Why We Need Green Hydrogen
Green hydrogen has been in the news often lately. President-elect Biden has promised to use renewable energy to produce green hydrogen that costs less than natural gas. The Department of Energy is putting up to $100 million into the research and development of hydrogen and fuel cells. The European Union will invest $430 billion in green hydrogen by 2030 to help achieve the goals of its Green Deal. And Chile, Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, and Australia are all making major investments into green hydrogen.
So, what is green hydrogen? Simply put, it is hydrogen fuel that is created using renewable energy instead of fossil fuels. It has the potential to provide clean power for manufacturing, transportation, and more — and its only byproduct is water.
Where does green hydrogen come from?
Hydrogen energy is very versatile, as it can be used in gas or liquid form, be converted into electricity or fuel, and there are many ways of producing it. Approximately 70 million metric tons of hydrogen are already produced globally every year for use in oil refining, ammonia production, steel manufacturing, chemical and fertilizer production, food processing, metallurgy, and more.
There is more hydrogen in the universe than any other element—it’s been estimated that approximately 90 percent of all atoms are hydrogen. But hydrogen atoms do not exist in nature by themselves. To produce hydrogen, its atoms need to be decoupled from other elements with which they occur— in water, plants or fossil fuels. How this decoupling is done determines hydrogen energy’s sustainability.
Most of the hydrogen currently in use is produced through a process called steam methane reforming, which uses a catalyst to react methane and high temperature steam, resulting in hydrogen, carbon monoxide and a small amount of carbon dioxide. In a subsequent process, the carbon monoxide, steam and a catalyst react to produce more hydrogen and carbon dioxide. Finally the carbon dioxide and impurities are removed, leaving pure hydrogen. Other fossil fuels, such as propane, gasoline, and coal can also be used in steam reforming to produce hydrogen. This method of production—powered by fossil fuels—results in gray hydrogen as well as 830 million metric tons of CO2 emissions each year, equal to the emissions of the United Kingdom and Indonesia combined.
When the CO2 produced from the steam methane reforming process is captured and stored elsewhere, the hydrogen produced is called blue hydrogen.
Hydrogen can also be produced through the electrolysis of water, leaving nothing but oxygen as a byproduct. Electrolysis employs an electric current to split water into hydrogen and oxygen in an electrolyzer. If the electricity is produced by renewable power, such as solar or wind, the resulting pollutant-free hydrogen is called green hydrogen. The rapidly declining cost of renewable energy is one reason for the growing interest in green hydrogen.
Why green hydrogen is needed
Most experts agree that green hydrogen will be essential to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement, since there are certain portions of the economy whose emissions are difficult to eliminate. In the U.S., the top three sources of climate-warming emissions come from transportation, electricity generation and industry.
Energy efficiency, renewable power, and direct electrification can reduce emissions from electricity production and a portion of transportation; but the last 15 percent or so of the economy, comprising aviation, shipping, long-distance trucking and concrete and steel manufacturing, is difficult to decarbonize because these sectors require high energy density fuel or intense heat. Green hydrogen could meet these needs.
Advantages of green hydrogen
Hydrogen is abundant and its supply is virtually limitless. It can be used where it is produced or transported elsewhere. Unlike batteries that are unable to store large quantities of electricity for extended periods of time, hydrogen can be produced from excess renewable energy and stored in large amounts for a long time. Pound for pound, hydrogen contains almost three times as much energy as fossil fuels, so less of it is needed to do any work. And a particular advantage of green hydrogen is that it can be produced wherever there is water and electricity to generate more electricity or heat.
Hydrogen has many uses. Green hydrogen can be used in industry and can be stored in existing gas pipelines to power household appliances. It can transport renewable energy when converted into a carrier such as ammonia, a zero-carbon fuel for shipping, for example.
Hydrogen can also be used with fuel cells to power anything that uses electricity, such as electric vehicles and electronic devices. And unlike batteries, hydrogen fuel cells don’t need to be recharged and won’t run down, so long as they have hydrogen fuel.
Fuel cells work like batteries: hydrogen is fed to the anode, oxygen is fed to the cathode; they are separated by a catalyst and an electrolyte membrane that only allows positively charged protons through to the cathode. The catalyst splits off the hydrogen’s negatively charged electrons, allowing the positively charged protons to pass through the electrolyte to the cathode. The electrons, meanwhile, travel via an external circuit—creating electricity that can be put to work—to meet the protons at the cathode, where they react with the oxygen to form water.
