The hydrogen economy is an envisioned future in which hydrogen is used for substantial fraction of the nation’s energy and services, such as a fuel for heat and hydrogen vehicles, for energy storage, and for long-distance transport of energy. This vision can become a reality if hydrogen can be produced from domestic energy sources economically and in an environmental-friendly manner.
Through electrolysis, the electrolyzer system creates hydrogen gas. The oxygen that is left over is released into the atmosphere or can be captured or stored. This stored hydrogen can be supplied for other industrial processes or even used for medical gases in some cases. The hydrogen gas can either be stored as a compressed gas or liquefied, and since hydrogen is an energy carrier, it can be used to power any hydrogen fuel cell electric application — including trains, buses, trucks, or data centers. Measures have been taken by governments to boost the demand for water electrolysis. For instance, the US Department of Energy (DOE) has set technical targets and cost contributions for hydrogen production from water electrolysis.
The interest in hydrogen as an alternative transportation fuel is based on its potential for domestic production, its use in fuel cells for zero-emission electric vehicles, and the fuel cell vehicle’s potential for high efficiency. Hydrogen fuel cells produce electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen atoms. This combination results in an electrical current. A fuel cell is two to three times more efficient than an internal combustion engine running on gasoline. The high cost of fuel cells and the limited availability of hydrogen fueling stations have limited the number of hydrogen-fueled vehicles.
Although green hydrogen is still very much in its infancy, here are many countries that are taking steps to be at the forefront of developing what could be a major source of energy in the future.
In August 2021, the Russian government unveiled its hydrogen strategy, which hinged on pilot projects for low-carbon hydrogen and the creation of consortia. “It also provides for the creation of at least three territorial production clusters. Northwest will specialize in the export of hydrogen to European countries and the implementation of measures to reduce the carbon footprint of export-oriented enterprises. Vostochny will supply hydrogen to Asian countries, as well as develop hydrogen infrastructure in the transport and energy sectors. Finally, the Arctic cluster is tasked with providing a low-carbon electricity supply to the Russian Arctic,” reads the document. The main focus will be on steam reforming of methane and coal gasification, combined with carbon capture and utilization (CCU) technologies. “The first stage is designed for the next three and a half years,” Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said in a meeting with other representatives of the government. The large export-oriented production facilities should start operations between 2035 and 2050. “The development of hydrogen energy will reduce the risks of losing energy markets,” concluded Mishustin.
Along with electric vehicles, Beijing sees green hydrogen as a potential way of decarbonizing transportation, WoodMac’s Gallagher said. The country’s targets include 5,000 fuel-cell vehicles by 2020 and 1 million by 2030. There are also tax exemptions for hydrogen vehicles. And Wuhan, the capital of Hubei in central China, is being styled as a hydrogen city with up to 100 fueling stations for around 5,000 fuel-cell vehicles by 2025. “In addition, there are targets to have something like 100 manufacturers in the greater Wuhan area that are manufacturing components for fuel cells or other elements of the hydrogen economy,” said Gallagher.
In June 2018, then-Minister for Ecological and Inclusive Transition Nicolas Hulot vowed to make France a world leader in hydrogen as he unveiled a €100 million ($117 million) investment plan for the technology. Norway has vast potential to create hydrogen from hydropower and is pioneering the use of fuel cells in ferries
Germany is already a front-runner in hydrogen technology development, is aiming to up its game with plans for 20 research labs, with a total budget of €100 million ($110 million). “Hydrogen is one of the hottest topics in the energy transition in the country at the moment,” Inga Posch, managing director at FNB Gas, the federation of Germany’s gas network operators, told Bloomberg.
Japan is arguably green hydrogen’s most advanced market worldwide, “especially with respect to importing hydrogen for domestic applications such as transport,” said Hablutzel. The country leads the way in hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle development thanks to the efforts of auto makers such as Toyota and Honda. And policymakers are keen to stimulate green hydrogen as an alternative to liquefied natural gas, which Japan imports more of than any other country. Recently it announced a global action plan to set up 10,000 refueling stations over the next decade.
South Korea has ambitious hydrogen rollout plans, which include getting 850,000 fuel-cell vehicles on the road by 2030, up from 3,000 in 2019. The government is also planning to hand out $1.8 billion in vehicle and refueling station subsidies, even though Reuters reported last month that stations were still not economical to run.
