Hydrogen Economy Rising Again

October 12, 2019

Gas tanks hydrogen

After a brief flurry of interest 20 years ago, hydrogen as an energy carrier has been somewhat eclipsed by the rise of solar and wind renewable energies.
However, now that renewables are booming, carbon free hydrogen production is a viable option in more and more areas.

That makes a number of ideas suddenly practical.


Hydrogen from renewable energy could play a central role in the global energy transformation, the latest report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) finds. ‘Hydrogen: a renewable energy perspective’ estimates that hydrogen from renewable power, so called green hydrogen, could translate into 8 per cent of global energy consumption by 2050. 16 per cent of all generated electricity would be used to produce hydrogen by then. Green hydrogen could particularly offer ways to decarbonise a range of sectors where it is proving difficult to meaningfully reduce CO2 emissions.

Decarbonisation impacts depends on how hydrogen is produced. Current and future sourcing options can be divided into grey (fossil fuel-based), blue (fossil fuel-based production with carbon capture, utilisation and storage) and green (renewables-based) hydrogen. Blue and green hydrogen can play a role in the transition and synergies exist.

With falling cost of renewables, the potential of green hydrogen particularly for so called ‘hard-to-decarbonise’ sectors and energy-intensive industries like iron and steel, chemicals, shipping, trucks and aviation is rapidly becoming more compelling given the urgency to limit CO2 emissions. This includes direct hydrogen use but also the production of liquid and gaseous fuels such as ammonia, methanol and synthetic jet fuel from green hydrogen. Electrolyzer deployment is currently ramping up from MW to GW-scale as witnessed by dozens of projects worldwide.

Large-scale adoption of hydrogen could also fuel an increase in demand for renewable power generation, IRENA’s report finds. In total, IRENA sees a global economic potential for 19 exajoule (EJ) of hydrogen from renewable electricity in total final energy consumption by 2050. This translates into around 4-16 terawatts (TW) of solar and wind generation capacity to be deployed to produce renewable hydrogen and hydrogen-based products in 2050.

However, deployment of hydrogen-based solutions will not happen overnight, IRENA’s report cautions. Hydrogen might likely trail other strategies such as electrification of end-use sectors, and its use will target specific applications. The need for a dedicated new supply infrastructure may also limit hydrogen use to certain countries that decide to follow this strategy. Existing natural gas pipelines could be refurbished, but implications must be further explored.


Rocky Mountain Institute:

Hydrogen is the new kid on the block of low-carbon alternatives, with applications in mobility, industrial processing, and heavy transport. It can also be used to provide electricity and heat, and can be blended with natural gas to help decarbonize existing natural gas grids. But even with these opportunities, across the globe—from corporate offices to industry roadshows—one hears a frequent refrain: it is too expensive and it won’t scale. (Interestingly enough, this is the same reputation solar PV had a decade ago.)

As misconceptions about hydrogen abound, there is an opportunity to dispel some of the common myths about this emerging technology.

This is not winner-take-all. The energy transition will be a blend of alternative fuels and electrification.

When it comes to technology change, most people think of it as a roulette game where the winner takes all: AC versus DC, QWERTY versus Dvorak, VHS versus Beta. The debate around green options for low-carbon mobility, as well as freight, heavy industry, and materials movement, is no different. The general thinking is that the payoff will come from either electrification or innovative fuels, but not both. This is not an either-or situation. Instead, it’s like being stranded on a desert island and choosing between water or food when the only survivable option is to find both. The ultimate solution for low-carbon transport will most likely be a blend of electricity-based and fuel-based options.

Among the fuel-based options, hydrogen dominates the conversation. As generally happens when you’re popular, the haters are expressing doubt over the development of hydrogen resources, fearing that it competes with electrification and battery technology, but this concern doesn’t reflect reality. While electrification and fuels, like hydrogen, both come with their own set of challenges, they both have important roles to play. When electricity from low-carbon generation is substituted for fossil fuels, we can achieve significant reductions in CO2 emissions. With its zero-carbon potential and the role it can play in increasing demand for renewable energy, hydrogen has an important role in our energy transition and is a key complement to electrification.