Hydrogen is used to power hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Because of its energy efficiency, a hydrogen fuel cell is two to three times more efficient than an internal combustion engine fueled by gas. And a fuel cell electric vehicle’s refueling time averages less than four minutes.
Because they can function independently from the grid, fuel cells can be used in the military field or in disaster zones and work as independent generators of electricity or heat. When fixed in place they can be connected to the grid to generate consistent reliable power.
The challenges of green hydrogen
Its flammability and its lightness mean that hydrogen, like other fuels, needs to be properly handled. Many fuels are flammable. Compared to gasoline, natural gas, and propane, hydrogen is more flammable in the air. However, low concentrations of hydrogen have similar flammability potential as other fuels. Since hydrogen is so light—about 57 times lighter than gasoline fumes—it can quickly disperse into the atmosphere, which is a positive safety feature.
Because hydrogen is so much less dense than gasoline, it is difficult to transport. It either needs to be cooled to -253˚C to liquefy it, or it needs to be compressed to 700 times atmospheric pressure so it can be delivered as a compressed gas. Currently, hydrogen is transported through dedicated pipelines, in low-temperature liquid tanker trucks, in tube trailers that carry gaseous hydrogen, or by rail or barge.
Today 1,600 miles of hydrogen pipelines deliver gaseous hydrogen around the U.S., mainly in areas where hydrogen is used in chemical plants and refineries, but that is not enough infrastructure to accommodate widespread use of hydrogen.
Natural gas pipelines are sometimes used to transport only a limited amount of hydrogen because hydrogen can make steel pipes and welds brittle, causing cracks. When less than 5 to 10 percent of it is blended with the natural gas, hydrogen can be safely distributed via the natural gas infrastructure. To distribute pure hydrogen, natural gas pipelines would require major alterations to avoid potential embrittlement of the metal pipes, or completely separate hydrogen pipelines would need to be constructed.
Fuel cell technology has been constrained by the high cost of fuel cells because platinum, which is expensive, is used at the anode and cathode as a catalyst to split hydrogen. Research is ongoing to improve the performance of fuel cells and to find more efficient and less costly materials.
A challenge for fuel cell electric vehicles has been how to store enough hydrogen—five to 13 kilograms of compressed hydrogen gas—in the vehicle to achieve the conventional driving range of 300 miles.
The fuel cell electric vehicle market has also been hampered by the scarcity of refueling stations. As of August, there were only 46 hydrogen fueling stations in the U.S., 43 of them in California; and hydrogen costs about $8 per pound, compared to $3.18 for a gallon of gas in California.
It all comes down to cost
The various obstacles green hydrogen faces can actually be reduced to just one: cost. Julio Friedmann, senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy, believes the only real challenge of green hydrogen is its price. The fact that 70 million tons of hydrogen are produced every year and that it is shipped in pipelines around the U.S. shows that the technical issues of distributing and using hydrogen are “straightforward, and reasonably well understood,” he said.
The problem is that green hydrogen currently costs three times as much as natural gas in the U.S. And producing green hydrogen is much more expensive than producing gray or blue hydrogen because electrolysis is expensive, although prices of electrolyzers are coming down as manufacturing scales up. Currently, gray hydrogen costs about €1.50 euros ($1.84 USD) per kilogram, blue costs €2 to €3 per kilogram, and green costs €3.50 to €6 per kilogram, according to a recent study.
Friedmann detailed three strategies that are key to bringing down the price of green hydrogen so that more people will buy it:
- Support for innovation into novel hydrogen production and use. He noted that the stimulus bill Congress just passed providing this support will help cut the cost of fuel cells and green hydrogen production in years to come.
- Price supports for hydrogen, such as an investment tax credit or production tax credit similar to those established for wind and solar that helped drive their prices down.
- A regulatory standard to limit emissions. For example, half the ammonia used today goes into fertilizer production. “If we said, ‘we have an emission standard for low carbon ammonia,’ then people would start using low carbon hydrogen to make ammonia, which they’re not today, because it costs more,” said Friedmann. “But if you have a regulation that says you have to, then it makes it easier to do.” Another regulatory option is that the government could decide to procure green hydrogen and require all military fuels to be made with a certain percentage of green hydrogen.