While the U.S. as a whole barely merits a mention in terms of green hydrogen development, one state, California, is racing to become a world-leading market. California’s interest in hydrogen is driven partly by aggressive decarbonization targets, including phasing out all diesel or natural-gas-powered buses by 2040, and partly by the presence of some of the industry’s most high-profile technology developers. Foremost among these is Silicon Valley-based fuel-cell maker Bloom Energy. But the company is still struggling to achieve something no publicly traded fuel-cell company has ever done: turn an annual profit. In the United States, several vehicle manufacturers have begun making light-duty hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles available in select regions such as Southern and Northern California where there is access to hydrogen fueling stations.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) awarded US$1 million for a collaborative project between three U.S. companies – Southern Company Gas, Electro-Active Technologies, and T2M Global – to advance next-generation clean hydrogen technologies. The project seeks to develop low-cost renewable hydrogen generation for use in transportation and distributed energy applications. “We are excited for this opportunity to work with our partners and the DOE in advancing the wet waste-to-clean hydrogen pathway and to help bring the hydrogen economy to reality,” said Robin Lanier, renewable gas director for Southern Company Gas. The project targets distributed generation of hydrogen from food waste, diverting the waste from landfills.
Hydrogen Economy Challenges
Hydrogen is a powerful fuel, and a frequent component in rocket fuel, but numerous technical challenges prevent the creation of a large-scale hydrogen economy. These include the difficulty of developing long-term storage, pipelines and engine equipment; a relative lack of off-the-shelf engine technology that can currently run safely on hydrogen; safety concerns due to the high reactivity of hydrogen fuel with environmental oxygen in the air; the expense of producing it by electrolysis; and a lack of efficient photochemical water splitting technology. Hydrogen can also be the fuel in a fuel cell, which produces electricity with high efficiency in a process which is the reverse of the electrolysis of water. The hydrogen economy is nevertheless slowly developing as a small part of the low-carbon economy.
Hydrogen is chiefly consumed by industry for refining petroleum, treating metals, producing fertilizer, and processing foods. As of 2019, 70 million tons of hydrogen are consumed daily in industrial processing such as on-site in oil refining, and in the production of ammonia (Haber process) and methanol (reduction of carbon monoxide).
There are no natural hydrogen deposits, but hydrogen is required for essential chemical processes. Therefore, the production of hydrogen plays a key role in any industrialized society.
Hydrogen production is the family of industrial methods for generating hydrogen. Hydrogen is primarily produced by steam reforming of natural gas. Other major sources include naphtha or oil reforming of refinery or other industrial off-gases, and partial oxidation of coal and other hydrocarbons. A small amount is obtained by water electrolysis and other sources.
Developing affordable methods for producing hydrogen with less damage to the environment is a goal of the hydrogen economy. Electrolysis of water using electricity produced from fossil fuels emits significant amounts of CO2.
“Hydrogen gas is a massively important industrial chemical for making fuel and fertilizer, among other things,” said Thomas Jaramillo, director of the SUNCAT Center for Interface Science and Catalysis, who led the research team. “It’s also a clean, high-energy-content molecule that can be used in fuel cells or to store energy generated by variable power sources like solar and wind. But most of the hydrogen produced today is made with fossil fuels, adding to the level of CO2 in the atmosphere. We need a cost-effective way to produce it with clean energy.”
Study shows a much cheaper catalyst can generate hydrogen in a commercial device
Researchers at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and Stanford University have shown for the first time that a cheap catalyst can split water and generate hydrogen gas for hours on end in the harsh environment of a commercial device.
Electrolysis works much like a battery in reverse: Rather than generating electricity, it uses electrical current to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The reactions that generate hydrogen and oxygen gas take place on different electrodes using different precious metal catalysts. In this case, the Nel Hydrogen team replaced the platinum catalyst on the hydrogen-generating side with a catalyst consisting of cobalt phosphide nanoparticles deposited on carbon to form a fine black powder, which was produced by the researchers at SLAC and Stanford. Like other catalysts, it brings other chemicals together and encourages them to react.
The electrolyzer technology, which is based on a polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM), has potential for large-scale hydrogen production powered by renewable energy, but it has been held back in part by the high cost of the precious metal catalysts, like platinum and iridium, needed to boost the efficiency of the chemical reactions.
