Hydrogen’s Role in Clean Air Travel
We’ve all heard of the renewable wave, whether it be Tesla’s electric cars or innovative short-distance electric planes to solar-powered sailboats and super fast eclectic mag-lev trains. Despite all this amazing advancement, there still remains a huge problem. All these solutions are consumer-focused rather than manufacturing-focused. This is “The 75% Problem,” where ¾ of all greenhouse gasses are agricultural, industrial and other non-consumer-focused industries. The reason for this void in advancement is due to the lack of cheaper, cleaner, readily available alternatives to traditional electricity.
Well, recently there have been headlines and aggressive progress into the development of hydrogen as a fuel source by way of steam energy. But, not by the traditional method. Right now, most hydrogen is developed through a natural gas-intensive process that emits CO2. Extracting the gas in the first place also emits methane. And electricity production uses a process called electrolysis, in which Electricity accounts for nearly 80% of the cost of hydrogen from electrolysis. By using less electricity, hydrogen production is more economical and accelerates adoption. Not to mention, the co-production of steam drastically improves the economics of green hydrogen production.
This is where Heliogen, a renewable energy technology company, recently announced major milestones in their strategic partnership with Bloom Energy, a leading fuel cell developer.
The new method uses solar energy in which directed amounts of solar energy are targeted to produce steam or hydrogen. This hydrogen can be bottled up and shipped anywhere in the world as not everywhere has constant sunshine like Australia, but everyone has the need for power. This solves the problem of battery storage and the fact that the sun isn’t out 24/7.
The founder of Heliogen, Bill Gross mentioned, “We’re splitting water with a combination of electricity and this high-temperature steam. And that’s what leads to a breakthrough in efficiency, and that leads to an eventual breakthrough in price. Because the technology uses steam, it can use less electricity, making it as much as 45% more efficient. Since it also can run throughout the night, we can amortize the cost of the electrolyzer over 24 hours, instead of over 6 hours a day. And that four-to-one better amortization leads to lower-cost hydrogen.”
So with these innovations, what would a hydrogen-powered society look like and what are the real-world implications. As aforementioned, 75% of the worlds greenhouse gas emissions stem from agricultural, industrial and other non-commercial-centric industries, meaning for you or me, or any everyday person, we really won’t see many changes. The big changes will come on the side of development, production, manufacturing and more greenhouse gas-intensive procedures. To put it in perspective, a report done by TheRestartProject, found that an average smartphone creates 55kg or 121lbs of carbon emissions in manufacturing. This is from the mining, refining, manufacturing, assembling and shipping. All processes that consumers never really see. So a hydrogen-powered future not only enables the clean, quick, and consistent transportation of power but also allows development in far-reaching societies.
The Future of Hydrogen
So with all this recent press about hydrogen and the new technologies, there are still some key concerns and problems. First, the demand for Hydrogen use is forecast to grow from 115 million metric tonnes currently to 500-800 million metric tonnes a year by 2050, accounting for 15 to 20 percent of total global energy demand. This huge jump in demand needs to be met and although Bloom Energy and Heliogen have started to innovate, more companies and concentration will be required to quickly and efficiently scale this technology. Additionally, there still lies issues in transportation. The present-day infrastructure for transporting energy is very dated in the sense that it works but doesn’t allow for generational improvements. The electricity grid would have to be rehauled to allow safe transportation of hydrogen. Nevertheless, the future is green and with continuous research, funding and development, hydrogen technology is poised to begin the next industrial revolution.