Hydrogen energy has consistently been recognized as a viable alternative to fossil fuels and a weapon for combating climate change.

According to the most enthusiastic predictions, hydrogen energy might eventually operate vehicles, aircraft, and ships.

It can heat residences, stabilize power networks, and assist significant industries in producing everything from metals to food. 

Scientific experts consider green or sustainable hydrogen, created from the electrolysis process using solar or wind energies, essential for climate stability.

It appears in all eight of the European Commission’s 2050 net-zero-emission projections. Hydrogen has the potential to accomplish three aspects in principle: 

  • Retain excess renewable energy when the power system can not handle it, 
  • Decarbonize hard-to-electrify categories like long-distance transportation and massive industries, and 
  • Substitute fossil fuels as a zero-carbon feedstock in chemical and fuel manufacturing.

Table of Contents

What is hydrogen energy?

Hydrogen is the lightest and most plentiful gas in the environment. It is a highly flammable, clean-burning fuel with more energy as a function weight than fossil energy.

In a green economy, hydrogen would replace fossil energy, which today contributes to four-fifths of global energy generation and produces most greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.

Considering hydrogen discharges water only when heated and generated without carbon dioxide could help most climate objectives.

The hydrogen energy prosperity has the potential to be all-inclusive. Hydrogen accessibility, affordability, and functionality versus substitutes for future use could fill several voids in the global energy sector.

Hydrogen can play a large part in achieving net-zero emissions, but this will necessitate a massive increase in its manufacture and application.

Hydrogen is produced by separating water with electricity (electrolysis) or breaking fossil fuels or biomass with heat energy or vapor (reforming or pyrolysis).

Transmission lines, vehicles, and ships can use all stored, liquefied, and distributed hydrogen. Hydrogen can help create fertilizer, fuel automobiles, district heating, and generate energy and heavy power equipment.

Colors of Hydrogen Energy

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Color of natural gas and hydrogen energy (source)

Hydrogen production is color-coded depending on its nature. Steam conversion is used to create “grey” hydrogen from fossil sources.

The process costs approximately $1 per kilogram. Likewise, “blue” hydrogen utilizes fossil fuels; however, it also collects and stores carbon dioxide.

The least expensive blue hydrogen is around $2 per kilogram. Thirdly, “green” hydrogen is created using renewable energy and water electrolysis. Most of the time, the costs are more than $4 per kilogram.

In hydrogen engineering, there is a heated discussion about which manufacturing techniques will prevail. Green is the least carbon-intensive option, and the blue one only catches about 85 to 90 percent of carbon dioxide.

In comparison, 10-15% of carbon emissions may not seem like much if manufacturing is expanded. And it might have substantial climate change implications.

Blue hydrogen supporters argue that it will play a significant part in the economy worldwide because it is far less expensive than green hydrogen.

The process of manufacturing “green hydrogen” splits water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen using solar, wind power, and other renewable sources. Hence, it produces no carbon emissions.

While this method creates no carbon emissions, its application has been constrained because it consumes a significant amount of energy, thus raising the cost of manufacturing compared to feedstocks like natural gas.

Production Pathways

Most hydrogen can be manufactured using the steam methane reforming approach, a high-temperature technique in which water vapor combines with a hydrocarbon fuel to make hydrogen.

Electrolysis can be another typical hydrogen production method that separates water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen.

Electrolysis occurs in an electrolyzer, which works similarly to a fuel cell but in opposite ways. For example, rather than harnessing the energy of a hydrogen molecule, an electrolyzer creates hydrogen from water molecules.

Biological organisms, such as microorganisms (bacteria and microalgae), can also manufacture hydrogen during biochemical processes.

Microbes devour plant matter and make hydrogen gas through these activities. Additionally, photobiological, photoelectrochemical, photovoltaic-driven electrolysis, and solar thermochemical processes are a few ways sunlight can generate hydrogen.

Hydrogen energy and Climate Change

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Fossil fuel cars vs. Hydrogen energy cars (source)

Today, hydrogen and renewable energy are ready to alter the global energy sector, providing climate-friendly alternatives following decades of studies and development.

They will stimulate economic expansion when integrated with the digital age as travel, communications, and construction activities become more innovative and integrated into one another.

As per McKinsey’s study for the Hydrogen Council, a partnership pulling together the key corporations specialized in the field and hydrogen has the potential to become a valuable asset in the battle against climate change, lowering carbon dioxide emissions by 20% until 2050.

