Hydrogen as a fuel source used to operate heavy electrical vehicles and to generate electrical power is rapidly becoming a reality. Hydrogen fuel is carbon-free and provides a form of long-term energy storage more cost effective and less impactful to the environment than most battery systems.
The two primary methodologies for generating hydrogen are the process of electrolysis to split water H2O molecules into hydrogen and oxygen, and steam methane reformation (SMR) to split hydrogen from the methane CH4 molecule while capturing the carbon as CO2 which is often sequestered into underground reservoirs.
The Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) combines all the benefits of an electric vehicle (maximum torque at zero rpm and no carbon emissions) with a hydrogen fuel cell that generates electrical power within the vehicle. The primary advantages for the FCEV include rapid refueling of the hydrogen fuel cell rather than the lengthy period to recharge a battery system, significantly less weight than most battery systems allowing trucks, buses, and trains to carry much greater cargo loads, no loss of electrical power over long distance transmission lines that occur attempting to recharge batteries off the electrical power grid, and more environmentally friendly than most lithium mining processes.
As the world moves towards using more electrical vehicles, there will become a distinct shortage of sufficient electrical power generation and power transmission lines to carry the power to individual homes and businesses where electrical vehicles must be recharged. Additionally, huge amounts of electrical power are lost by the distance the power must be transported, thereby making the full energy cycle of battery-powered electrical vehicles much less efficient than FCEV. With hydrogen FCEV, the power is generated within the vehicle and can save the world trillions of dollars that would otherwise have to be spent building new power generation facilities and hundreds of thousands of miles of new transmission lines.
- Several countries, including Japan, have made a commitment to hydrogen as the primary fuel source to replace fossil fuels, and are rapidly converting their electrical power generation facilities to accommodate hydrogen as a fuel. Hydrogen can be difficult to store and transport due to the necessity of high pressures and extremely low temperatures to keep it in a liquid form, combined with metal embrittlement of storage facilities and pipelines, however when converted to ammonia (NH3) using the Haber-Bosch process, it is easily transportable at normal pressures and temperatures, and can be reconverted back to hydrogen at the destination site, or in the case of Japanese electrical power generation, they simply inject the ammonia directly into the gas turbine to generate electrical power.
- Depending on the source of energy used to extract the hydrogen, and whether any carbon emissions are captured, there are a range of colors associated with these different energy sources and process. Gray hydrogen is extracted from natural gas and the exhaust is released to the atmosphere. Brown or black hydrogen is extracted from coal. Blue hydrogen is also extracted from methane, but the exhaust gases and CO2 are captured and sequestered underground. Green hydrogen must use only renewable energy to extract the hydrogen using electrolysis to split water, while purple or pink hydrogen uses nuclear energy. Turquoise hydrogen is extracted using methane pyrolysis and produces solid carbon rather than CO2 but is significantly more expensive to create.
- Many communities, including the industrial base along the Texas-Louisiana Gulf Coast, are focusing on developing hydrogen extraction facilities, to support the growing demand for hydrogen for industrial applications, hydrogen fuel electrical power generation, hydrogen for fuel cells, along with building a network of carbon capture and sequestration facilities (CCS). Further information regarding this strategy can be found on the Greater Houston Partnership Hydrogen White Paper