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The Hydrogen Energy Dream

Umair Irfan wrote . . . . . . . . .

Between the battery electrics, plug-in hybrids, and radar-festooned self-driving cars on the streets here in San Francisco, the slick red Toyota Mirai doesn’t turn many heads.

That’s despite it being one of the most technologically advanced cars in the world and one of the rarest. Since it went on sale in 2015, Toyota has sold only about 10,000 of the sedans in the United States (out of a total of approximately 290 million registered cars in the country). Yet it easily blends in with traffic.

The Mirai takes styling cues from Toyota’s more mundane offerings, like the Corolla and the Camry. Inside the cabin, it has the fit, finish, noise isolation, and heated seats of a luxury car. Behind the wheel, the Mirai has the torquey pull of an electric motor, launching up steep streets and feeling far more nimble than its 4,200-pound weight would suggest.

It’s only when you pop the hood that you can see what sets the Mirai apart: a tidy silver block with the Toyota logo and the words “fuel cell.” And behind the back seat is a tank filled with hydrogen gas — the most abundant element in the universe, and potentially a clean fuel whose main “waste” product is water.

The world is desperate for more ways to curb carbon dioxide pollution. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, global greenhouse gas emissions have to peak and decline by 2025 to keep warming this century below 1.5 degrees Celsius. That’s less than 1,000 days away, yet global emissions are still rising. And transportation alone accounts for 20 percent of global emissions.

That’s where hydrogen energy comes in — companies like Toyota think it could be the future, or at least a part of it (“Mirai” means “future” in Japanese). While other clean energy technologies like battery-powered vehicles have gained momentum, they aren’t rolling out fast enough or cheap enough. Hydrogen could help get the world to its climate goals faster by powering not only cars like the Mirai, but also ships and aircraft in the near future.

Hydrogen has potential uses beyond vehicles, too: It can make synthetic fuels and store power for the electricity grid; it can also clean up industries that are notoriously hard to decarbonize, like steel manufacturing.

These promising use cases have driven interest and investment in hydrogen as fuel in the past, which is why you may have heard about it before: Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama touted hydrogen and invested government money into researching and developing the fuel. But the hype faded each time as high production costs, practical challenges, and a limited infrastructure for hydrogen-powered vehicles got in the way. For hydrogen-powered cars to truly take off anywhere, they’ll first require a vast network of fueling stations, pipelines, and producers — essentially a hydrogen economy — to compete and win against fossil fuels. The US has never gotten close to building something like this.

But for now, the momentum behind hydrogen energy is once again building as its demand grows and the technology behind it improves. According to 2018 data, hydrogen fuel cells have dropped 60 percent in price since 2006, while their durability increased fourfold.

In 2021, Toyota sold more than 2,600 Mirais in the US, a record. Other hydrogen cars have entered the market too, including the Hyundai Nexo and the Honda Clarity. As of March 1, more than 12,000 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles have been sold or leased in the US. Meanwhile, Delta Airlines and Airbus in March signed an agreement to develop hydrogen-powered aircraft. New hydrogen production plants are in the works in the US. In February, President Joe Biden announced close to $10 billion in funding to boost hydrogen production, infrastructure, and research.

Overseas, China announced plans to produce as much as 200,000 tons of carbon-free hydrogen per year to help run a fleet of 50,000 fuel cell-powered vehicles by 2025. The United Kingdom is aiming to double its hydrogen production. Globally, hydrogen production and transportation has received more than $80 billion in investment.

In a moment when the urgency of the climate crisis cannot be understated, hydrogen is getting another chance to help clean up the planet.

The hydrogen palette, explained

Like many clean technologies, hydrogen has tricky nuances, especially when it comes to its “clean” credentials. For one thing, many researchers and engineers would argue that hydrogen is not an energy source; it’s an energy carrier. It’s analogous to a battery, which can hold energy but still needs another way to charge it. While hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, it’s usually attached to other molecules here on earth.