There’s been extensive work over the years to develop alternatives to precious metal catalysts for PEM systems. Many have been shown to work in a laboratory setting, but Jaramillo said that to his knowledge this is the first to demonstrate high performance in a commercial electrolyzer.
The cobalt phosphide catalyst operated extremely well for the entire duration of the test, more than 1,700 hours—an indication that it may be hardy enough for everyday use in reactions that can take place at elevated temperatures, pressures and current densities and in extremely acidic conditions over extended lengths of time, said McKenzie Hubert, a graduate student in Jaramillo’s group who led the experiments with Laurie King, a SUNCAT research engineer who has since joined the faculty of Manchester Metropolitan University.
“Our group has been studying this catalyst and related materials for a while,” Hubert said, “and we took it from a fundamental lab-scale, experimental stage through testing it under industrial operating conditions, where you need to cover a much larger surface area with the catalyst and it has to function under much more challenging conditions.”
While the electrolyzer development was funded by the Defense Department, which is interested in the oxygen-generating side of electrolysis for use in submarines, Jaramillo said the work also aligns with the goals of DOE’s H2@Scale initiative, which brings DOE labs and industry together to advance the affordable production, transport, storage and use of hydrogen for a number of applications, and the fundamental catalyst research was funded by the DOE Office of Science.
“The performance of the cobalt phosphide catalyst needs to get a little bit better, and its synthesis would need to be scaled up,” she said. “But I was quite surprised at how stable these materials were. Even though their efficiency in generating hydrogen was lower than platinum’s, it was constant. A lot of things would degrade in that environment.”
While the platinum catalyst represents only about 8 percent of the total cost of manufacturing hydrogen with PEM, the fact that the market for the precious metal is so volatile, with prices swinging up and down, could hold back development of the technology, Ayers said. Reducing and stabilizing that cost will become increasingly important as other aspects of PEM electrolysis are improved to meet the increasing demand for hydrogen in fuel cells and other applications.
CSIRO on brink of hydrogen fuel cell breakthrough
CSIRO, Australia’s prime research body, said its developing technology that will solve issues of transporting hydrogen to bowsers that will refuel cars. CSIRO plan to transport hydrogen as ammonia (NH3) to bowsers. There, it can be transformed back to high-purity hydrogen for use in fuel cell vehicles.
“CSIRO’s membrane reactor technology will fill the gap between hydrogen production, distribution and delivery in the form a modular unit that can be used at, or near, a refuelling station,” the research organisation says. Brett Cooper, Chair of Renewable Hydrogen commented that CSIRO’s new membrane technology can build a new (and possibly carbon-free) export industry for Australia that could mirror the scale of the current LNG (liquefied natural gas) industry. He said: “With this technology, we can now deliver our renewable energy to Japan, Korea and across the Asia-Pacific region in liquid form, as renewable ammonia, and efficiently convert it back to pure hydrogen for cars, buses, power generation and industrial processes.
Researchers from Hyasta and the University of Wollongong have made a revolutionary discovery reported in April 2022
Hyasta is a research group formed out of the University of Wollongong (UOW) specifically to find a commercialisation solution for the electrolyser technology already developed by a team at UOW. According to It Matters To You, this electrolyser has the capacity to reach giga-scale hydrogen production by 2025; it also positions Hyasta – and by extension, Australia – at the forefront of the worldwide race to large-scale renewable hydrogen production. This electrolyser technology works by ensuring that the manufacturing, scaling, and installation processes are easy and will deliver higher output and efficiency than other existing technologies.
Experts from the research team reveal that if harnessed, the technology could save hydrogen producers billions in electricity costs by producing green hydrogen at the lowest cost in the world. Eventually, says It Matters To You, this affordable green hydrogen will surpass non-renewable, fossil fuel-derived, traditional hydrogen. Experts are confident that this technology will be the impetus for a large-scale automotive shift, not unlike the shift from combustion engines to electric motors.
Hydrogen generation Market
The hydrogen generation market size is projected to reach USD 201 billion by 2025 from an estimated USD 130 billion in 2020, at a CAGR of 9.2% during the forecast period. Increasing fuel cell power generation application is driving the growth of the market. Moreover, increasing adoption of electric vehicles leads to renewable energy deployment at large scale in Asia Pacific region, creates opportunities for hydrogen generation market.
