Green Hydrogen to Power the Future

  • Hydrogen is one of the greenest sources of energy.
  • But most means of hydrogen production are not eco-friendly.
  • “Green hydrogen,” produced from renewable energy, is the greenest way to produce electricity.

The real and immediate dangers of climate change we are seeing today have started our race to carbon neutrality, but at this point in time, over 70% of the electricity we use is still being produced from fossil fuels such as petroleum and coal. Understandably, global interest in green energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydrogen power is increasing. In particular, hydrogen is being hailed as the next-generation energy source because it is the most abundant chemical substance in the universe and is environmentally friendly because of the complete lack of greenhouse gas emission in its conversion into electricity or heat. Last year, the EU announced the “European Green Deal,” while Korea announced its “Hydrogen Economy Roadmap.” These documents are a manifestation of the EU’s and Korea’s hydrogen energy aspirations, and are rooted in the belief that a hydrogen ecosystem is key to achieving carbon neutrality.

Still, there is a major challenge that must be overcome if a hydrogen ecosystem is to be created: pure hydrogen is needed to acquire hydrogen energy, and hydrogen exists in nature structurally bound to other substances, such as water, petroleum, and gas. Separation of hydrogen from other substances requires energy—substantial energy—and with the technology available today, extracting pure hydrogen consumes more electricity than what is required to produce hydrogen. This is a problem, and its solution is to reduce the energy used to extract pure hydrogen by as much as possible. “Green hydrogen” is one such solution, and is hydrogen extracted using renewable energy.

1. Water electrolysis: Method of electrolyzing water using electrical energy to produce hydrogen and oxygen
2. Reform: Manipulation to improve quality of gasoline by changing the structure of hydrocarbons through thermal or catalytic action

The majority of hydrogen produced today is obtained from natural gas made up of carbon and hydrogen, through a process of reforming, in which a reaction of natural gas to heated steam is caused. This hydrogen production method is economical but environmentally harmful, because it also produces carbon dioxide. Collection of hydrogen that is a by-product of petrochemical and steelmaking processes is also environmentally harmful, and the hydrogen obtained in this manner is aptly referred to as “gray hydrogen.” The process of gray hydrogen production can be made more environmentally friendly by collecting the produced carbon dioxide before its atmospheric release. Hydrogen obtained in this way is called “blue hydrogen,” but blue hydrogen technology is not without its shortcomings. The most advanced method of hydrogen production is electrolysis of water, but this method also is not environmentally friendly because fossil fuel is used to produce the electricity used for electrolysis, not to mention that there is a high base cost of production.

Over time, we found that we can use electricity produced from renewable energy, such as solar and wind power, for the electrolysis of water, enabling the production of hydrogen without any pollutants. We call this perfectly clean energy “green hydrogen.” Australia, Germany, and France have already embraced green hydrogen. In Australia, a large green hydrogen production facility is being built that will be powered by solar panels in the deserts of the Pilbara. Green hydrogen investment is increasing around the world.

Notable hydrogen economy developments

Source: Hydrogen Council,Mirae Asset Daewoo Research Center

The global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company predicted that the world’s hydrogen market will grow to generate over USD 2.5 trillion in revenue and over 30 million jobs by 2050. IHS Markit expects global green hydrogen investments to exceed USD 700 million in 2023, from USD 30 million in 2020. The salient issue of green hydrogen production cost can be resolved in two ways: the first is to create economies of scale through mass production, and the second is to use a new technology more economical than hydroelectrolysis to produce hydrogen.

The US is increasing its domestic hydrogen energy supply through public-private cooperation. The Wall Street Journal reported that the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the largest municipal utility of the US, was investing USD 1.9 billion to redevelop a Utah coal-fired thermoelectric power plant into a green hydrogen power plant, where solar and wind energy will be used to produce hydrogen. After its scheduled 2025 completion, it will operate at a 30% hydrogen generation capacity initially, before gradually increase to 100% within a 20-year period in line with the State of California policy for carbon-free electricity by 2045. NextEra Energy, the US energy company with the largest domestic solar and wind energy capacity, announced early this year its plan to invest USD 65 million to produce hydrogen with surplus solar energy, which will be supplied to Florida power plants. 

The Wind2H2 project, which aims to supply wind energy-produced hydrogen through natural gas pipelines, is underway in the US. By producing hydrogen with electricity generated from renewable energy for distribution by existing gas supply networks, economical and eco-friendly benefits will both be attained. Dominion Energy, a US energy company supplying electricity and natural gas in 20 states, is planning a venture in which 5% hydrogen will be mixed into its gas supply starting early next year.

