Decarbonization – a buzzword that excites and energizes a societal push towards a greener economy. It means the reduction of carbon and lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.
Our markets are steadily climbing towards electrification, which is the expansion of a grid that is reliant on renewable sources of electricity, such as wind, solar, nuclear, and hydroelectric; challenges exist with each. While different industries may champion for one source, what we know for certain is that resiliency requires diversity.
If we are to responsibly tap into natural resources, we must acknowledge that nature itself has limitations. It is not always windy. The sun goes down each day. In order to decarbonize the energy grid, we must consider a combination of diverse sources, as emphasized on an episode of Going Green by guest, Janice Lin.
Imagine a fuel source that is natural, abundant, and emits the byproducts of water vapor and oxygen…
Hydrogen fuel has the potential to be a key player in decarbonization. Creating liquid hydrogen requires high energy and heat to perform electrolysis, which is the splitting of a water molecule (H2O) to achieve the standalone hydrogen and oxygen molecules. Storing liquid hydrogen is another challenge, however, R&D is advancing in this sector every day. As the technology develops, we can be optimistic that, just like photovoltaics or oil refining processes, making hydrogen will become more efficient. As for the energy that goes into electrolysis, there are numerous large-scale, ‘green hydrogen’ projects being conducted worldwide.
Green hydrogen projects are accomplished through a combination of renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar. The idea: produce liquid hydrogen with the excess energy that is not going into the grid, and then when power production stops (the sun goes down or the wind disappears) we are left with a surplus of safely-stored, green hydrogen that is able to power the grid.
Hydrogen is incredibly useful in the application of storage, as it can be generated during peak hours of solar or wind production, and then used during off hours. As a fuel, liquid hydrogen is turned back into electricity using a fuel cell and it can be combusted in an existing gas turbine!
There are, of course, limitations with hydrogen. Like other gases, you cannot smell or see it, so you don’t know if there is a leak. Like methane or butane, hydrogen is flammable. As mentioned above, hydrogen needs to be stored at very low temperatures in order to stay in its most efficient state of liquid hydrogen. However, the challenges of storing and distributing hydrogen can be solved by tapping into existing infrastructures, such as repurposing pipes and upcycling old oil wells.
As for the safety of hydrogen, the Green Hydrogen Guidebook is an excellent place to formulate your own opinion.
There is a long-standing debate on which power source is “the best.” Our society has been dependent on coal power for over 200 years, but this single-sourced dependency is not sustainable. The debate should not be which technology is best; rather we should invest in projects that use a combination of technologies to wean society’s dependence on a single power source. If we are determined to decarbonize, we must shift to become decentralized: creating networks of combined systems that are powered by renewable technologies.
With decarbonization as the driving force of emerging technologies, we begin to take note of hydrogen’s importance as a catalyst for decentralized grids via storage and as a clean, renewable fuel source.
Going Green, hosted by Dylan Welch, interviews leading experts in cleantech, sustainability, media, finance, and real estate on the Going Green podcast. Tune in and subscribe to the podcast on Apple or Spotify to listen to interviews with leading cleantech and sustainable experts. If you are interested in being featured on Going Green, click HERE.