Can Green Hydrogen extend renewables reach beyond the power sector?

I read a great article on Bloomberg today about the potential and challenges facing the “green” hydrogen industry. What is green hydrogen, well the article Hydrogen Is a Trillion Dollar Bet on the Future does a good job of explaining the color spectrum of how hydrogen production is being classified these days as well as presenting a good summation of the potential impacts of using cheap scalable renewables to crack water into hydrogen in what is essentially a different form of energy storage compared with charging more traditional chemical batteries.

“If proposals to build a new industry producing so-called green hydrogen succeed, we may have the final piece of the puzzle to prevent devastating climate change. If they fail, we may be about to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a white elephant.”

David Fickling

Another good article on the topic is from Jim Robbins on YaleEnvironmental360, Green Hydrogen: Could It Be Key to a Carbon-Free Economy?

Jim interviewed Michael Liebreich, a Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst in the United Kingdom and a green hydrogen skeptic for his piece and I found the run down of challenges outlined by Liebreich to be sobering, “Its storage requires compression to 700 times atmospheric pressure, refrigeration to 253 degrees Celsius… It carries one quarter the energy per unit volume of natural gas… It can embrittle metal; it escapes through the tiniest leaks and yes, it really is explosive.” So clearly while there is great potential with this technology we face a long list of challenges that are material impediments to scaling this resource across the economy that is in anyway similar to what we have done with hydrocarbons.

“In Japan, a new green hydrogen plant, one of the world’s largest, just opened near Fukishima — an intentionally symbolic location given the plant’s proximity to the site of the 2011 nuclear disaster. It will be used to power fuel cells, both in vehicles and at stationary sites.”

Jim Robbins

That is the issue with so many of these alternatives, hydrocarbons are not just cheap they are incredibly easy to store and transport, energy dense, can be transformed into many useful derivatives from gasoline to plastic.

That replacement cycle which is what I always try to draw attention to is critical for humanity and not because of climate change but because these valuable resources are finite. We will run out of oil and gas at some point. Is is 50 years or 100, who knows, but it is not much more than that by even the most generous estimates of reserves and consumption.

It has taken 160 years to progress from that first well in Titusville PA to the global energy web we have today that powers the vast majority of our economy. While we can move faster today based on the foundation that has been built it will not be quick, cheap or painless. Hydrogen can play a role and these articles correctly point out both the incredible potential and tremendous challenges facing the commercial deployment of Hydrogen as a significant energy resource.

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