How hydrogen fuel offers a renewable solution

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How hydrogen fuel offers a renewable solution


While developing the economy and improving life, mankindโ€™s over-reliance and over-consumption of traditional fossil fuels have brought about a large number of energy security and environmental problems. Facing the looming global energy and environmental crisis, countries around the world have successively made legislation to encourage the development and utilization of renewable energy.

Our beautiful blue planet comes from water covering 2/3 surface of the planet. Obviously, water seems to be an unlimited reserve of energy.

Here is where we start, one of the elements making of water: Hydrogen.

Hydrogen: an efficient and clean fuel

The use of hydrogen energy as a solution to global energy and environmental problems was proposed by scientists 30 years ago.
The combustion of hydrogen only produces water, which basically does not cause pollution.
Hydrogen can be obtained by electrolyzing water, and 70% of the earth is covered by water. According to research data, the unit calorific value of hydrogen is about three times that of gasoline. Imagine that one day when people add hydrogen to cars to replace gasoline, not only will the energy consumption efficiency be greatly improved, but the pollution of car exhaust will also disappear. Therefore, it is generally believed that hydrogen will become the ultimate goal of mankind in the search for clean energy.

2016-2019 global hydro-vehicle capacity & increase rate
2014-2019 global number of refuel stations
2016-2019 global hydro-vehicle capacity & increase rate
2014-2019 global number of refuel stations

According to a report from the International Energy Agency, hydrogen technologies is continuing to grow and keep strong in the past years.
2019 was a record year for electrolysis capacity, not only on becoming operational but also significant plans by main economy entities were made for upcoming years.
The fuel cell electric vehicle market almost doubled because of outstanding expansion in China, Japan and Korea. From the perspective of the global hydrogen fuel cell vehicle ownership, according to statistics, the global hydrogen fuel cell vehicle ownership increased to 10,409 in 2019, a year-on-year increase of 99.29%.

In terms of the number of hydrogen refuelling stations, according to statistics, the number of global hydrogen refuelling stations reached 432 in 2019, and the number of global hydrogen refuelling stations increased by 135% from 2015 to 2019.

However, low-carbon production capacity remained relatively constant and is still off track with the SDS. More efforts are needed to: scale up to reduce costs; replace high-carbon with low-carbon hydrogen in current applications; and expand hydrogen use to new applications. Innovations and application in the industries are becoming clearly key elements to drive a large scale development on hydrogen energy in the future.

Integration opportunities provided by hydrogen and fuel cellsย 

Hydrogen is a flexible energy carrier, which can be produced from a variety of regional primary energy sources. In addition, it can be effectively converted into any form of energy to meet various end-use energy needs. Hydrogen is particularly suitable for fuel cells that use hydrogen to generate electricity.

Hydrogen with a low carbon footprint has the potential to contribute to a significant reduction in energy-related carbon dioxide emissions and help control global temperature rise within 2ยฐC, as described in the International Energy Agencyโ€™s Energy Technology Outlook (ETP) for high hydrogen development 2ยฐ The C scenario is the same. In addition, compared with direct fossil fuel combustion, the use of hydrogen can reduce local air pollutant emissions and noise pollution. By continuing to use fossil fuel resources to meet end-use energy needs under the 2ยฐC scenario, the combination of hydrogen and CCS can provide measures to ensure energy security and help maintain a diversified fuel mix.

As an energy carrier, hydrogen can achieve a balance between energy supply and demand in a centralized or decentralized manner, helping to improve the overall flexibility of the energy system. By connecting different energy transmission and distribution (T&D) networks, low-carbon energy can meet end-use energy fields that are challenging to decarbonize, including transportation, industry, and construction. In remote areas where access to the grid is almost impossible, these connections can expand the provision of energy services to off-grid areas while minimizing emissions.

Energy storage and utilization in transportation, industry and constructionย 

Hydrogen is very suitable as an energy carrier because it can store low-carbon energy. A small amount of hydrogen with a low carbon footprint can be stored under limited space and weight requirements to achieve long-distance low-carbon transportation through fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV). Large amounts of hydrogen can be stored for a long time, helping to integrate large amounts of intermittent renewable energy (VRE) into the energy system for power generation and heating. Systems that use hydrogen as an energy carrier can make full use of intermittent renewable energy, such as power-fuel, electricity-electricity, or electricity-gas conversion. Otherwise, intermittent renewable energy will be discarded when the supply exceeds demand.

Fuel cell vehicles can replace today’s traditional cars to provide travel and transportation services with extremely low carbon emissions. By 2050, the deployment of 25% of fuel cell vehicles in road transportation can contribute up to 10% of the cumulative transportation-related carbon emission reductions, prompting the ETP 6ยฐC scenario (6DS) to be transformed into 2DS. The specific emission reduction degree depends on the different Regional situation. Assuming rapid growth in fuel cell vehicle sales, after launching the first batch of 10,000 fuel cell vehicles, it is expected that a self-sustaining market will be formed within 15 to 20 years.

Although hydrogen and fuel cells have great development space and energy security advantages in the field of end-use energy, the development of hydrogen power generation, transmission and distribution, and retail infrastructure is still challenging. For example, the risks associated with the development of the fuel cell vehicle market have always been a major obstacle to infrastructure investment. For each of the 150 million fuel cell vehicles that are assumed to be sold between now and 2050, depending on the region, it will cost US$900 to US$1,900 for the development of hydrogen infrastructure.

