The Hydrogen Economy

A way out of the Climate Apocalypse?

The Hydrogen Economy is a key part of the future, low-carbon energy landscape, to supply power for buildings, industrial processes, vehicles, and many other application.

The sole emissions of Hydrogen, when used in Fuel Cells are chemically pure water and heat. At present, however, H2 is mainly used as an industrial feedstock, primarily for the production of ammonia, methanol and petroleum refining.

This invisible, odourless gas is the most abundant element in the universe, yet on earth it does not occur naturally, by itself, in convenient reservoirs. Most Hydrogen is bonded to other elements, forming a bewildering range of compounds.

On Earth, as of 2019, almost all the world’s pure hydrogen is produced by steam methane reforming (SMR).  (Wikipedia)

But hydrogen can also be produced by electrolysis of water, using renewables, and so act as an energy storage for the electricity used to split water molecules. This can successfully provide backup to even out the intermittent nature of these energy sources, producing ultrapure water and heat as a by-products.

PEM electrolysis

One of the largest advantages to PEM electrolysis is its ability to operate at high current densities. This can result in reduced operational costs, especially for systems coupled with very dynamic energy sources such as wind and solar, where sudden spikes in energy input would otherwise result in uncaptured energy. The polymer electrolyte allows the PEM electrolyser to operate with a very thin membrane (~100-200 μm) while still allowing high pressures, resulting in low ohmic losses, primarily caused by the conduction of protons across the membrane (0.1 S/cm) and a compressed hydrogen output.

The polymer electrolyte membrane, due to its solid structure, exhibits a low gas crossover rate resulting in very high product gas purity. Maintaining a high gas purity is important for storage safety and for the direct usage in a fuel cell. The safety limits for H2 in O2 are at standard conditions 4 mol-% H2 in O2.

PEM Fuel Cell

A fuel cell is an electrochemical cell that converts the chemical energy of a fuel (often hydrogen) and an oxidizing agent (often oxygen) into electricity through a pair of redox reactions. Fuel cells are different from most batteries in requiring a continuous source of fuel and oxygen (usually from air) to sustain the chemical reaction, whereas in a battery the chemical energy usually comes from metals and their ions or oxides that are commonly already present in the battery, except in flow batteries. Fuel cells can produce electricity continuously for as long as fuel and oxygen are supplied.

Hydrogen storage.

H2Go: The Hydrogen Storage to Energise Robotics in Air Application (HyStERIAA) project aims to develop a compact hydrogen storage system that is safer and lighter than commercially available pressure tanks. This will be achieved through the application of a patent-pending solid-state hydrogen storage system and an innovative additive manufacturing approach to enable early low volume production. http://www.h2gopower.com/

UK plastic-to-hydrogen plant set for operation next year

Jobs, investment opportunities and development.

The launch of such an initiative would create multi-strand opportunities for industry, financial institutions and investors, and create a range and number of jobs in the manufacture of fuel cells, motors, H2storage, H2 production, infrastructure, storage, delivery and distribution, not to mention education and training in the new technology, as well as in the renewables industry to generate the hydrogen. Already several countries have launched their own industries on the path to H2 Fuel cells and production, and the diversification of the market, with Lithium batteries better suited for some applications and H2FCs for others, offer a broader range of choice than ever before, with real opportunities for investment in the whole supply chain. All that is needed is a co-ordinated effort between academia, industrial R&D and manufacturing, international bodies and institutions, national governments and commerce, to bring online a range of prototypes to demonstrate the advantages of replacing IC engines with H2FCs and electric motors for vehicles of every type, as well as between renewable generation equipment and Fuel and Electrolytic Cells manufacturers.



Fuel Cell vehicles.

A fuel cell vehicle (FCV) or fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) is a type of electric vehicle which uses a fuel cell, instead of a battery, or in combination with a battery or supercapacitor, to power its on-board electric motor. Fuel cells in vehicles generate electricity to power the motor, generally using oxygen from the air and compressed hydrogen. Most fuel cell vehicles are classified as zero-emissions vehicles that emit only water and heat.

So, providing the energy for production of Hydrogen comes from renewables, the only emissions are those embodied in the manufacture of the H2 production equipment, their storage and transport.

But the issue with the speed of take-up of the technology is cost. Not only is producing H2 electrolytically is expensive at the moment, there is no incentive to do so, because the market is not ready to use the volumes that would make production economical, nor is this likely to change even as manufacturers like Toyota bring online H2 fuel Cell vehicles like the Mirai, owing to the cost. what’s more, the manufacture of whole fleets to replace current vehicles would produce a phenomenal volume of emissions.

PEM FC Engine Replacement kits.

An intermediate stage towards the Hydrogen Economy may be to manufacture the elements necessary to adapt current fleets of internal combustion vehicles. These would comprise of:

  • an electric motor, of a suitable type, size, shape and rating to replace an IC engine
  • a Fuel Cell stack, with the necessary wiring and H2 feed pipes
  • a Hydrogen tank – of whatever type and size may best suit the vehicle’s configuration*

*These could be compressed h2, metal hydride or other solution.

Kits would only be installed by specially trained personnel, and undergo rigorous testing to ensure their safety, after installation, and only released with safety certification.