Unleashing The Promise of Hydrogen

Hydrogen could hold the key to the future of renewable energy storage As the share of renewable power generation in the global energy mix continues to expand, there are two key challenges. Hydrogen future

Is the world destined for a hydrogen future?

As the share of renewable power generation in the global energy mix continues to expand, there are two key challenges. One is the fluctuating amount of electricity being produced depending on the availability of natural sources such as sunlight and wind. The other challenge is that when renewable energy is produced it cannot be changed to reflect demand from consumers and the grid.

Storing this energy for use later and doing so in a way that addresses the fluctuating supply is one solution. One of the most promising of these solutions is the use of electrolysis to produce the highly versatile element hydrogen. It can be used both for storage; collects energy when the grid doesn’t need it, and for fuel; releases energy to the grid when there’s demand for it.

One solution is batteries, whether the chemical form used to in phones and computers, or alternative types, such as compressed air or pumped water storage. But hydrogen produced by electrolysis is considered a more environmentally-friendly solution that can offer storage on a much wider scale. Hydrogen and the electrolysis process are particularly exciting for countries that enjoy long hours of sunlight.

Electrolysis is the process of running an electric current – in this case produced by renewable energy – through water to produce oxygen and hydrogen.

Electrolysis is the process of running an electric current – in this case produced by renewable energy – through water to produce oxygen and hydrogen.

One such technology, developed by the German conglomerate Siemens, is the SILYZER. It is an electrolysis system based on PEM (proton-exchange membrane) technology that can efficiently transform the energy produced by wind and solar generating facilities into hydrogen. This is not only helpful for the renewable sector but also for industry, transportation, and power-to-gas solutions and networks.

The special property of the proton-exchange membrane is that it is permeable for protons, but not for gases such as hydrogen and oxygen. In an electrolytic process, the membrane carries out a number of functions, including that of a separator, preventing the gases produced by the process from mixing.

In contrast to traditional alkali electrolysis, PEM electrolysis is ideally suited to be powered by the intermittent electricity produced by wind and solar power.

Siemens has already successfully put several of these renewable energy-powered systems into operation for in Europe, including a five-megawatt (MW) system in Germany.

The advantage of the technology is it can use excess electricity produced by renewable energy to produce hydrogen that can be stored for months before being used as fuel in a power plant to produce electricity when required.

Easy transportation

However, hydrogen’s versatility means it can do a lot more. It is relatively easy to transport, so it can be used in fuel cells to power vehicles – from cars to ships to trains. What’s more, the hydrogen used in car and truck fuel cells doesn’t have to be transported to filling stations.

The SILYZER process can be scaled up or down, allowing hydrogen to be produced safely and cleanly onsite. Using onsite renewable energy, the system would produce ‘green hydrogen’ for the refueling of future fuel cell vehicles. This is an efficient and flexible solution for producing hydrogen.

Beyond its use as a fuel, hydrogen is an important material for industry, including pharmaceuticals and food manufacturing, while in the semiconductor industry, hydrogen serves as a carrier gas.

Hydrogen is also an important input in the petrochemical industry, serving as a building block for many compounds, such as ammonia, methane and other hydrocarbons used in the production of plastics.

Another exciting use of hydrogen produced with renewable energy is to combine it with carbon dioxide to generate methane, which can be used as fuel for power generation. This results in a neutral CO2 balance, because when the methane is consumed it releases the same amount of CO2 that was previously fixed.

Technologies that use hydrogen could pave the way to power grids that are more secure than ever, even with a greater share of renewables.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One comment

  • Adrian Boodt

    June 6, 2018 at 12:12 pm

    I would agree with your comments on the potential of hydrogen, but how do we store distribute and dispense it safely without having to liquefy it or cool it to below 250 deg C – both expensive and dangerous (potentially)

    Reply

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