Why Hydrogen?

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The use of Green Hydrogen (which is produced from renewable energy sources only) is a very exciting developing area of exploration as we try to move into a greener world by looking at ways of producing and using hydrogen more vastly. It is hugely vital for us to find a more sustainable way to produce energy, which has a dramatically lower impact on the environment than fossil fuels. Green Hydrogen could have a calculated Environmental Impact Factor (a ratio of the compounds a fuel burned for human consumption releases into the environment to the compounds it would release naturally) of 0.0001, while carbon has an average Environmental Impact Factor of 0.036, making it over 100 times greater. This would mean that if Green Hydrogen was our primary source of energy, it is likely that the impact of global warming would be significantly reduced. Our unlimited water supply and renewable energies makes Green Hydrogen very clean and hugely sustainable, so much so that we wouldn’t even need to worry about the production of energy for our growing population. So, the use of Hydrogen as a technology in the future is an absolute must, creating an incredibly exciting and active current area of research.

How We Currently Use Hydrogen

Hydrogen is used in numerous areas already; liquid hydrogen, which reacts with liquid oxygen, is even the fuel used in the main engines of spacecraft due to how extremely lightweight and powerful it is. Hydrogen is highly reactive, it has a very low boiling point, and a rapid tendency to expand upon absorbing heat, so it’s important to have specially designed tanks and technologies which may handle or transport hydrogen. If hydrogen can power rockets through space though, imagine it’s potential in powering the planet! It is already used much closer to home; hydrogen fuel cells are used in a number of buses and cars across the globe, as we try to improve air quality particularly in highly urbanised areas. Fuel cells require the oxidation of hydrogen through the electrochemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. The electrons lost through oxidation then run through the circuit as electricity which powers the motor. These fuel cells are actually far more efficient than an internal combustion engine using hydrocarbon fuel, and its only product is water in the form of steam. What more could you want from such a small, light element which has such a huge abundance – the prospect of using hydrogen to fuel our world is super exciting.

While fuel cells aren’t completely developed and ready for commercial circulation yet, dual fuel hydrogen diesel engines are another way towards lower emissions currently. Standard internal combustion engine vehicles can be converted to being able to run on hydrogen as well as diesel, reducing its emissions by around 60% depending on the capacity of hydrogen in the engine. We were recently involved with helping a client get extra funding for a solution involving dual fuel hydrogen diesel for their fleet of offshore vessels – a fantastic innovation in the world we are currently living in.

How Hydrogen Could be Used

The transport sector is one of the biggest contributors to carbon emissions today, so sticking with that, there are huge possibilities for the use of hydrogen in heavy transportation vehicles. Hydrogen has a very high energy density, which makes it ideal for use in trucks and trains, and hopefully ships. Taking away the harmful greenhouse gas emissions for such long-haul, heavy duty transportation could make a huge difference to air quality and global emissions. The use of fuel cells for the actual propulsion of vessels is still only in very early trial stages, and it’s so far only being trialled in smaller passenger carriers and recreational craft, but nothing yet has been scaled to supply larger merchant vessels. As well as in the aviation industry, fuel cells, not just using hydrogen, are being tested for use in generating on board power supply. Swapping diesel generators to fuel cells in the maritime industry could massively reduce noise and air pollution particularly in ports.

A point which can’t be missed, is the huge amounts of carbon emissions and energy consumption which comes from domestic heating in the UK. There is a great scope of capability where hydrogen is used in replacement of natural gas boilers. New appliances could eventually be running on 100% hydrogen, though this takes a lot of very specific designing and safety considerations, due to the amount of water it produces, the greater possibility of leakages and the colour and temperature of the flame in comparison to gas. But replacing current domestic heating methods with hydrogen run appliances would make an exceptional different to carbon emissions.

Current Projects

A huge proportion of hydrogen produced today comes from fossil fuels/natural gas reformation. To produce green hydrogen, it would need to be produced through renewable energies, making it a completely zero-carbon process from the start of production, right down to the final energy consumption. To produce all hydrogen from renewables, whether that be biomass, wind or solar, would be the ultimate goal for a green future.

A major project that is currently in it’s very early development stages, is the NortH2 project in the Netherlands, founded by Shell, Gasunie and the port of Groningen, which will see 3 to 4 gigawatts of offshore wind being purely dedicated to the production of hydrogen by 2030, initially supplying industries in the Netherlands and North West of Europe. This could be expanded to 10 gigawatts by 2040, producing 800,000 tonnes of hydrogen. The project is being dubbed ‘Europe’s Largest Green Hydrogen Generation project’ and is a huge development in the drive towards utilising Green Hydrogen to reduce global emissions to a massive extent.

Hydrogen is the most abundant and lightest element in the universe. The prospect of using it in so many areas to fuel our world, from heating cities, to transporting cargo across sea’s on merchant vessels, and potentially being able to produce it solely from renewable sources, is fantastic. In the world we are currently living in, changes need to happen to save our planet from global warming, and I personally believe that using Green Hydrogen on a commercial and industrial scale across the globe is certainly a huge step in the right direction

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