The Hydrogen Economy
Hydrogen offers various benefits. It can be stored in large volumes for extended periods and can be used for heating, transport, industry and power generation. The greatest advantage of hydrogen, however, is that it does not produce carbon emissions. While realizing these benefits depends mostly on advances in hydrogen technology and infrastructure, hydrogen has its challenges. Despite the growing demand for hydrogen, challenges exist across all areas of the hydrogen economy, from strategy and governance to production and storage to transmission, distribution and utilization.
Strategy and Governance
In December 2020, the Canadian government released “Hydrogen Strategy for Canada,” an extensive report that lays out an ambitious framework for actions to cement hydrogen as a tool to achieve net zero emissions by 2050. The approach highlights the need for strategic partnerships; the establishment of investment and the policies that encourage such investment; innovation; the establishment of standards, policy and regulations; and regional blueprints. It emphasizes the role of all stakeholders and audiences in the future hydrogen and net zero economy.
A Phased Approach
It may be valuable to break up the time from now to 2050 into thematic phases for the hydrogen economy roadmap:
Types of Production Methods
Blue hydrogen is produced using what’s known as either natural gas or steam-methane reformation (SMR). SMR removes the carbon from natural gas and is better suited for large-scale hydrogen production. As the process results in large volumes of CO2, it requires the parallel development of carbon capture usage and storage (CCUS) technology.
Green hydrogen is produced using renewable electricity (wind or solar energy) to electrolyze water, producing hydrogen and oxygen. Electrolysis is suitable for a smaller scale, localized hydrogen generation and carries fewer risks than distributing pure hydrogen under pressure over long distances.
Another clean hydrogen production referred as ‘purple’ hydrogen, which is generated through nuclear energy.
Many new technologies are evolving across hydrogen production including two promising types. Biological hydrogen production involves using microbes that utilize photosynthesis or fermentation to produce hydrogen. Scientists are still working on the commercial scalability of using algae and cellulolytic microbes. Thermochemical hydrogen production involves using pyrolysis or solar reactors to produce hydrogen. Feedstocks can include biomass and wastes, methane or the splitting of water.
Storage, Transmission and Distribution
Hydrogen can be stored in various forms using disparate technologies:
- Liquid hydrogen - Hydrogen stored in liquid form must be cooled to cryogenic temperatures through a liquefaction process; liquid storage requires less volume than gas storage. With current technologies, liquefaction is costly and difficult as the process currently consumes large amounts of power.
- Compressed hydrogen – hydrogen stored in tanks requires mature technology that uses high pressure to compress hydrogen. Optimized tanks have been observed to be safer, lighter and more resistant to impact.
- Solid form – hydrogen stored in solid form requires the use of materials like metallic hydrides that use the absorption or absorption mechanism of hydrogen, which results from the reversible chemical combination of hydrogen with the atoms that comprise these materials.
Depending on the form, hydrogen is stored and most effectively delivered through pipelines as pure hydrogen, blended with natural gas, or utilizing aqueous ammonia other hydrogen carriers.
With public and private organizations all racing towards a low-carbon economy, hydrogen’s wide range of applications makes it an ideal energy source.
- Mobility – Hydrogen fuel cells or dual-fuel combustion engines (i.e., diesel/hydrogen) can be used to power vehicles, including heavy-duty trucks, rails and locomotives, and transit.
- Renewable heat - Injecting and blending hydrogen in natural gas pipelines or using pure hydrogen can support the decarbonization of buildings.
- Industrial processes - Hydrogen is an input in heavy industrial processes as well as a source of energy to operate facilities, including the implementation of combined heat and power (CHP) plants.
- Electricity - Fuel cell technologies are well developed, and further storage options can be evaluated to optimize the use of electricity.
By applying our breadth of infrastructure expertise and deep understanding of hydrogen, we can help you identify risks, capture opportunities, and determine the best course of action to fitting hydrogen into your energy portfolio.
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