Growing demand for petroleum products from developing countries is anticipated to drive the hydrogen generation market size in the coming years. Hydrogen is used in various refining processes including hydrocracking and hydrodesulfurization to crack bigger molecules into lighter ones and converted into more usable products.
The blue hydrogen is expected to grow at the highest CAGR during the forecast period.
Blue hydrogen is derived from natural gas through steam methane reforming (SMR). SMR mixes natural gas with very hot steam in the presence of a catalyst, where a chemical reaction creates hydrogen and carbon monoxide. Additional water is added to the mixture, converting the carbon monoxide to carbon dioxide and creating more hydrogen. The carbon dioxide emissions produced are then captured and stored underground using the carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) technology, leaving nearly pure hydrogen. The cost of generating blue hydrogen is low. However, hydrogen also presents challenges when moved in large quantities, as it is light in weight. Alberta is aiming to export blue hydrogen globally by 2040. For instance, in October 2020, Alberta’s government announced a hydrogen strategy focused on carbon emissions to be competitive amid the global transition to sustainable energy. The strategy identifies the opportunity of using Albertas natural gas resources and its experience with carbon capture and storage (CCS) to produce low-emission blue hydrogen for local use or export to other domestic and international markets. Therefore, increasing demand for capturing and reusing carbon emissions drive the blue hydrogen segment.
Chemical applications are expected to exceed USD 95 billion by 2024. Increasing ammonia demand from the fertilizer industry will stimulate the industry growth. Rising crop prices and favorable weather conditions are expected to augment fertilizer demand.
China hydrogen generation market share accounted for over 35% of the Asia Pacific industry in 2015 and is predicted to witness substantial growth during the forecast period, largely due to escalating urea demand.
Rapid rise in demand for Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) in Asia Pacific region is likely to drive the market for hydrogen generation in the coming years. Hydrogen finds its application in various modes of transportation, such as buses, trains, fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEV), and others (including marine, airplane, and drones). FCEVs are powered by hydrogen. They are more efficient than conventional internal combustion engine vehicles and produce no tailpipe emissions; they only emit water vapor and warm air. Fuel cell vehicles use hydrogen to power the electric motor by combining hydrogen and oxygen (from the air) to produce electricity, which runs the motor. This process of converting hydrogen gas into electricity produces only water and heat as byproducts, thus eliminating harmful gaseous emissions. It is expected that fuel cell cars and trucks can reduce emissions by over 30% compared with their gasoline-powered counterparts. Refueling a fuel cell electric vehicle takes less than 10 minutes. Therefore, FCEV vehicles are expected to increase the demand for hydrogen.
Asia Pacific is one of the leading markets for adopting green technologies to meet the government targets for reducing GHG emissions. Japan and South Korea are heavily investing in fuel cell adoption since 2009 because of the commercial deployment of Japanese fuel cell micro-CHP products. Japan is the first nation to commercialize fuel cells and is supporting the projects related to the use of fuel cells in residential and automotive applications. It aims to deploy green hydrogen on a large scale. The country plans to have 200,00 green hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and 320 hydrogen refueling stations by 2025 to meet the global carbon emission standards. Singapore, India, and Malaysia are also showing interest and have just started or are expected to start exclusive programs to promote fuel cells in regional markets. These countries are initially focusing on backup power (stationary application) fuel cells.
The industrial gas sector is likely to be one of the first to benefit from the move toward a hydrogen (H2) economy. They already have much of the infrastructure, and the largest players are already running pilot clean H2 projects that could come on stream by 2030. Existing end markets, such as oil refining, chemicals, and later on possibly fertilizers, will likely also be among the early adopters of H2. Net zero commitments imply the full decarbonization of hard-to-abate sectors such as steel, but using hydrogen to do so would be extremely costly. S&P Global Ratings therefore sees steelmakers’ credit quality as most at risk since the sector’s profitability has been weak for years. Companies likely to benefit most from the long-term potential include manufacturers of industrial-scale renewable power generation equipment, and engineering groups offering green energy and electrolysis technology-related solutions and services.
Companies operating in the hydrogen generation industry include Nuvera Fuel Cells, Messer Group, Taiyo Nippon Sanso Corporation, Showa Denko, Caloric Anlagenbau, Xebec Adsorption, Iwatani Corporation, Praxair Technology, Hydrogenics, Linde, Air Liquide, and Air Products and Chemicals.
References and Resources also include: