decarbonise in the near future. Before we look at some of the ways hydrogen will be used in the future, let’s look at some of the challenges posed by hydrogen electrolysis.
What are the challenges of hydrogen electrolysis?
Despite being the most abundant element in the universe, it is difficult to find pure hydrogen in large quantities on Earth. However, it is possible to extract hydrogen through electrolysis of water.
Production of hydrogen through electrolysis has actually been used for over two centuries. NASA has also used hydrogen gases in their fuel cells in 1960s, so it’s safe to say that the technology has been around for a while.
One of the biggest hurdles that has prevented hydrogen from being produced in larger quantities is the cost of electricity. Electricity is used to carry out electrolysis for hydrogen production, but this process wasn’t feasible on a large scale due to the prohibitively high costs of electricity.
These high energy costs coupled with the fact that hydrogen production through electrolysis is an incredibly inefficient process made electrolysis one of lesser preferred methods for hydrogen production. Today, less than 0.1% of hydrogen is produced from water electrolysis.
The high cost of electricity in the past could be attributed to high fossil fuel prices. However, fuel prices have fallen over the past few years, which has made it more viable to produce hydrogen via electrolysis. Hydrogen investment is expected to skyrocket in the future due to this reason.
Making hydrogen electrolysis more viable in the future
Hydrogen electrolysis from renewable sources
Some companies are considering producing hydrogen from electrolysis using electricity generated from renewable sources. This “green” hydrogen production method could be crucial for achieving a decarbonised future as renewables have a much smaller carbon footprint compared to fossil fuels.
Renewables were considered a poor fit for this purpose in the past due to their high costs. However, the prices of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind have been steadily falling for the past two decades. If this trend continues into the future, it will become possible to produce hydrogen cleanly and on a significantly larger scale.
Making hydrogen electrolysis more efficient
Researchers are also trying to find ways to make the electrolysis process more efficient. In the traditional electrolysis process, hydrogen forms at an electrode when an electrical current is applied. However, this energy conversion process has an efficiency of around 65 to 85 percent.
Researchers hope to raise this efficiency to around 90 percent by understanding the physical and chemical processes involved in electrolysis and optimising them for hydrogen production.
The existing process is inefficient because hydrogen bubbles produced by electrolysis reattach themselves to the electrode that produce them. Scientists have now been able to create a “microbubble carpet” that prevents electric forces from pulling each bubble back to the electrode, thereby allowing the gas to rise and be collected.
Cheaper electrodes in the future
The high cost of production green hydrogen can partially be attributed to the cost of the electrodes used in its production. However, some experts believe China could help bring the cost of green hydrogen down by producing more affordable electrodes.
How will green hydrogen be used in the future?
Hydrogen is already being used in many different industries, and various companies are already familiar with the procedures for using and storing hydrogen. It is used primarily to refine oil and produce ammonia, methanol, and steel.
In fact, some sources believe green hydrogen could be a great emissions-free fuel that could power larger vehicles such as trucks, public buses, and even airplanes.
The biggest hurdle preventing “green” hydrogen from catching on is difficulties in its production. Green hydrogen currently costs between $2.50/kg and $6.80/kg to produce; however, this cost could come down to $1.40/kg by the next decade.
This change should boost hydrogen investment opportunities in the near future as it will make the green fuel source competitive with conventional fuels.
Replacing fossil fuel power plants with hydrogen ones
Some cities are also considering making major shifts towards green hydrogen in the future. The city of Los Angeles recently announced that they are planning to retire a coal-fired power plant and replace it with a gas-fired plant by 2025. This plant will run on natural gas temporarily and will shift to being run exclusively on green hydrogen by 2045.
This shift will be revolutionary and will create a wider interest in hydrogen investment if it is successful.
Meeting climate goals
Green hydrogen will play a significant role in helping various countries achieve their carbon emission goals. The Los Angeles power plant conversion mentioned earlier is being carried out to achieve 100 percent renewable energy for the city.
Other cities may follow suit after seeing the success of this plant, and this may lead to more companies seeking out hydrogen investment opportunities in the future.
Many people have been drawing parallels between green hydrogen’s adoption and the manner in which renewable resources gained adoption in the past. Renewable energy sources such as wind and solar were not seen as feasible several decades ago due to their high costs which were multiple times that of fossil fuels.
However, the prices of these renewable energy sources eventually decreased over time, and they have gained widespread adoption over the past decade. One can only hope that green hydrogen follows a similar trend as it is slated to be a key solution for achieving a decarbonised future.
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