The Hydrogen Economy

What is the hydrogen economy?

Due to its abundance, high energy density, and potential to generate energy with water as the only byproduct, the use of hydrogen as a fuel is receiving increasing interest. Hydrogen fuel is particularly beneficial for energy-intensive industries where other renewable energy sources are currently unsuitable.

Climate change affecting global weather systems - hurricanes threatening the American east coast

The environmental potential of hydrogen

To avoid the critical 2°C increase of global temperatures, greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced 85% by 2050. This poses a serious challenge for many energy-intensive industries, including commercial transport, shipping, and heavy industry. Currently battery technology is insufficient to meet energy demands, so an alternative solution is required. Hydrogen fuel offers is a promising carbon-neutral solution. However, there are many hurdles to overcome before sustainable hydrogen production can be achieved.

Challenges to reaching scaled adoption of hydrogen

To bring about a fundamental change in what powers certain industries, significant infrastructure and technology changes are required. While hydrogen technology is ever-advancing, many challenges in the generation, distribution, and use of hydrogen remain. In some cases, established infrastructures can be used to implement hydrogen systems. However, significant cross-sector shifts are required to unlock the full potential of hydrogen and decarbonize whole industries. Several technological and scaling challenges must first be addressed to make the transition economical for industries.

Hydrogen energy storage with renewable energy sources
A hydrogen-powered vehicle fuels up

Fuel cell electric vehicles

A hot discussion topic in the renewables space is on hydrogen vs. battery-powered vehicles. Battery technology is well established and can more easily fit into our current infrastructure, however batteries are heavy and cannot be efficiently used for transport. Hydrogen technology has higher energy density and is therefore not so heavy, but methods of generation, storage and filling station infrastructure are still in development.

Electrolysis technology - green hydrogen production

The method of hydrogen production is the key factor to the environmental and commercial viability of hydrogen. Electrolysis presents a viable method of hydrogen production, however process efficiency and scalability must be improved. For now, producing green hydrogen is much more expensive than using fossil fuels to create hydrogen. The cost gap is closing, but this remains a major hurdle that must be overcome before widespread adoption of hydrogen can be achieved.

DI water for electrolysis
Photovoltaic panels for solar hydrogen power

Solar powered hydrogen production

There are two primary ways to generate hydrogen from solar energy. Photochemical hydrogen production uses solar energy directly to split water providing a high-efficiency means of hydrogen production.

While solar powered electrolysis uses solar cells to generate electricity and power electrolysers. The use of already established technologies allows immediate implementation and can provide certain geographies with large amounts of green hydrogen.

Waste to hydrogen

Converting waste into a usable energy source is not a novel concept, but now several companies are exploring the use of plasma technology to break down waste to its base elements in order to produce hydrogen.

Plasma laser as an example of a specialty fiber optic cable
The Ruhr Region in Germany

Hydrogen valleys

For countries with a pre-existing strong renewable energy infrastructure, moving to include hydrogen technology has been a clear next step to strengthen and diversify their renewable energy systems. Each of these regions has its own unique strengths and applications of hydrogen technology.

Hydrogen in the maritime industry

The shipping industry contributes 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Given the long distances covered and the large energy requirements of commercial ships, converting the industry to renewable power is particularly difficult. Energy dense hydrogen presents an ideal solution. While some storage and filling station challenges must first be overcome, there are much fewer individual vehicles and transport hubs in maritime than in land-based transport. This presents an interesting opportunity for the rapid adoption of hydrogen technologies.

Rotterdam port
Military hydrogen hybrid drone

Hydrogen powered drones

Battery powered drones are greatly limited by the power and weight of battery technology to sustain long distance and heavy cargo transport. Hydrogen provides a promising alternative to battery power for UAV’s, given the greater energy density, quick refuel times, and better lifetime durability.

Alicat in the hydrogen industry

Alicat passionately supports scientific and engineering development of cutting edge technologies. For several years now, many hydrogen fuel cell regulation and testing applications have used our mass flow and pressure solutions with the goal of advancing various aspects of the hydrogen economy.

Using Alicat controllers for fuel cell system testing & optimization