To use it as a fuel, you must first form hydrogen gas, H2 (two hydrogen atoms stuck together), which requires a source of hydrogen atoms and an energy input. Hydrogen gas is more of a middleman between an energy source and its use in a car, boat, or power plant. It often takes more energy to make H2 than you get from using it, similar to how a battery requires a bit more energy to charge up than it releases in use. According to the International Energy Agency, hydrogen production accounts for 830 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year, equivalent to the footprint of the United Kingdom and Indonesia combined.

Hydrogen itself is an odorless, colorless gas no matter how it’s produced, but the various ways to make hydrogen are typically categorized by color. The main types of hydrogen to pay attention to are gray hydrogen and green hydrogen.

In the US, 95 percent of hydrogen is gray hydrogen, which is made with steam-methane reforming. The process uses steam as hot as 1,800°F to react with methane under high pressure, yielding hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. It’s cheap, but it has a carbon footprint: Every kilogram of gray hydrogen results in about 10 kilograms of carbon dioxide.

Green hydrogen, on the other hand, draws on renewable energy to split water into hydrogen and oxygen, a process called electrolysis. It produces zero carbon dioxide emissions, but it’s upward of twice as expensive to produce as gray hydrogen and it accounts for less than 1 percent of the world’s hydrogen production.

There are other colors too — blue, pink, turquoise, black, white — distinguished by where the hydrogen comes from and how much carbon dioxide the process emits.

For hydrogen to truly help with confronting the climate crisis, the world must figure out how to produce cleaner hydrogen at larger scales and lower cost. Last year, the US Department of Energy launched a research program called Hydrogen Shot with the aim of making clean hydrogen for $1 per kilogram in 10 years.

As for using hydrogen, there are two main ways to put it to work. One is to burn it like any other gas in engines, similar to conventional internal combustion engines that run on fuels like gasoline and diesel. Unlike those fuels, hydrogen doesn’t release harmful emissions when you burn it. The other way is to send hydrogen through a fuel cell. This device separates hydrogen into protons and electrons, with the electrons generating a current to power a motor and the protons reacting with oxygen in the air to make water.

Fuel cells actually have a long history dating back to the 1800s. But only in recent years did their cost, efficiency, and durability reach the levels needed for more widespread use.

With both fuel cells and combustion, hydrogen’s uses can scale from small unmanned aircraft to storing and dispatching electricity on the power grid. Its potential to reduce emissions is very real — but a lot has to fall into place first.

What it’s like to own a hydrogen fuel cell car

The ins and outs of owning a hydrogen-powered car illustrate the fuel’s promise, but also the immense hurdles it will have to overcome in order to take a bite of greenhouse gas emissions and anchor a new clean industry.

There are big advantages to a hydrogen car: It can refuel in five minutes, compared to sometimes hours of charging needed for a battery electric car. You also don’t need access to a car charger, but rather a pump similar to one used for gasoline, often at the same station.

That’s one reason that motivated Darren Higuchi of Alameda, California, to buy a Mirai last year. Since he lives in a multifamily building, Higuchi said he doesn’t have the option to install a car charger at home. “I see people lining up for [the Tesla supercharger nearby], parking and waiting, and that’s more maintenance than I want to deal with,” he said.

Hydrogen fuel cell cars have the same smooth and quiet electric drivetrain as battery-powered cars, which also brings lower maintenance costs compared to gasoline and diesel engines. Drivers can use carpool lanes in most states as well.

There are financial incentives, too: Mirais come with a factory rebate, a federal tax credit, and California’s clean vehicle credit, which drops its out-the-door price from around $60,000 to $35,000. Toyota also gives owners $15,000 worth of hydrogen fuel for free. Out of pocket, filling up a Mirai costs between $70 to $100 and provides close to 400 miles of range.

But for all the work Toyota put into making an appealing hydrogen car, its biggest drawbacks are beyond the company’s control.

Most of the hydrogen fueling stations in the US are in California. The state has 52 hydrogen stations, including two in San Francisco, and 121 in development, according to the California Fuel Cell Partnership. But the stations are mainly concentrated around the San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California. There’s just one hydrogen station on the 340-mile I-5 stretch between the Bay Area and Greater Los Angeles.