Green hydrogen’s future
A McKinsey study estimated that by 2030, the U.S. hydrogen economy could generate $140 billion and support 700,000 jobs.
Friedmann believes there will be substantial use of green hydrogen over the next five to ten years, especially in Europe and Japan. However, he thinks the limits of the existing infrastructure will be reached very quickly—both pipeline infrastructure as well as transmission lines, because making green hydrogen will require about 300 percent more electricity capacity than we now have. “We will hit limits of manufacturing of electrolyzers, of electricity infrastructure, of ports’ ability to make and ship the stuff, of the speed at which we could retrofit industries,” he said. “We don’t have the human capital, and we don’t have the infrastructure. It’ll take a while to do these things.”
Many experts predict it will be 10 years before we see widespread green hydrogen adoption; Friedmann, however, maintains that this 10-year projection is based on a number of assumptions. “It’s premised on mass manufacturing of electrolyzers, which has not happened anywhere in the world,” he said. “It’s premised on a bunch of policy changes that have not been made that would support the markets. It’s premised on a set of infrastructure changes that are driven by those markets.”
There are a number of green energy projects in the U.S. and around the world attempting to address these challenges and promote hydrogen adoption. Here are a few examples.
California will invest $230 million on hydrogen projects before 2023; and the world’s largest green hydrogen project is being built in Lancaster, CA by energy company SGH2. This innovative plant will use waste gasification, combusting 42,000 tons of recycled paper waste annually to produce green hydrogen. Because it does not use electrolysis and renewable energy, its hydrogen will be cost-competitive with gray hydrogen.
A new Western States Hydrogen Alliance, made up of leaders in the heavy-duty hydrogen and fuel cell industry, are pushing to develop and deploy fuel cell technology and infrastructure in 13 western states.
Hydrogen Europe Industry, a leading association promoting hydrogen, is developing a process to produce pure hydrogen from the gasification of biomass from crop and forest residue. Because biomass absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as it grows, the association maintains that it produces relatively few net carbon emissions.
Breakthrough Energy, co-founded by Bill Gates, is investing in a new green hydrogen research and development venture called the European Green Hydrogen Acceleration Center. It aims to close the price gap between current fossil fuel technologies and green hydrogen. Breakthrough Energy has also invested in ZeroAvia, a company developing hydrogen-fueled aviation.
In December, the U.N. launched the Green Hydrogen Catapult Initiative, bringing together seven of the biggest global green hydrogen project developers with the goal of cutting the cost of green hydrogen to below $2 per kilogram and increasing the production of green hydrogen 50-fold by 2027.
Ultimately, whether or not green hydrogen fulfills its promise and potential depends on how much carmakers, fueling station developers, energy companies, and governments are willing to invest in it over the next number of years.
But because doing nothing about global warming is not an option, green hydrogen has a great deal of potential, and Friedmann is optimistic about its future. “Green hydrogen is exciting,” he said. “It’s exciting because we can use it in every sector. It’s exciting because it tackles the hardest parts of the problem—industry and heavy transportation. It’s interesting, because the costs are coming down. And there’s lots of ways to make zero-carbon hydrogen, blue and green. We can even make negative carbon hydrogen with biohydrogen. Twenty years ago, we didn’t really have the technology or the wherewithal to do it. And now we do.”
“…The rapidly declining cost of renewable energy is one reason for the growing interest in green hydrogen…”
All comment about the production of green hydrogen is predicated on low-carbon electricity supply from wind and solar plants (WASPs). Advanced nuclear power plants (NPPs), by far the largest source of low-carbon electricity is wilfully ignored.
That infographic is completely misleading. 39.4 MWh of electricity producing 1,1 ton (998 kg) of green hydrogen is utterly unachievable from low temperature electrolysis using only electricity from WASPs. That process can only manage 18 kg/MWh, or 0.782 ton for $1,497, which is $2.11/kg.
