How is Clean Hydrogen Creating a More Sustainable Future
April 05, 2023
This possibility makes it an excellent way to reach sustainability goals and tackle decarbonization in traditionally challenging areas, such as transportation and industrial applications. It can also address issues with renewable energy, like storage and availability.
As the world directs its focus toward sustainable energy, Clean hydrogen stands out as a viable and promising option. Clean production methods allow for hydrogen generation with low or no greenhouse gas emissions
What is clean hydrogen and how is it made?
Hydrogen is plentiful in the environment, but it is almost always bound to other sources, such as water, natural gas, and coal. Despite being a colorless gas, the processes required to separate hydrogen from various materials result in different “colors” of hydrogen, such as green from carbon free energy, blue hydrogen from natural gas and grey hydrogen from coal.
Clean hydrogen from renewable energy sources uses solar and wind electricity. Other power sources, like renewable methane feedstock, can also reduce the carbon footprint of this process. This electricity fuels the reaction for electrolysis, which splits the water into two parts — hydrogen and oxygen.
The electrolysis process involves the following steps:
- Two electrodes are immersed in a water bath that includes salts and minerals. The salts and minerals conduct electricity through the water when a direct current is applied to the electrodes.
- The hydrogen and oxygen atoms dissociate as the electrodes attract oppositely charged ions.
- The electricity causes an oxidation-reduction reaction to occur, separating the two components.
No carbon dioxide gets emitted during electrolysis, allowing us to make hydrogen with a more planet-friendly process. Clean hydrogen performs the same as it does when derived from other sources. It is lightweight and highly reactive.
How Is Clean Hydrogen Used?
Much of clean hydrogen's potential comes from its versatility. It can be used as electricity or synthetic gas, making it suitable for many applications. It has been used for decades in industrial settings, so many applications are already set up to use hydrogen gas. Others are still adapting, like using it for electricity generation or passenger vehicles. Unlike some other power sources, hydrogen gas can be stored in tanks and easily transported, contributing to its versatility.
Clean hydrogen uses include:
- Petroleum refinement
- Fertilizer production and other chemical manufacturing
- Food processing
- Rocket fuel and electrical systems power in space exploration
- Electricity generation
- Commercial and passenger vehicles
- Home utility gas, as a replacement for natural or liquid petroleum gas
- Off-site electricity or heat generation, such as military fields or disaster zones
A clean option with no or low emissions can tackle some of our biggest problem areas regarding climate change. Clean hydrogen can help reduce emissions from transportation, industry, and electric power generation, the three largest contributors to greenhouse gases.
For example, fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) use hydrogen and emit only water vapor. Because hydrogen offers more power and can be generated onboard, it is suitable for more demanding vehicles, such as trucks, buses, ships, and forklifts. One city in California switched its bus system to FCEVs and saved 12,800 Metric tons (Mt) over 5 million miles. Hydrogen has significant potential in similar applications that must reduce emissions in challenging environments.
The Advantages of Clean Hydrogen
The demand for hydrogen is expected to grow from 24.5 Mt in 2020 to 192 Mt in 2050, thanks to its impressive potential as a clean, highly abundant energy source, especially in hard-to-abate sectors like industry and mobility. Some of the pros of clean hydrogen include:
Many sectors struggle to transition to clean energy due to their need for fuel that offers intense heat or high energy densities. Electricity is generally insufficient for demanding equipment, such as trains and ships. However, hydrogen-based products can offer powerful yet clean performance. Liquid ammonia, for example, has almost eight times the energy density of a lithium-ion battery. The energy density of hydrogen makes it viable for more intense applications in high-emissions sectors.
- Easy Storage and Transportation
One crucial benefit of clean hydrogen is its ability to be stored. Many types of renewable energy are difficult to store for later use or use at another location. Paired with the variability of weather conditions, solar and wind power can pose reliability issues.
Hydrogen lacks these issues and can be stored as compressed gas or liquid. It is also lighter than other materials, like lithium-ion, making them easier to transport. Clean hydrogen's storage and transportation capabilities also make it a good choice in off-grid applications, like military operations or disaster zones. It can power heat sources or electricity generators.
- Few or No Emissions
A net-zero fuel source should not create emissions during production or use, and clean hydrogen fits those criteria. Electrolysis can minimize or eliminate Greenhouse gas emissions, and fuel burning only emits water vapor and warm air. It does not leave residue or other polluting gases like coal or oil.
With so many different use cases, clean hydrogen has applications across many sectors. You can find it in homes and passenger cars, industrial equipment, and public transportation systems. We can move hydrogen fuels through tanks, trunks, pipelines, and other methods.
- Abundancy and Availability
Hydrogen is incredibly abundant and virtually limitless, making it readily available for production. It also does not rely on proximity to natural supplies like oil, so it can be produced domestically and more flexibly.
The Future of Clean Hydrogen
With all these capabilities in mind, clean hydrogen has a bright future. The most notable current hurdle is cost, but as technology advances and incentives appear, they should drop considerably. McKinsey expects the production costs of Clean hydrogen to drop by 50% by 2030, eventually leading to lower costs than currently available gray hydrogen. As prices drop, Clean hydrogen could abate about 20% of human-driven emissions.
Clean hydrogen also has a place in economic development, with many governments and businesses focusing on this resource as a competitive, effective, and domestically produced way to meet zero-emissions goals. While Clean hydrogen research and development is happening across sectors, building up the infrastructure for widespread use is a crucial consideration.
FCEVs, for example, should see high growth in the future for both commercial and consumer vehicles. The market has a high compound annual growth rate of over 25% between 2023 and 2032. To use FCEVs, we need fueling stations, which are currently few and far between. States like California are currently leading the charge in making FCEVs more viable. In 2020, California's state government authorized investments to build up to 111 hydrogen fueling stations in the state by 2027.
Similarly, we can use hydrogen to replace natural gas in home heating or support the power grid during variability from renewable sources. Both of these use cases will call for adjustments to existing infrastructure. While the path forward will take some time, it is extremely promising, offering vast possibilities for clean energy.
Start Meeting Your Sustainability Goals with Linde's Clean Hydrogen Products
Linde is a leader in industrial gases and engineering, and we are ready for the growth of clean hydrogen. We have the largest liquid hydrogen capacity and distribution system in the world, and we can certify the carbon intensity of hydrogen through independent, third-party assessments. The pathway is also established with the California Air Resources Board.
Our hydrogen typically has carbon intensities from 40%-100% lower than blue hydrogen, so you get the same quality with a lower environmental impact. Reach out today to learn more about how our clean hydrogen can help you transition to this sustainable resource and meet rising demand.