On a road trip to San Diego in his Mirai, Higuchi said he gamed out the locations of hydrogen fueling stations, how fast he wanted to drive, and how much we wanted to test the range of the car. “I mapped out where I would go and paired that to anxiety levels,” he said.

Right now, hydrogen infrastructure is caught in a rut. With so few hydrogen cars on the road, it’s hard to convince companies to invest the approximately $2 million it typically costs to build a single hydrogen station. But with so few stations, it’s tough to sell drivers on a hydrogen car.

The small scales of hydrogen production have also left it vulnerable to shocks. Right now, most hydrogen produced in the US is used for chemical manufacturing. “We’ve been living off of surplus hydrogen that is being taken from other industries and being used for transportation,” said Russ Mobley, a sales manager at San Francisco Toyota and a Mirai owner.

In 2019, a hydrogen explosion at a Santa Clara plant caused shortages across the Bay Area for nearly six months. During that time, Toyota gave Mirai drivers free rental cars to get around. “We didn’t drive our hydrogen cars. They became paperweights at that point in our driveways,” Mobley said.

Compare these ordeals to battery-electric cars, which can charge up just about anywhere there is a power outlet or at one of the fast-charging stations cropping up quickly around the country. So while hydrogen cars themselves may be excellent, the weak infrastructure to support them continues to hold them back.

Hydrogen needs to go big before it can go bigger

The infrastructure hydrogen needs poses its own technical challenges. It requires high-pressure pumps, fittings, and storage containers, many of which are expensive boutique products. The Covid-19 pandemic then threw up another roadblock, disrupting the supply chains for hydrogen construction projects.

“These pumps are all handmade,” Mobley said. “When the entire world shuts down and nobody’s in there manufacturing the bolts and nuts and seals, pretty much we saw the construction halt.”

The hope now is that with larger players like trucking and delivery companies investing in their own hydrogen vehicles, they will drive economies of scale for everyone. With larger vehicles, planned routes, and centralized fueling, these industrial uses might be even a better use for hydrogen than passenger cars. “As we rotate into more of the trucking industry getting into using hydrogen technology, the infrastructure is going to be beefed up considerably,” Mobley said.

Daimler Truck, for example, is one of the world’s largest manufacturers of commercial vehicles, accounting for about 58 percent of the market for large highway trucks. The company has already received approval for a hydrogen-powered truck in Germany and expects to begin delivering hydrogen trucks to customers in 2027. It’s also a shareholder in H2 Mobility Deutschland, a hydrogen fueling station operator that recently raised 110 million euros from investors. In addition, Daimler has teamed up with Volvo to build a fuel cell factory scheduled to begin operation in 2025.

Meanwhile, delivery firms like DHL, Royal Mail, FedEx, UPS, and Swiss Post are currently testing out hydrogen vehicles on their routes.

As for industrial uses, Swedish steel manufacturer Hybrit last year began delivering steel made with a hydrogen-based process that emits zero greenhouse gasses. Steel production accounts for around 7 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, decarbonizing the industry with hydrogen would require $278 billion in investment through 2050.

On the production side, green hydrogen also needs to scale up to drive down costs. The question is whether countries and companies can brute force an entire clean hydrogen industry into existence fast enough to meet climate targets.

For its part, California thinks hydrogen is worthwhile. Last October, the California Air Resources Board put out a report on hydrogen infrastructure in the state. Looking at various scenarios, the report concluded California could run a self-sufficient hydrogen network servicing 1.8 million fuel cell cars by 2035 with about $300 million in state funding.

Toyota, meanwhile, is hedging. The company is investing $17.6 billion to produce a line of 30 battery electric vehicles by 2030. Daimler is also pursuing battery-electric trucks alongside hydrogen. Batteries have experienced a stunning 97 percent drop in costs over the last 30 years, and battery-powered vehicles are already gaining ground around the world.

Some analysts are skeptical that hydrogen could ever catch up, at least for cars and trucks. “[T]he window of opportunity to establish a relevant market share for hydrogen cars is as good as closed,” argued Patrick Plötz, coordinator of the energy economy business unit at the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research in Germany, in Nature Electronics earlier this year.

