From gasoline vehicles to battery electric vehicles to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The transport industry is fast changing to a more efficient, more sustainable, and lower noise level fuel option - hydrogen. Hydrogen is a clean and potential renewable fuel since it produces electricity by combining with oxygen and the only byproduct produced is water.
Currently, China leads the world in hydrogen production with Beijing projected to have more than 10,000 fuel cell vehicles on the road and 74 hydrogen filling stations by 2025. This is also in line with the governments’ carbon emission reduction targets to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060. According to the local government’s draft plan for 2021-2025, hydrogen use for road transport and power generation is expected to reach 50 tonnes a day by 2023, and 135 tonnes by 2025.
Many private domestic automotive companies such as Great Wall Motor, SAIC, and GAC Group are also looking to accelerate the development of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Great Wall Motor announced that it will invest 3 billion yuan into the R&D of hydrogen energy in the future and sets to launch the world’s first class C hydrogen fuel cell SUV.
However, we have yet to see the wide usage of hydrogen in electricity production, with fossil fuels still being used as the main source of energy. Why is this the case and what challenges are there in the large-scale deployment of hydrogen as an energy source?
The hydrogen industry chain is highly complex and costly, from extraction, production, storage, refueling to transportation. At present, electricity is used to extract hydrogen from water, which is costly. Due to its highly explosive nature, high costs are associated with storing and transporting hydrogen. Therefore, both upstream and downstream of the hydrogen supply chain will require a closer examination on cost reduction
Unsustainable hydrogen extraction process
Extracting hydrogen from fossil fuels is energy-intensive since it requires splitting hydrogen from oxygen in water molecules. This results in different types of hydrogen being produced, depending on their production process. There are 3 main types of hydrogen, with grey hydrogen being the least sustainable and green hydrogen being the most sustainable source.
Grey Hydrogen: Hydrogen produced from fossil fuels, resulting in massive amounts of carbon dioxide to be produced during the extraction process, contributing to global warming.
Blue Hydrogen: Hydrogen produced from fossil fuels. However, efficient means of capturing and sequestering the carbon emissions is taken during the process.
Green Hydrogen: Hydrogen that is completely clean by using energy generated from wind power. Alternatively, hydropower is used to produce hydrogen by electrolysis of water.
In conclusion, although hydrogen energy is a promising technology aimed at tackling climate change, its high cost and unsustainable extraction process must be overcome before hydrogen energy reaches mass usage.
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