Challenges: everywhere along the chain

Production Storage Application of Hydrogen fuel

Schematic diagram of hydrogen energy industry chain

The upstream of the hydrogen energy industry chain is the production of hydrogen. The main technical methods include traditional hydrogen production from fossil raw materials, hydrogen production from chemical raw materials, hydrogen production from industrial exhaust gas, hydrogen production from the electrolysis of water, and new hydrogen production technologies. Hydrogen energy has large reserves, high specific energy, storable, and transportable. The middle reaches of the hydrogen energy industry chain is the storage link. At present, the main storage and transportation technologies for hydrogen energy include high-pressure gas, low temperature, solid material storage and transportation, and organic liquid storage and transportation. Downstream is the application of hydrogen energy, involving many aspects of energy. In addition to traditional petrochemical industrial applications such as synthetic ammonia, oil and coal deep processing, it also includes applications in fields such as hydrogen refuelling stations and fuel cell vehicles. The wide application of hydrogen needs to overcome the challenges of cost, storage, infrastructure construction and other aspects. In terms of production costs, there are various hydrogen extraction methods. As technology advances, the cost of hydrogen energy extraction will drop. There are still many storage forms of hydrogen, such as gas, liquid, nanotube, hydrogen ion…… There are a few tough barriers to be overcome:

Each method has its own advantages and disadvantages: large-scale, centralized hydrogen production minimizes the cost of hydrogen production under a large-scale economy, but requires the transportation of hydrogen fuel, which increases the cost of hydrogen; In the case of large-scale hydrogen production, transportation and distribution costs are reduced, but the cost of hydrogen production is increased. Therefore, finding the best network configuration requires detailed analysis and consideration of various factors, such as the geographic distribution of hydrogen production resources, the existing infrastructure, and the estimated hydrogen fuel demand of hydrogen refuelling stations.

How far is the “hydrogen economy” from us?

At present, people have begun to put into action the theoretical ideas of the “hydrogen economy” era. World-renowned automakers are investing in the development of hydrogen fuel cell technology. Considering various factors, the large-scale commercial application of hydrogen-powered vehicles will take about 15 to 20 years.

The United States is an advocate of hydrogen energy economy and one of the most important countries to promote the development of hydrogen energy. In November 2002, the US Department of Energy promulgated the “National Hydrogen Energy Roadmap”, which comprehensively and systematically explained hydrogen energy technologies such as hydrogen preparation, storage and transportation, conversion, and application. So far, the US government has promulgated a series of policies and launched large-scale scientific research programs to actively guide and strive to realize the gradual transition from a fossil energy economy to a hydrogen energy economy.

China will accelerate the development and industrial application of hydrogen energy, and hydrogen energy has been included in the “Energy Technology Revolution and Innovation Action Plan.”

Japan is also at the forefront of the world in the development and utilization of hydrogen energy. In 2014, the “Strategic Roadmap for Hydrogen Energy and Fuel Cells” was released, clarifying the three-phase development goals for 2025, 2030 and 2040. In 2017, Japan released the “Hydrogen Energy Basic Strategy”, which put forward specific development goals in terms of hydrogen energy supply and utilization, and plans to fully popularize fuel cell vehicles by 2050.

The European Union has also set a goal to increase the proportion of hydrogen energy in the energy structure to 12%-14% by 2050, with a total investment of 180-470 billion euros. As part of Europe’s new industrial strategy, the European Union launched the “European Clean Hydrogen Alliance” on July 8. Countries such as France, Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands have all participated in the effort to make breakthroughs. According to the latest “French Future Energy” plan, it is planned to give priority to the promotion of hydrogen supply, so as to lay a solid foundation for boosting hydrogen energy demand. By 2030, France will have a production capacity of 600,000 tons of โ€œclean hydrogenโ€ produced through renewable energy and nuclear energy. Earlier this year, Dutch oil giant Royal Dutch Shell announced that it would invest billions of euros to build an offshore wind farm to help make breakthroughs in the field of hydrogen energy. The German Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy also issued the “National Hydrogen Energy Strategy” plan. The capital investment plans to invest 9 billion euros in the field of hydrogen energy by 2030. The framework has recently led to the launch of a project. The Westkuste 100 project invested by Germany will use offshore wind energy to produce green hydrogen and use the generated waste heat and oxygen. A substantial step has been taken for sustainable and environmentally friendly energy development. Spain has released a hydrogen energy development plan and plans to invest 8 billion euros in this field. At present, the Spanish domestic energy giant Iberdrola has made an investment of hundreds of millions of euros, and will soon start building Europe’s largest industrial green hydrogen plant in Madrid, using electrolysis to convert renewable energy into hydrogen fuel.


The International Energy Agency hopes to limit the global temperature rise by not exceeding 2ยฐC by limiting the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. If this ambitious goal is to be achieved in 2050, the total global carbon emissions in all energy-related fields must be reduced to less than half of the current value. Among them, energy production and transmission links need to complete about half of the total emission reduction tasks, and such a low-carbon energy system must rely on the complete reduction of carbon emissions in the energy production part. The key is to deploy wind energy and biomass. The application of renewable energy such as energy and hydropower. To achieve the goal of temperature ceiling within 2ยฐC, renewable energy power generation by 2050 will account for 63% of the total power generation. The remaining about half of the emission reduction tasks are completed by key application areas such as transportation, industry, and construction. It is necessary to improve efficiency in the end application of energy and use low-carbon hydrogen energy, biomass energy and other renewable energy sources to replace traditional energy sources. Of fossil energy.

Engibex consultant - Jeff Zhang

About the author

Jeff Zhang
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Electrical Mechanics Engineering
Expertise in numerical modelling & experimental data mining. Great enthusiasm in innovative product design & R&D.
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2020-11-20T15:28:04+00:00 November 18th, 2020|