LITTLETON, Colorado, March 21 – Hydrogen has been touted as a potential answer to climate-related energy challenges, from powering vehicles to generating electricity, while only releasing harmless water vapor.
Influential stakeholders, including fossil fuel companies, are backing hydrogen as they transition to producing, distributing, and storing hydrogen to avoid stranded oil and gas assets.
For a hydrogen-powered future to be feasible, demand must increase enough to justify a significant rise in hydrogen production, preferably from renewable energy sources. Currently, most hydrogen is produced from natural gas, known as blue hydrogen, with only a small amount of green hydrogen produced from renewables.
Companies are planning to increase green hydrogen production in the next decade by using solar or wind energy to power electrolysers, which split water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hope is that the growth of renewable energy will lead to a surge in supply and a reduction in green power costs.
The path to greater hydrogen supply seems viable, but demand remains uncertain. Although hydrogen can be used for various purposes, predicting the most significant applications decades from now is challenging. Many potential users of green hydrogen currently use little or none of it and would require time and resources to adapt their power systems.
Today, over 90% of the world’s hydrogen is used for just three industrial applications: reducing sulfur content in diesel, producing methanol for fuel blending, and creating ammonia for fertilizers and chemicals. Risk assurance firm DNV projects that by 2050, industrial heating will become the largest single usage of hydrogen, followed by refineries, chemical producers, smelters, and fuel blending operations.
However, hydrogen’s price compared to alternative fuels and the ability to supply hydrogen economically to where it is needed remain significant obstacles. The industry must overcome these challenges for hydrogen to become the clean-burning solution to today’s dirty energy problems.
One significant obstacle is the lack of infrastructure for hydrogen delivery. In Europe and the United States, existing natural gas pipelines can be converted to carry hydrogen, making it relatively easy for businesses to switch from gas to hydrogen. However, in countries like China and India, many industries rely on coal boilers and lack a network of pipelines that could distribute hydrogen affordably and safely.
Both China and India plan to expand pipeline connectivity, but prioritizing renewable energy development over fossil fuels may limit the scale of pipeline infrastructure. As a result, industries might have to rely on costlier delivery methods, such as truck fleets, which could slow the adoption of hydrogen as a primary fuel source.
Another potential market for hydrogen is the transportation sector. Aviation and rail systems are expected to become notable hydrogen users once prices decrease and knowledge about handling and storage improves. This will, however, require investments in research, development, and infrastructure to ensure the safe and efficient use of hydrogen in these sectors.
Office and residential buildings connected to gas systems could also benefit from hydrogen for heating and power, accounting for around 6% of global use by 2050. Transitioning to hydrogen in these buildings would require modifications to existing systems and a reliable supply network.
In conclusion, the potential for a hydrogen-powered economy exists, with various industries projected to increase their hydrogen use by 2050. However, overcoming challenges such as infrastructure development, delivery methods, and cost competitiveness with alternative fuels will be critical to realizing hydrogen’s potential as a clean energy solution.