Hydrogen and green fuel cells can minimize greenhouse gas emissions in various applications due to their high performance and near-zero-emissions production.

According to a study supported by the Energy Department, hydrogen and green fuel cells can lower emissions in the accompanying directions:

  • Light-duty interstate trucks and engines: Pollution reductions of more than 50 percent to 90 percent compared to today’s gasoline-powered vehicles.
  • Highly specialized automobiles: Emissions are lowered by more than 35 percent compared to modern diesel and battery-powered trucks.
  • Transit buses are 1.5 times more fuel-efficient than diesel internal combustion engine buses and two times more efficient than natural gas buses.
  • Auxiliary power units (APUs): They have demonstrated a reduction of pollutants by more than 60 percent when matched with stalled truck engines.
  • Combined heat and power (CHP) systems: Reduction in emissions by 35 to 50 percent compared to traditional heat and power resources.

Public Health and Environment

Roughly fifty percent of the United States population dwells in communities where air contamination rates are rising extensively enough to harm public health and the environment.

Nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons, and particle pollution released from gasoline and diesel automobiles are the primary cause and serious environmental problems. Hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles produce only water, releasing heat and none of these hazardous chemicals.

Hydrogen produced from low- or zero-emission technologies, such as solar, wind, nuclear power, and fossil fuels with enhanced emissions regulations and carbon capture technology, has numerous environmental and health advantages.

Because travel and vehicles emit nearly a third of all carbon dioxide in the United States, harnessing these resources to manufacture hydrogen for mobility can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Current Developments

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Toyota Hydrogen fuel car showcase in Tokyo, Japan (source)

Numerous nations have considered hydrogen fuel in their state-wide recovery efforts after the pandemic.

Net-zero aims and climate risk declarations have been included in national legislation in Canada and the United Kingdom.

The globe is building international distribution channels for associated zero-carbon solutions by openly acknowledging hydrogen’s roles in due process.

By 2030, China expects 1 million hydrogen fuel cell automobiles on the streets. As per the China Hydrogen Alliance, the worth of its hydrogen output might exceed 1 trillion yuan ($155 billion) by 2025.

Australia plans to spend $214 million to expedite the construction of four hydrogen centers with a combined capacity of 26 gigawatts.

In Japan, Toyota Motor Corp. has substantially spent on fuel cell technology leading the world in hydrogen filling stations. Similarly, South Korea is constructing hydrogen recharging centers and other facilities in six towns where it intends to make hydrogen the primary energy source by 2025.

To Wrap Up

For decades, the climate change media has been chanting, “Expect a massive rise in the application and development of sustainable hydrogen energy.”

While large-scale commercial production and development still face significant technological and financial challenges, there seems to be more optimism today.

Hydrogen promoters have discovered more than a dozen possible practical utilities for reducing carbon emissions. For starters, it might be used for long-distance power trucks, trains, and planes.

For household cooking and heating purposes, energy firms are dabbling with combining hydrogen and natural gas to evolve in the energy field and address climate concerns. 

Other substantial improvements, such as rules encouraging the use of green hydrogen in commerce and residential applications, will be required for hydrogen to become a dominant fuel source.

It will also need an efficient system and people willing to change their habits. One of the biggest challenges is generating enough of the proper kind of hydrogen at a value that companies and users can embrace.

The administration will almost certainly vary by region and country. And implementing low-carbon residential heating, for instance, will alter depending on the circumstances. 

Power generation will be easier in locations where numerous new structures are being constructed. And although it will be highly challenging to power up the existing building inventory in some areas, hydrogen will help humans move away from fossil fuels to a certain degree. 

It is realistic to predict that providing sufficient green hydrogen to switch today’s committed consumption for fuel and a potential future market for hard-to-abate businesses would take several years.

However, hydrogen is not the sole green technology to fight climate change until it can be produced with a surplus of renewable energy.

At the current rate of development, hydrogen will not be able to regenerate many ecological and climatic global conditions shortly.

Hence, development in hydrogen technology is now a dire need for the planet, and we cannot wait any longer to focus on other alternatives as the earth starts to perish.

(Last Updated on November 1, 2022 by Sadrish Dabadi)

Shradha Bhatta holds a Bachelors’s Degree in Social Work along with a Post-graduate degree in Project Management from Georgian College in Canada. Shradha enjoys writing on a variety of topics and takes pleasure in discovering new ideas. She likes traveling and spending time with nature. She is a very people-person who loves talking about climate change and alerting people to go green!