Many experts have high hopes for hydrogen to make the world less dependent on fossil fuels. There are significant challenges between the potential of hydrogen and its use in different sectors. In individual road transport, an electric car is a more economical and sustainable option. In the chemical and steel production industries, as well as heavy transport, hydrogen could become a key technology.
Hydrogen is commonplace in the industry. It already uses enormous amounts of hydrogen from the oil and steel sector, as well as chemical and fertilizer production. Global hydrogen demand has risen steadily over the past few decades, reaching a volume of over 120 million tons annually. Most of this hydrogen does not come from sustainable sources. Production needs to be expanded significantly and made greener. Currently, only around 5% of production is green hydrogen. Expanding production is necessary and costly, but essential to meeting emissions targets. There are several technical challenges along the value chain.
Hydrogen production is easy. Distribution and storage are a challenge.
Due to its chemical and physical properties, handling hydrogen becomes a challenge. When hydrogen escapes, it forms an inflammable mixture with the ambient air. Compared to many hydrocarbons, it has a low enthalpy of combustion and thus a low volume-related energy density (around 1/3 of natural gas). To store equivalent amounts of energy, this requires a tank three times as large or three times as high as for natural gas. Due to its small molecular size, hydrogen diffuses relatively well through a large number of materials, which makes many materials unsuitable for the tank shell. The diffusion process is intensified by high temperatures and high internal pressure. Metallic tank casings are additionally stressed by hydrogen embrittlement, but not with casings made of plastic. Large amounts of energy are required not only to produce hydrogen but also to store it.
Electric or hydrogen car?
The electric car has some advantages over the hydrogen car. The purchase cost of a battery-powered electric vehicle is lower, its carbon footprint is lower and its energy efficiency is higher. Besides, electric cars are already being produced and sold in large numbers, which lowers production costs and leads to increased infrastructure expansions. For more information, here is my post on this topic: https://greaterideas.blog/2021/02/14/why-hydrogen-cars-are-not-a-threat-for-electric-cars/
Application for trucks and heavy industrial vehicles
The long range associated with hydrogen propulsion, the low weight, and the fast refueling makes it ideal for long-distance freight transport. Fuel cell forklifts in warehouses can travel longer distances without taking long breaks to recharge, as is the case with battery-powered vehicles. The higher efficiency is the reason why companies like Amazon and Walmart are already using this technology.
Hydrogen in the natural gas network
Feeding hydrogen from renewable energy sources into the gas network is another important step for a successful energy transition. At the peak of electricity production, excess electricity could be used to produce hydrogen and then feed it into the natural gas network.
Hydrogen stocks hype
Investors could proceed in such a way that they ideally invest in the companies that have a key position in the value chain. The manufacturers of electrolysis systems and the manufacturers of bipolar plates, which are the heart of a fuel cell, can be named here as examples.
The hype surrounding hydrogen is justified, but only for certain sectors. Its wide range of uses makes it indispensable for achieving global climate goals. Hydrogen technology needs to evolve in parallel with renewable energy to make sense. No green hydrogen without green energy.