The global quest for green hydrogen

The EU has announced the plan for the staged development of its hydrogen industry until 2050. In stage 1, hydroelectrolysis hydrogen production facilities with a capacity of 6GW will be developed by 2024 to increase annual green hydrogen production to 1 million tons. In stage 2, the hydroelectrolysis hydrogen production facilities will be expanded to reach 40GW capacity by 2030 to increase annual green hydrogen production to 10 million tons. Stage 3 will see the supply of green hydrogen in all areas of renewable energy by 2050. The EU has created the European Clean Hydrogen Alliance and placed it in charge of this development.

Germany is targeting a nationwide renewable energy supply rate of 50% by 2030 and is producing green hydrogen from solar and wind energy to meet this goal. It announced its green hydrogen R&D will receive funding of EUR 9 billion. Having developed the world’s first hydrogen cell train in 2018, Germany intends to supply 1.8 million hydrogen cars and install 1,000 hydrogen charging facilities by 2030.

One of the world’s first to pursue a hydrogen-based future, Japan released its Strategic Roadmap for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in 2014 and began forming framework hydrogen policies in 2017. At present, Japan has the most hydrogen charging stations in the world with over 140, and is planning to supply 800,000 hydrogen-electric cars and 1,200 hydrogen-electric buses and build 900 more hydrogen charging stations by 2030. Construction of the Fukushima Hydrogen Energy Research Field (FH2R), the world’s largest green hydrogen production facility, was completed in March of this year.

In March 2020, China added the item “Development of Hydrogen Energy Facilities and Hydrogen Charging Stations” to its Government Work Report. The specified plans indicate 100 hydrogen charging stations will be installed in 2020, to be increased to 1,000 by 2030. The “Made in China 2025” project, announced in 2014, also includes plans for developing China’s hydrogen vehicle industry, including the supply of 10,000 hydrogen vehicles by 2020, to be increased to 2 million by 2030.

The Korean government’s Hydrogen Economy Roadmap, announced last year, provides insight into Korea’s noteworthy hydrogen aspirations. The three major plans are for the development of world-class technology in the area of hydrogen vehicles and fuel cells, the production and supply of hydrogen through existing petrochemical plants, and the installation of extractors in Korea’s nationwide LNG supply networks to create a foundation for hydrogen supply. Hydrogen vehicle supply is scheduled to reach 80,000 by 2022 and 6.2 million by 2040, and over 2GW in household fuel cells will be supplied by 2040. Korea has advanced hydrogen vehicle and fuel cell technology, but its green (water electrolysis) hydrogen production technology needs improvement, rated at just 60% to 70% of the world’s green hydrogen leaders. Making this improvement is critical for Korea’s green hydrogen energy sector.

How to use green hydrogen

Energy storage systems (ESS) store electricity produced by solar power and wind power generation, and can benefit from green hydrogen technology. Energy storage systems today use lithium batteries, which only provide some 3,000 charges and are vulnerable to fire. Lithium batteries are also inferior to hydrogen in their weight-to-energy-storage ratio, and waste lithium batteries are an environmental hazard. Power-to-gas (P2G) technology is an eco-friendly alternative to lithium batteries that enables the mass storage of electricity, and can be incorporated into LNG supply networks.

Data centers are an energy-heavy operation, the electricity cost of which makes up 30% to 50% of total operating cost. Green hydrogen energy will make data center operations greener, and stored liquid hydrogen can be used as server coolant before use for energy.

Because green hydrogen is intrinsically related to renewable energy, an advance in one of the renewable energies such as solar power technology that reduces generation cost will make green hydrogen more cost-effective. This is one promising aspect of the joint growth of the fields of renewable energy and hydrogen energy.

Release Date: Sep 07 2020

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is spending USD 1.9 billion to transform a Utah coal-fired power plant into a green hydrogen power plant.

Connected Article: Green Hydrogen to Power the Future

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Release Date: Sep 07 2020

The EU seeks to supply its entire renewable energy sector with green hydrogen by 2050.

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Release Date: Sep 07 2020

Plagued by extreme pollution, China is one of the world’s most active countries in the hydrogen vehicle industry. It intends to supply 2 million hydrogen vehicles by 2030.

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Release Date: Sep 07 2020

Germany is spending EUR 9 billion on green hydrogen R&D.

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“Green Hydrogen Energy” is an ultimate clean energy source that does not produce pollutants. This issue takes a look into hydrogen energy, which is emerging as a key power source to lead a future society, to the extent that a new phrase of “hydrogen society” has emerged, as well as promising application areas of green hydrogen energy.

Min-su Jo
IT, Science, Business columnist
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