For trucks, manufacturers and governments need to make stronger and faster efforts to deploy them if they have any hope of hitting highways. “If truck manufacturers do not start the mass production of fuel cell trucks soon to reduce costs, such vehicles will never succeed in low-carbon road transport,” he wrote.

But Plötz said hydrogen still could play important roles in decarbonizing aviation, shipping, and industry.

So even though some of the largest car and truck manufacturers are trying to force a hydrogen economy into existence, it could be yet another false start. After decades of hype and continued growing pains, it’s tough to get excited about hydrogen again. But the potential for hydrogen as a pillar of clean energy is impossible to ignore, and with more investment than ever and the urgent need for tools to slow climate change, this might be the moment it finally ignites.

Source : Vox

Infographic: 中國氢能产业发展中长期规划(2021-2035年)

Source : 国家能源局

Is Hydrogen A Better Bridge Fuel Than Natural Gas?

Irina Slav wrote . . . . . . . . .

With the latest events unfolding in Ukraine, the topic of natural gas dependence and its implications has once again taken center stage. Natural gas is the least polluting fossil fuel, which has made it a preferred “bridge” to net zero. The dependence element, however, has cast a shadow over the future of gas, and alternatives are being actively—if not desperately—sought. One of the most talked-about among these alternatives is hydrogen—an energy carrier rather than a fuel—but an element so versatile it can be used for some of the things gas is now used for, including fuel for transport and heating.

In fact, according to a Goldman Sachs analyst, hydrogen could turn into a $1-trillion market in the future.

“If we want to go to net-zero we can’t do it just through renewable power,” Michele DellaVigna told CNBC earlier this week. “We need something that takes today’s role of natural gas, especially to manage seasonality and intermittency, and that is hydrogen.”

“And once we have it, I think we have a solution that could become, one day, at least 15% of the global energy markets which means it will be … over a trillion-dollar market per annum,” DellaVigna also said. “That’s why I think we need to focus on hydrogen as the successor of natural gas in a net-zero world.”

As with most things, however, this is easier said than done. Green hydrogen has been attracting growing attention as it is considered the cleanest form of hydrogen production but green hydrogen has problems such as the fact that electricity for it comes from intermittent solar and wind, and that a lot of the energy used to produce hydrogen through electrolysis is lost, which means the efficiency of the process is limited, which in turn makes it more expensive.

As for blue hydrogen that includes carbon capture and storage, environmentalists have slammed it for being, effectively, greenwashing on the part of energy companies as carbon capture and storage technology has no real future, being ineffective and expensive. On top of that, most of the captured carbon dioxide is used for enhanced oil production, which also does not sit well with environmentalists.

That said, hydrogen is, as Goldman’s DellaVigna called it, “a very powerful molecule”. Hydrogen is used in the treatment of metals; it is used in the production of fertilizers; and, of course, it can be used as fuel in fuel-cell cars. Hydrogen is also being blended already in the UK with natural gas and used for heating purposes.

Forecasts for the future of hydrogen and, more specifically, green hydrogen, the ultimate net-zero fuel, have been quite upbeat in the past couple of years. The main reason for this was falling costs associated with wind and solar energy as the technology continued to improve while raw material costs remained low.

Unfortunately for the upbeat forecasters, this is changing. The wind and solar industries are facing rising rather than falling costs as raw materials soar on the back of expectations for stronger demand and tight supply.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that wind turbine manufacturers are struggling with turning a profit because of costlier raw materials, logistical challenges, and uncertainty around subsidies, the last one in the United States. The report quoted a projection by Wood Mackenzie that anticipates a 10-percent increase in wind turbine prices over the next 12-18 months due to higher prices of steel, aluminum, copper, and carbon fiber.

Even so, companies are building electrolyzers in anticipation of more government support for hydrogen. Last year, for example, Shell built an electrolyzer in Germany to produce 1,300 tons of the element annually. The company admitted green hydrogen costs five times as much as fossil fuel-derived hydrogen but noted scale and efficiency improvements can bring costs down, as can additional government support.

