The Hydrogen Economy
Hydrogen Economy in our future?
The transition of our carbon-based economy to a hydrogen-based one would represent a significant step on the path toward sustainability.
Not so fast
Major technological and cost breakthroughs need to be made if the hydrogen economy will ever become a reality.
The cost of supplying hydrogen energy is still very high compared to conventional energy technologies because the production of hydrogen depends on the availability of energy and water, both of which are increasingly rare in some places.
The large amount of energy required to isolate hydrogen from natural compounds (water, natural gas, biomass), packaging the light gas by compression or liquefaction and transferring the energy carrier to the end user are formidable challenges. The energy lost upon conversion to useful electricity with fuel cells, leaves around 25% for practical use which is an unacceptable amount in a sustainable future.
Another challenge is storage. Storing liquid hydrogen requires some of the gas must be allowed to evaporate for safety reasons—meaning after two weeks, a car would lose half of its fuel, even when not being driven.
Technology advancements are needed which include fuel cells; hydrogen production from renewables; distribution and storage infrastructure which meets environmental and safety criteria and carbon capture and storage.
Where Hydrogen can play a role
One of the most potentially useful ways to use hydrogen is in electric cars or buses in conjunction with a fuel cells which converts the hydrogen into electricity.
In addition to transport, hydrogen may also be useful as a way to store renewable energy from intermittent sources – for example, when the wind is blowing at a time with a low demand for electricity.
Hydrogen as part of the non carbon solution
Perhaps the hydrogen economy may not become reality in our lives, but will plays a role in what might be the eventual non carbon energy solution. Fuel cell expert Ulf Bissel believes an electron economy can offer the shortest, most efficient and most economical way of transporting the sustainable ‘green’ energy to the consumer. Electricity could provide power for cars, comfortable temperature in buildings, heat, light, communication, etc.
In a sustainable energy future, electricity will become the prime energy carrier. Bissel recommends focusing our research on electricity storage, electric cars and the modernization of the existing electricity infrastructure.
The Future of Hydrogen
The path to sustainability will definitely include hydrogen most likely in the form of fuel cells. The applications where the technology will be utilized will probably be niche related and not result in a hydrogen based economy as many had theorized. The path to sustainability may not be achieved by one large scale solution may be a combination of various smaller scale niche solutions. Time will tell.