Slowing Climate Change: Is Green Hydrogen the Secret?
Joe Biden will take over as the 46th president of the United States on January 20, 2021. That is great news for renewable energy investors.
Renewable energy sources are rapidly replacing fossil fuel energy sources like coal and natural gas. But wind and solar can’t be used as baseload sources.
Both need some form of energy storage to smooth out their intermittencies. So utilities are now installing storage as quickly as they’re integrating renewables into their distribution networks.
Today, much of that is being handled by lithium-ion or flow batteries.
But there’s another way to store electricity.
I’m talking about liquefied hydrogen.
Energy Storage Made Easy
Hydrogen is one of the most abundant elements on Earth. And it’s nonpolluting.
That’s because when you burn hydrogen, you get energy, heat and water vapor. Nothing else.
Even though it’s abundant, hydrogen is almost always combined with other elements or compounds. That’s where renewable energy comes in.
Utilities and other renewable energy providers can store excess energy in the form of hydrogen gas.
To produce it, excess electricity is run through an electrolyzer. These high-tech systems split water into hydrogen and oxygen. (They’re called “power to hydrogen” projects.)
The hydrogen produced can be stored in tanks. It can then be used later to power a steam turbine connected to a generator. The generator can run any time power is needed.
This neatly solves the storage problem for solar and wind. No batteries needed.
Green hydrogen has other uses too. For one thing, it can be used to power hybrid electric vehicles.
These cars contain an electric motor, a battery and a hydrogen fuel cell.
When the battery gets low, the hydrogen fuel cell produces electricity to recharge the battery and power the car at the same time.
A small hydrogen fuel cell can power a laptop computer. A big one can power a utility power station.
Other applications include emergency power backup, portable power, material handling and transportation.
Fuel cells operate at higher efficiencies (up to 60%) than combustion-based engines.
The same efficiency gain is true for power plant-sized installations. Fuel cells have few moving parts and are very quiet in operation.
But lots of hydrogen is going to be needed to power all the new fuel cell applications. And that’s going to come from electrolyzers.
Not surprisingly, green hydrogen projects are popping up all over the place. And the benefits are endless.
For example, the U.K. uses a tremendous amount of natural gas. In fact, natural gas is responsible for half of the country’s total energy use. But now an experiment is underway to blend hydrogen and natural gas together in a 1-4 ratio.
The resulting gas produces fewer greenhouse gases. If the entire U.K. were running on this blended gas it would be the equivalent of permanently parking 2.5 million cars.
There are plenty of other applications emerging for hydrogen fuel cells. Think about medium- and heavy-duty commercial vehicles, transit buses, short- and long-haul trucks, and airport shuttle vans. Compared with a 260-kilowatt-hour electric truck battery, 25 kilograms of hydrogen will offer twice the range.
The truck’s fuel system will be 10 times lighter than with a battery. It will also refuel up to 15 times faster than a battery.
This is all just the start. New hydrogen projects are being announced almost daily.
Talgo is a train manufacturer in Spain. Last week, it announced that it is building a green hydrogen-powered train.
The Vittal-One is scheduled to hit the tracks in 2023. It will have an advanced drive system based on fuel cells.
The train will also have a battery bank. This will be used to increase starting acceleration.
These batteries will be recharged during train braking. This is known as regenerative braking.
Another hydrogen blending project was announced last week. Cummins (NYSE: CMI) and the gas division of Enbridge (NYSE: ENB) are developing a pilot project in Markham, Ontario.
The two companies plan to inject hydrogen into the local natural gas network. When operational in 2021, it will serve 3,600 customers.
I’m very excited about the future investment prospects for the fast-moving green hydrogen sector. I’ll continue to report on them here.
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