New interest in hydrogen has come from the mobility, freight, shipping, power, and industrial processing sectors as they strive to move toward a decarbonized future. There is, however, a large preexisting demand linked to refining and ammonia production and as a feedstock for industrial chemical processes. The development of the hydrogen market reflects the potential for distributed production and the need for flexibility in our transport mix. For example, hydrogen fuel cell buses typically have a range of approximately 500 km, versus 200 km for electric buses. With this range, hydrogen has both the potential to decarbonize rural transport and to offer a solution for uninterrupted services.

Hydrogen production has increased from around 40 million tons in 2005 to approximately 60 million tons today. In 2017, the global hydrogen production market was estimated at $103 billion and is expected to reach $207 billion by 2026, suggesting a compound annual growth rate of 8.1 percent or a market of approximately 121 million metric tons. Given these growth expectations, the Energy Transition Commission (ETC) suggests that by 2050 the market could be in the region of 425–650 million tons per year.

Whichever direction the hydrogen market develops in the next decade, the mounting pressure on hard-to-abate industrial sectors to align toward a 1.5-degree science-based pathway implies the need to take a hard look at what proportion of industrial emissions relate to the on-site and off-site movement of materials and products. For example, on average, around 60 percent of energy used on an open-pit mine relates to on-site materials movement. Industrial emissions produced on site account for 28 percent of global emissions. An additional 16 percent take place in off-site materials movement, more commonly known as freight transport. If hydrogen is to be part of the solution, there will be far more than the current 60 million tons per year of global demand for this commodity.

Fast Company:

ZeroAvia, the startup that designed the hydrogen-fueled electric powertrain inside the plane, has been testing the technology over the past year and emerged from stealth today. The company says it will run a full test flight with hydrogen on board in a few weeks. In 2022, it plans to begin supplying the powertrain for use in planes with as many as 20 seats, on flights up to 500 miles long.

Several other startups are also working on technology designed to cut emissions from air travel, an industry responsible for nearly 900 million metric tons of CO2 emissions a year at a time when emissions need to begin to shrink to zero. But most other companies rely on batteries to store electric power. (Ampaire, a startup that recently took its first public flight, retrofits existing planes with hybrid-electric systems; Eviation, another startup, is designing 100% battery-electric planes.) ZeroAvia saw advantages in using hydrogen. “For the foreseeable future, actually getting a sizable aircraft in the air for a reasonable amount of time will be quite difficult with batteries,” says Val Miftakhov, founder and CEO of the company, who previously founded eMotorWerks, an electric car charging company that was acquired two years ago. A system based on hydrogen fuel cells is around four times as energy dense as the best batteries currently available, he says.

For airlines, switching to hydrogen-fueled airplanes for short flights would save money. ZeroAvia estimates that the total cost of operation will be around half that of flying conventional planes because of savings on fuel costs, more efficiency, and less maintenance. The company also believes that the tech will also be cheaper to use than battery-electric planes, in most cases, because high-density batteries have to frequently be replaced.


Many of the world’s top carmakers may be racing to make plug-in electric vehicles in response to the climate crisis, but Toyota is hedging its bets by backing an alternative source of power for its cars.

The Japanese company revealed a new version of its hydrogen-powered vehicle on Friday, doubling down on its bet that fuel cells will help secure Toyota’s future as the industry comes under enormous pressure to slash carbon emissions.
Toyota (TM) is driving forward with the Mirai, its hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric car, offering a redesigned version that the company said boasts “significantly greater range, improved driving performance, and an elegant, sporty design that offers increased passenger room and comfort.”

Compressed hydrogen gas is combined in a fuel cell with oxygen from the atmosphere to produce electricity that is then stored in a battery. The only byproduct of that process is water, meaning hydrogen vehicles don’t expel harmful emissions.
Toyota has forged ahead with hydrogen power even as it remains bullish on electric cars. In June, Toyota moved forward by five years its goal of having electrified vehicles account for roughly half of sales.
But it still lags behind companies like market leader Tesla (TSLA) and global rival Volkswagen(VLKAF) in the battle to dominate electric vehicle production. Toyota sold only 1,000 electric cars last year, according to LMC Automotive, compared to the 220,000 that Tesla shipped.
The latest Mirai has a revamped fuel cell stack that can store more hydrogen. That means the car can drive 30% farther than the previous generation, which had a range of 312 miles (502 km) on a full battery. Toyota did not say how long the new Mirai will take to charge, but the previous model took 3-5 minutes.




21 Responses to “Hydrogen Economy Rising Again”

  1. […] via Hydrogen Economy Rising Again | Climate Denial Crock of the Week […]

  2. Keith McClary Says:

    “Scientists extract hydrogen gas from oil and bitumen, giving potential pollution-free energy”

    Oil fields, even abandoned oil fields, still contain significant amounts of oil. The researchers have found that injecting oxygen into the fields raises the temperature and liberates H2, which can then be separated from other gases via specialist filters. Hydrogen is not pre-existing in the reservoirs, but pumping oxygen means that the reaction to form hydrogen can take place.


  3. Good points, all. But prolly we’ll go the green hydrogen>>green methane route, because hydrogen is difficult to transport, while we already have a methane grid, and methane-burning power stations. Most of the energy cost in making green methane comes from making green hydrogen, the additional cost of the Sabatier process in minimal.

    But I agree–green hydrogen or green methane or both will be essential.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      All of the places I’ve ever lived were plumbed with gas for cooking and/or heating. That’s a lot of installed infrastructure which would make it harder to shake off gas fuel use.

  4. talies Says:

    I’ve got shares in this little car, developed and built by a small team in the countryside just up the road from me here in Wales.


    • redskylite Says:

      Thanks for sharing – interesting prototype with a motor for each wheel – long time since Wales manufactured a sports car, which I think was the Gilbern Invader in the early 70’s. Looks like a promising fun car.

      wedi’i bweru gan hydrogen, wedi’i adeiladu yng Nghymru

      • talies Says:

        Diolch am ysgrifennu yn yr heniaith! O’r Almaen hefyd! 🙂

      • talies Says:

        Should be more than a prototype by now. But yet to see one on the road, or by the charging point in town. Monmouthshire County Council were going to use some of them (not only a sports car).

        Maybe the cost of producing H2 is hindering it….https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7MzFfuNOtY

        Or maybe it’s the business model of “providing a service increases efficiency of all involved” having teething troubles.

        I hope it survives Brexit, if the worst does eventually happen

  5. gmrmt Says:

    Hydrogen versus battery is a matter of competing scales. Batteries store power for hours to days. Hydrogen for weeks to months; potentially storing summer solar over production for winter use. They may not match the utility of every home having it’s own battery backup in EV’s but for large fleets or long haul they may make the best choice. Larger vehicles can certainly carry the largish tanks involved.
    Trains. Think trains. Especially with a roll-on roll-off capacity for vehicles like India has been developing.
    It is also an answer for the complaint that a rural dweller who needs a pickup far from a grid won’t find electric practical.

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      The truly rural—including my farming/ranching cousins—are putting up their own solar power. They already have their own water wells, their own septic systems, and their own household propane tanks. They’re on it.

  6. Hydrogen and batteries can also be combined. A 100 km rail track is now being serviced by hydrogen trains (used to be diesel trains), which have batteries for additional power when accelerating and to store power while breaking.

  7. redskylite Says:

    Boats . . .

    World’s first hydrogen-powered ship docks in London as part of zero-emissions global tour
    Energy Observer catamaran creates its own hydrogen fuel by sucking up sea water and removing oxygen

    The world’s first hydrogen-powered ship has arrived in London as part of a six-year, zero emissions voyage around the world.

    The 30-metre long Energy Observer catamaran has already travelled 18,000 miles since leaving Saint Malo on the west coast of France and will remain stationed by Tower Bridge for 10 days as it finishes its European tour.


  8. redskylite Says:

    Cars . . . . . (forget range anxiety)

    Second-generation model boasts longer driving range, completely redesigned fuel cell stack and hydrogen tanks
    Toyota Motor unveiled a completely-redesigned hydrogen-powered fuel cell sedan on Friday in its latest attempt to revive demand for the niche technology that it hopes will become mainstream.

    Japan’s biggest automaker has been developing fuel-cell vehicles for more than two decades, but the technology has been eclipsed by the rapid rise of rival battery-powered electric vehicles promoted by the likes of Tesla.


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