Renewable energy and hydrogen – what’s bringing them together?

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I have been studying recently the hydrogen economy, and I’d like to share the insight I gained.

Taking a different look at energy, we should consider all forms of fuel as energy carriers and all forms of fuel production (whether mining, drilling, via nuclear reaction or solar/wind etc…) as primary energy sources.

Presently, most of our primary energy sources are non renewable, and most of our energy carriers deliver their energy while polluting the environment. What we want for tomorrow is renewable primary energy sources and non-polluting energy carriers, all at a consumer cost similar to the present.

Renewable primary energy sources are usually of a stationary nature – nuclear plants, wind turbines, solar farms or biogas plants. As long as we can directly produce electricity and transport it over wires to stationary consumers (such as households) we’re fine. However, much of the energy we consume is in a mobile setting – automotive and various devices. For these applications, as well as for isolated off-grid location, we need an easily transportable, non-polluting and renewable energy carrier. There is a broad consensus that Hydrogen can be such a carrier, provided we find ways to harness it.

Hydrogen (H2) can be cleanly produced from water with electricity generated by a renewable primary energy source, and when consumed it releases energy while producing clean water. In terms of energy content it is also very attractive: 1Kg of H2 contains the equivalent of 33kWh – compared to about 11kWh contained in the equivalent amount of Diesel fuel – and compared to 0.3kWh in 1Kg of a top battery.

I’ll expand on the practical aspects of hydrogen production, storage and transportation in a subsequent post.

In the meantime, I’m keen to learn about your view on the futur of energy.

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3 responses to “Renewable energy and hydrogen – what’s bringing them together?

  1. That is so nicely written and very interesting. Isn’t there a lot of work that is done on H2 as an energy source? When is this likely to be available for common use?

  2. avigdorluttinger

    There is indeed – the US Department of Energy funds a lot of applied research, which is slowly resulting in commercial products. But there is still a lot of confusion between energy sources and energy carriers – brought about by the fact that fossil fuel has so far been considered as both (as if it could be of infinite supply). Interestingly, the production of biofuels from foodstock such as rice sensitized people to the challenge of producing an energy carrier and its cost, both in financial and in moral terms. In this respect, hydrogen is much more suitable and does not impact food availability or cost.

  3. I think you hit the point with the mobility character of energy carriers. Hydrogen offers this advantage that in my opinion is just not being “sold” enough. Storage and Safety are two subjects that are very central, but that do not anymore pose the initial complications. The safety standards for example for hydrogen-powered vehicles are given and do not involve safety measures that are difficult to fulfill . The standards are “easy” to follow and guarantee the safety the users. Also concerning storage, the issue has been dealt with and provides as of today very clear guidelines on “how” to store hydrogen safely. The debate should concentrate more on production and on creating “the hydrogen value chain”, one that is sustainible and one on which governments can rely to build the necessary infrastructure.
    Therefore I guess that in order to be serious about a hydrogen economy the production and its “unique selling proposition” (mobility as an energy carrier) are key to get to the next stage of implementation.

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