However, NuScale’s advanced NPP, due to be operational in 2027, can be dedicated to green hydrogen production by the high temperature steam electrolysis process (HTSE) and get that production rate for green hydrogen manufacture up to 27 kg/MWh (2,053 kg/h from 77 MWe). That would get the cost down to $1.41/kg:
Search for: nuscale hydrogen
It really ought to prompt ‘The State of the Planet’ to do a follow up article looking at green hydrogen from advanced NPPs, which eliminates massively expensive infrastructures necessary for hydrogen to boost intermittent electricity from WASPs to the status of despatchable 24/7/365 electricity.
There would be no need for the storage of humongous volumes of green hydrogen to solve the ‘Intermittency Problem’ on the basis of both diurnal and seasonal backup. And returning the hydrogen back to electricity generation has to be done through a power-to-gas-to-power (P2G2P) infrastructure, which is only 30% efficient. So 70% more WASPs needed to make up for the energy lost.
None of this is needed for the manufacture of green hydrogen from advanced NPPs.
nuclear power “willfully ignored” because that’s how to get grant money
Think you intend to mislead ya?!. NPP life cycle costs analysis means all upstream extraction and fatal enrichments are energy intensive with massive environmental calamity and further downstream 200years with lingers isotopes, transports, storage and logistics are nightmares bro. About time you up your games pal and be honest.
WASPs suffer from intermittency. Nuclear power is SAFE & 24/7/365. It isn’t that hard to understand.
Nuclear power is safe? Then what about Chernobyl and Fukushima cases?
Thermal energy can directly produce hydrogen, without electrolysis. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/engineering/thermochemical-water-splitting-cycle
Nuclear energy provides heat for this or high T electrolysis which is 35% more efficient than low T electrolysis by intermittent sources.
The benefits of biomass fuel are questionable. Any land used for biomass fuel products is directly offsetting land that could have been used for food production or left as natural forest or woodland. The net effect on CO2 emissions of the biomass on paper is neutral but, if the land had been left as woodland, it would have been better than just neutral. So there is no net benefit. The only exception to this is when the biomass is derived from a waste product, which arises from food or timber production, such as the sugar cane residues which are used to produce gasohol.
Cool but I have a question. How can we “create” hydrogen if we are running low?
I’m genuinely interested in hydrogen as a fuel, but I’m no fool. Please write a balanced article.
“hydrogen can be produced from excess renewable energy and stored in large amounts for a long time. Pound for pound, hydrogen contains almost three times as much energy as fossil fuels, so less of it is needed to do any work. ”
This is technically correct but very misleading. The mass comparison is accurate but it’s the density comparison that is relevant. The density, storage, and transmission of larger hydrocarbon molecules is completely different. If you have a “pound” of hydrogen, it’s a compressed gas that takes up a much larger volume, and is under significant pressure compared to liquid (at STP) fuel.
Anyway, my interest in hydrogen is not deterred, but I wish the advocates were more realistic and balanced so I could find good information.
Agreed – but add to mix that ammonia is a superior supply of hydrogen energy which for some reason too often is left our.
Hydrogen is too dangerous and difficult to process, it created explosive mixture and is harmful to
Metal so trying to claim it is an easy energy source to use is extremely misleading and is willfully neglected by the people who will try and make an industry out of processing it
You have a point there. However hydrogen has been an energy carrier for decades in the imdustry . There is plenty of experience to this which can be scaled up easly to support hydrogen as a successor for gasoline or diesel.
Cracking water to manufacture hydrogen is environmental vandalism
I agree and am very concerned that so-called ‘green’ energy corporations will use a very limited resource, potable drinking water, to create the illusion of clean and sustainable energy. They will use up the limited supply of clean water by splitting it for use in transporting goods in vehicles that now use gasoline. Using up clean water as an energy source is extremely alarming. I am noticing in my research that few are talking about this point that communities will be sucked dry of much of their municipal water supply so that these companies will make short term profits and lay to waste the communities where they set up these green hydrogen manufacturing plants. Another ‘green energy’ money making scheme supported by taxpayer dollars. You cannot get that water back. Water is life.
Water is life! Fortunately, hydrogen power puts water right back into the environment, via the reaction of hydrogen with oxygen.
Yes water will be put back. But where?
In a hydrogen fuel cell, water will be the byproduct. So, in a fuel cell powered car, water will be collected. But the production of fuel cell be somewhere else.