France’s Engie and Emirati Masdar last year closed a $5-billion partnership to develop green hydrogen in the UAE. Per their plans, the two will develop projects with a total capacity of 2 GW by 2030, Engie said in December.

Then in January this year, Shell again announced the launch of a hydrogen project in China. The electrolyzer is one of the largest in the world and will take advantage of the abundant wind power capacity in the Hebei province of China.

The EU has plans to build electrolyzers with a total capacity of some 40 GW by 2030. Of this total, the EU wants to have 6 GW up and running within two years.

It seems obvious that the materialization of these plans would depend strongly on government incentives. Without them, the high costs of green hydrogen production would derail all the ambitious plans. The question, then, remains whether governments that are currently struggling with inflation rates not seen in decades, among other lingering effects of the pandemic, will have enough money to incentivize everything about the green transition they want to incentivize, including green hydrogen.

Source : Oil Price

Video: Fuel Cell Cars – The Future or Gas Guzzlers in Disguise?

Hydrogen fuel cell cars seem great: hydrogen and oxygen in, nothing but water out.

But if that hydrogen comes from dirty, carbon-emission spewing power plants, your sustainable car might not be so green after all.

Watch video at You Tube (8:11 minutes) . . . .

China Approves Renewable Mega-project for Green Hydrogen

The Chinese region of Inner Mongolia has approved a massive power project that will use solar and wind to produce green hydrogen.

Inner Mongolia’s Energy Administration has given the go ahead to a cluster of plants in the cities of Ordos and Baotou that will use 1.85GW of solar and 370MW of wind to produce 66,900 tonnes of green hydrogen a year, the Hydrogen Energy Industry Promotion Association said in a report. Development will begin in October and the projects will be operational in mid-2023, the association said, without specifying the cost or the developers.

The project, which would produce enough hydrogen output to displace about 21 million gallons of petrol a year if it were used for fuel cell vehicles, is the biggest yet to be spearheaded by the government, according to BloombergNEF analyst Wang Xiaoting. China’s booming hydrogen industry still has bottlenecks – including how the fuel is stored and used – that need to be tackled in the next five years, Securities Daily said in an article on Wednesday (Aug 18).

Less than 20 per cent of the power from the Inner Mongolian development will go to the grid, with the rest dedicated to green hydrogen. While several projects have been announced in China that combine renewables with green hydrogen, most are intended for electricity generation first, with the hydrogen component just window dressing to help get approval, Dr Wang said.

The project will, however, require at least 465MW of electrolysers to produce that much hydrogen, she said, adding that global electrolyser shipments were just 200MW last year and are forecast to be 400MW this year. “These projects will install more electrolysers than the entire global market in 2021,” Dr Wang said.

The biggest Chinese green hydrogen projects so far have come from industrial giants like Sinopec or Ningxia Baofeng Energy Group, which is set to complete a 150MW solar-powered electrolyser array this year at one of its coal-to-chemical plants. China Baowu Steel Group has announced plans for 1.5GW of renewable-powered electrolysers, without providing timing.

While Inner Mongolia has long been one of the leading coal mining regions in China, officials are positioning it as a potential renewable energy hub to export electricity and hydrogen to the rest of the country. The region gets about 3,100 hours of sunlight a year for solar generation, and is located on the main channel of Siberian wind that could power dozens of gigawatts of wind turbines, according to the hydrogen association.

Source : Straits Times

China’s Carbon Neutral Goal: Shanghai Aims to Have 10,000 Hydrogen-powered Cars on Roads in 2023

Daniel Ren wrote . . . . . . . . .

Shanghai expects to have 10,000 hydrogen-powered cars on its roads in 2023, and has pledged to invest heavily in alternative energy sources.

The city, China’s financial and commercial capital, was also planning to build 100 hydrogen refuelling stations by the same year, said Chen Kele, a deputy division chief at the Shanghai Commission of Economy and Information Technology.

“We also plan to create nine scenarios to boost the use of hydrogen-powered vehicles,” he told the International Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicle Congress in Shanghai on Wednesday. The industry’s output would hit 100 billion yuan (US$15.7 billion) by 2023, he added.

Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.

Shanghai is looking to steal a march on other mainland cities when it comes to the development of hydrogen-powered vehicles, following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s surprise pledge to make the country carbon neutral by 2060. It faces competition from Beijing, which announced earlier that it would have 10,000 such vehicles before 2025, and Shenzhen, which already had about 1,300 hydrogen-powered vehicles by the end of last year and led the country in this sector.

The city’s 2023 target translates into a more than eightfold jump from the 1,200 such cars it reported on its roads at the end of last year. It also only had nine refuelling stations. One of the refuelling stations to be built in the city’s southwestern Jinshan district will be the world’s largest.

China aims to have a million hydrogen-powered cars on its roads by 2030, and these will be served by 1,000 refuelling stations, according to a road map published in 2016 by an advisory committee of the Society of Automotive Engineers of China.

But the sector is, as of now, largely untapped because of the high cost of operations involved, limited driving range and few refuelling stations. Companies that use such vehicles rely heavily on generous government subsidies – 240,000 yuan for every hydrogen-powered car and up to 400,000 for trucks.

Moreover, almost all of the 7,200 such vehicles on China’s roads as of July last year were retrofitted commercial trucks, according to new energy consultancy qingyunlian.com.

“The next four years will be a development stage for hydrogen fuel cell cars in China, buoyed by the government’s resolution to create a big market,” said Wei Chang, the chief executive of National Institute of Clean and Low-carbon Energy at the China Energy Group. “The industry will grow fast between 2025 and 2035.”

China is the world’s largest electric vehicle EV market with electric battery-powered cars expected to surge by about sixfold to 6.6 million units in 2025, according to a forecast by UBS.

Source : Yahoo!

New Catalyst Material Produces Abundant Cheap Hydrogen

QUT chemistry researchers have discovered cheaper and more efficient materials for producing hydrogen for the storage of renewable energy that could replace current water-splitting catalysts.

Professor Anthony O’Mullane said the potential for the chemical storage of renewable energy in the form of hydrogen was being investigated around the world.

“The Australian Government is interested in developing a hydrogen export industry to export our abundant renewable energy,” said Professor O’Mullane from QUT’s Science and Engineering Faculty.

“In principle, hydrogen offers a way to store clean energy at a scale that is required to make the rollout of large-scale solar and wind farms as well as the export of green energy viable.

“However, current methods that use carbon sources to produce hydrogen emit carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that mitigates the benefits of using renewable energy from the sun and wind.

“Electrochemical water splitting driven by electricity sourced from renewable energy technology has been identified as one of the most sustainable methods of producing high-purity hydrogen.”

Professor O’Mullane said the new composite material he and PhD student Ummul Sultana had developed enabled electrochemical water splitting into hydrogen and oxygen using cheap and readily available elements as catalysts.

“Traditionally, catalysts for splitting water involve expensive precious metals such as iridium oxide, ruthenium oxide and platinum,” he said.

“An additional problem has been stability, especially for the oxygen evolution part of the process.

“What we have found is that we can use two earth-abundant cheaper alternatives – cobalt and nickel oxide with only a fraction of gold nanoparticles – to create a stable bi-functional catalyst to split water and produce hydrogen without emissions.

“From an industry point of view, it makes a lot of sense to use one catalyst material instead of two different catalysts to produce hydrogen from water.”

Professor O’Mullane said the stored hydrogen could then be used in fuel cells.

“Fuel cells are a mature technology, already being rolled out in many makes of vehicle. They use hydrogen and oxygen as fuels to generate electricity – essentially the opposite of water splitting.

“With a lot of cheaply ‘made’ hydrogen we can feed fuel cell-generated electricity back into the grid when required during peak demand or power our transportation system and the only thing emitted is water.”

“Gold Doping in a Layered Co-Ni Hydroxide System via Galvanic Replacement for Overall Electrochemical” was published in Advanced Functional Materials.

Source : Queensland University of Technology

Read more at Xinhuanet

“十四五”将建千座加氢站 “中国第一氢能公司”雏形初现 . . . . .