Hydrogen gas has long been considered as a possible solution for combating climate change. Hydrogen is the most plentiful element and produces no carbon emissions, but so far, the production of hydrogen gas on anything approximating a commercial scale has proved problematic. Producing hydrogen gas is difficult, expensive, and mostly produced through an industrialized process that negates the carbon-saving properties of the hydrogen gas itself. Until now.
Earlier this year, a team of Belgian scientists made a major breakthrough in the world of clean energy when they developed a prototype of a solar panel that has the ability to produce 250 liters of hydrogen gas per day. The panel, designed by a team of engineers at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, “converts sunlight directly into hydrogen using moisture in the air,” according to reporting by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. IEEE goes on to say that, “the prototype takes the water vapor and splits it into hydrogen and oxygen molecules. If it scales successfully, the technology could help address a major challenge facing the hydrogen economy.”
The reason that this discovery is so significant is that it would allow people to create energy for their homes with absolutely zero carbon emissions. Hydrogen gas alone, however is not in and of itself a solution. It’s all about the process. “Hydrogen, unlike fossil fuels, doesn’t produce greenhouse gas emissions or air pollution when used in fuel-cell-powered vehicles or buildings,” the IEEE explains. “Yet nearly all hydrogen produced today is made using an industrial process that involves natural gas, and this ultimately pumps more emissions into the atmosphere.”
Now, a brand new analysis from BloombergNEF shows that the cost of using renewable resources to produce hydrogen gas, like the solar model created by the researchers at Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, is about to get cheaper--a LOT cheaper--over the next few decades, “making one of the most radical technologies for reducing greenhouse gases economical,” according to Bloomberg.
“Renewable hydrogen costs may fall to as low as $1.40 a kilogram by 2030 from the current range of $2.50 to $6.80,” Bloomberg paraphrased BNEF’s findings from a Wednesday report. “That could slide further to 80 cents by 2050, equivalent to a natural gas price of $6 per million British thermal units. Gas in New York closed at $2.17 per million Btu on Wednesday. It last traded above $6 in 2014.”
Not only would hydrogen gas become much, much more affordable, it would completely change the energy industry once it becomes attainable as a cheap commodity. “Once the industry scales up, renewable hydrogen could be produced from wind or solar power for the same price as natural gas in most of Europe and Asia,” Kobad Bhavnagri, BloombergNEF’s head of special projects, was quoted by Bloomberg. “These production costs would make green gas affordable and puts the prospects for a truly clean economy in sight.”
Hydrogen is extremely energy efficient and capable of creating extremely high heat needed for industries such as steel-making and cement manufacturing. It could also be used as fuel in the long-haul transportation sector. In addition to its virtues as an energy source able to power industries such as those mentioned above that never thought they’d find a practical replacement for fossil fuels, Bloomberg reports that “hydrogen also can also be stored, shipped, and used to produce electricity or fed into fuel cells that are increasingly appearing in cars and small power plants.”
In order for this hydrogen-powered economy of the future to materialize, however, we will need more than just research and development. The initiative to change industries over to renewable hydrogen will require political support and a willingness to buck the interests of Big Oil, no easy feat in the United States. In fact, the U.S. is already falling behind, as low-cost hydrogen production infrastructure and equipment is already a burgeoning industry in China.
Hydrogen holds a lot of promise for a green energy future that once seemed largely unattainable, but it will take a lot of lobbying and a hard-won overhaul of the U.S. energy landscape to get there.
By Haley Zaremba for Oilprice.com
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