Is it so difficult to see?
You produce the fuel cell with water from local source at point A and then the water will be byproduct at someplace 1000’s of k.m. away. How does the original reservoir where electrolysis occured, will be filled back?
Infact, cars are exported all over the world. Will your country manufacture it’s own fuel cells or will you import the fuel cell from some African country, by splitting water of some African country?
And then the byproduct of fuel cell in your car, will you collect that water and ship it back to Africa?
This will not exhaust water, but will cause redistribution of water. Japanese companies that export cars, will manufacture the car in Asia, with fuel cell manufactured in Asian country’s water sources to Europe.
This is theft of water or import of it from Africa/Asia. West/EU cannot make their own cars from green hydrogen because then what will you drink?
The only way hydrogen fuel cell powered transport will be possible is when the hydrogen is split from methane/natural gas, not from potable drinking water.
I understand that hydrogen is absorbed by some metals in larger quantities than is possible at reasonable compression rates, would that not be a feasible way for storing hydrogen for the mobile vehicle industry?
Palladium, Platinum, Zirconium, Titanium and Uranium metals have large affinity for hydrogen. These metal powders are used for capture, storage of Hydrogen. Very high purity hydrogen can be generated by heating the metal powders.
Hey Renee. Very detailed and interesting article. You’re right about it coming down to the cost. Finally, the success of any technology is dependent on how affordable it is for customers. On the other hand, we no longer have the luxury to avoid addressing global warming.
With receding glaciers and less snow pack, how do you make hydrogen without water? Science says we will have less available water as the planet heats, so is this really a good idea?? It is my understanding we will have to turn to natural gas to make hydrogen without water.
You know 2/3 of the planet is covered by sea? You know what the sea is made of? HINT: its water.
There are already hydrogen plants making hydrogen from sea water.
Great article thku recently we saw an autonomous green hydrogen facility in bali very amazing place and technology by an australian hygenstg we think looks promising
No such thing as green hydrogen. Until getting hydrogen out of air takes less energy and storage is somehow made less complicated, we should not use it. The big problem in our world is people want more than our world can handle.
Excellent clear cut simple to understand and positive article.
Biden needs to make a 180 degree change in his state of mind as a former racist misogynist corporate sycophant in Delaware. Most laws in Delaware favor corporations. Most major corporations in the USA are headquartered in Delaware. All credit cards need to have a to be limited to a top interest rate of 10%.
Furter we need to pour billions into making hydrogen inexpensive
If we could make hydrogen out of waste, we could solve the cost of hydrogen. Hyperion at LAX processes 900,000,000 gallons of crap a day. Bingo.
Joe needs to gut SCOTUS by packing it to 15. Cut the legs off the 6 Christofascists on the US Supreme Court. 9-6 needed to make them grovel and become impotent. Take away all fossil fuel incentives forever.
CARBON HAS 30-50 YEAR LAG TIME BEFORE MOLECULE
REACHES ITS FULL POTENTIAL IN HOLDING HEAT MASS
METHANE NATURAL GAS HAS 10 YEAR LAG TIME AND IS
130 TIMES HOTTER THAN A CARBON MOLECULE
WE ARE LOCKED IN TO RECORD HEAT RAIN WIND SNOW
UNTIL GREENLAND COLLAPSES
THEN JUST RECORD HEAT AND RECORD RAIN
SINCE 2005 METHANE NATURAL GAS HAS BEEN SEEPING SPEWING VENTING FROM PERMA-FROST METHANE HYDRATES MANTLE METHANE FROM ISOSTATIC REBOUNDING AND PINGOES GLOBAL WARMING FEEDBACK LOOPS
COMING OFF OF GREENLANDS 20 FEET OF SEA LEVEL RISE METHANE NATURAL GAS INDUCED WINDS CAN BRING RECORD HEAT RAIN OR SNOW ANY WHERE
METHANE NATURAL GAS
8C. TEMP RISE SINCE 1700s
RECORD HEAT RAIN WIND SNOW
EACH & EVERY YEAR
6/21/20 SIBERIAN ARCTIC 100F.
3/27/21 Gallinas 111F.
San Luis Potosi State with 44.1C. ETATW
220 FEET SLR END OF 2023 ?
Anyone seriously thinking about investing in Hydrogen should read Paul Martin’s work on this. To summarize, green hydrogen is and will likely always be too expensive compared with alternatives. Most of the hype surrounding Hydrogen today is fossil-fuel-funded and is meant to keep the very same companies who gave us climate change afloat after oil and gas meets it’s logical end.
Agreed – ammonia is the better hydrogen energy carrier.
To me green hydrogen is the way to go TVs don’t have the range for people like me who live out in the country two I’d like to see where I can replace my gasoline motor in the vehicle I already have to be able to run hydrogen the vehicle is already produced the carbon that was produced for building the body has already nullified Plus living in a state surrounded by water it would be a better way to go Evs are too heavy and right now not so green the car when it takes to produce to steal the aluminum glass not to mention plastic pretty much illuminates the green status as far as I’m concernedThe battery technology in EV’sAs far as I’m concerned as to not developed enough because you have too much of the battery that has to be use for like filler for concrete am I concerned with that is leftover heavy metals that may get into the soil I’m not a writer or scientist I’m just a plain Joe Not to mention the expense of an EV is one that I’m not willing to pay until hydrogen becomes more available Toyota has made great strides in fuel cell technology I read a story recently of a Toyota that was run 623 miles on one fill up of hydrogen this test was done by the Toyota motor company themselves I’ll stick with my gasoline engine
Question. If we start extracting Hydrogen from Water, won’t we just reduce the amount of water on the planet, thus creating another problem down the track?? Confused.
Thanks for a great article! When Hydrogen is booming, another question comes to mind: how do we educate and train the workforce to be prepared to work with Hydrogen?
We wrote an extensive blog article about this, hope you find it useful! https://edquip.co/en/blog/training-education-hydrogen-fuel-cell-systems
I have been an advocate of Hydrogen since my dissertation in the 1970’s.
My paper promoted that new Nuclear Powered electricity on coastlines could produce hydrogen through electrolysis of sea water ( in off peak periods of demand)
There are complications but I’m sure in the last 50 years technology has leaped forward!
Hydrogen would be evolved from the cation compartment with oxygen and chlorine gas from the anion compartment, the latter being a problem back in the 70’s as I then understood it.
I then described that the hydrogen would be be conveyed nationwide (in the UK) using the gas mains that would at some stage have no natural gas to transport.
Little did I realise then that I would be in the era that this change to Carbon zero would be taking place.
The use of fuel cells, existing gas boilers, gas fires being converted to run on hydrogen is now a reality, after all the fuel cell has been around since its invention by William Grove in 1839, historically powering the NASA Apollo spacecraft once in trajectory to / from the moon from a set of three “fuel cells” housed in the Service Module – and little do people realise that there was the highly important by-product – water!
I’ve rekindled my interest in Hydrogen and I hope it can perform as we theoreticians hope!
I’m actually a Civil Engineer with little mechanical or electrical detailed knowledge but my vision is still there after 50+ years since University!
Actually the world runs today on hydrogen, unfortunately it is dirty hydrogen or as we know it fossil fuels. The trick is how do we clean hydrogen fuels or how do we produce and use raw clean or green hydrogen. The general public thinks we can run our world without hydrogen. For planet earth that’s an impossibility. The bio system is hydrogen, the food you eat is hydrogen, the sun and the stars are hydrogen. Any other energy source harm planet earth either directly or indirectly. Any other energy source will eventually run out. You either accept hydrogen or you will perish.
The problem is they are comparing green or clean hydrogen with other forms of energies on the basis of costs or efficiencies in the early stages of its development. What they don’t see is that hydrogen is the only solution of reducing and eliminating completely the dirty hydrogen or fossil fuels in the future.
Why we need hydrogen? Because there is no other fuel to power our universe.
Good discussion about Hydrogen production. Would be helpful to include production by Methane Pyrolysis, an emerging technology.
Pyrolysis of methane is a hydrogen production process from natural gas. Hydrogen separation occurs in one step via flow through a molten metal catalyst in a “bubble column”. It is a “no greenhouse gas” approach for potentially low-cost hydrogen production.
No mention of ammonia for jet fuel, with more hydrogen than liquid h2. Ceramic membranes for CH4 hydrogen production.