Is Hydrogen Energy Practical? (Cost, Efficiency, Safety, & More)

In this guide, we look at the practicality of Hydrogen Energy.

We look at various factors such as cost, efficiency, whether it’s safe or dangerous, and more.

 

Cost Of Hydrogen Energy

The cost of hydrogen energy and fuel is said to be one of the major challenges for hydrogen energy at the moment.

And, when looking at the capital costs of fuel cells for example compared to other energy sources, this certainly seems to be accurate.

From the information below, it appears as though the cost of hydrogen can be impacted by various factors.

A major factor might be the cost of natural gas (and the cost of capital may be another).

But, hydrogen produced with water using electrolysis will have different cost factors that apply.

So, the method used to produce hydrogen matters.

Energy losses after production also impact cost.

 

Producing Hydrogen From Natural Gas

The price a hydrogen producer has to pay for natural gas might be one of the main expenses for producing hydrogen

Countries with low gas prices can produce it more cheaply, whilst some gas importers that pay high gas prices might have higher production costs

The price of natural gas can also fluctuate over time though, so the price of hydrogen energy may fluctuate with these prices.

 

From iea.org:

The production cost of hydrogen from natural gas is influenced by a range of technical and economic factors, with gas prices and capital expenditures being the two most important.

Fuel costs are the largest cost component, accounting for between 45% and 75% of production costs.

[IEA.org lists the countries with lower gas prices that can produce hydrogen more cheaply]

 

Producing Hydrogen From Other Energy Sources

Producing hydrogen from more cost competitive energy sources might make it cheaper

 

Energy Loss Of Hydrogen During Transportation, Storage & Boil Off Impacts Hydrogen Profitability

The profitability of producing and supplying hydrogen is not only impacted by production costs, but also by energy loss during ‘transportation, storage and boil off energy losses’

Energy loss needs to be minimised, and way way to do this might be by producing and using hydrogen locally (soon after it’s been produced)

 

vittana.org provides more information on energy loss with hydrogen:

[The transportation of hydrogen can result in up to a] 20% energy loss [and storing hydrogen during transportation can result in energy losses of up to] an average of 1% of its viability for every day [it’s kept in storage]

[Boil off losses can] be as high as 50% [for hydrogen energy]

 

Hydrogen Energy Has To Be Able To Compete With Alternative Energy Sources

Hydrogen has to be able to compete from a pricing point of view with the alternative energy and fuel sources for the applications it’s used for.

An example of this is – Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles would have to be able to compete with the fuel cost per mile of gasoline vehicles.

The energy.gov resource listed below explains this in greater detail

 

Efficiency Of Hydrogen Energy

Efficiency Can Be Measured In Various Ways

For example, it might be measured in terms of:

– How efficiently the primary source of energy (like natural gas, or solar energy) converts into hydrogen.

– The efficiency of the conversion method – steam reforming vs electrolysis.

– The efficiency of the hydrogen fuel at converting into miles of travel in a car, or hours of heating (if used for heating and cooking as a gas)

 

We’ve broken down the measures and potential outcomes for efficiency when using hydrogen and hydrogen technology below …

 

Producing Hydrogen From Steam Reforming vs Electrolysis Of Water

Producing hydrogen from the electrolysis of water may be slightly more efficient than producing hydrogen from steam reforming of natural gas.

It’s also possible electrolysis might become more efficient in the future.

 

From wikipedia.org:

[Hydrogen production using steam reforming of natural gas] has a resultant efficiency of between 60-75%

The efficiency of water electrolysis is between about 70-80% [but there is] a goal set to reach 82-86% efficiency by 2030 using proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolyzers

 

Hydrogen Used In Fuel Cells

Hydrogen used in a fuel cell for an electrochemical reaction may generally be efficient.

 

[When hydrogen reacts with oxygen and releases energy in] an electrochemical cell, that energy can be used with relatively high efficiency (wikipedia.org)

 

Hydrogen Used For Heat

There may be some limitations on the use of hydrogen for heat.

 

If [hydrogen is] used simply for heat, the usual thermodynamics limits on the thermal efficiency apply (wikipedia.org)

 

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles vs Internal Combustion Engine Gasoline Vehicles

HFCVs may be more efficient than internal combustion engine gasoline vehicles.

Some of this efficiency contribution may come from the electrified drivetrain in a car.

The end result though might be better fuel economy.

 

A fuel cell is two to three times more efficient than an internal combustion engine running on gasoline (eia.gov)

 

Using a fuel cell to power an electrified powertrain including a battery and an electric motor is two to three times more efficient than using a combustion engine, although some of this benefit is related to the electrified powertrain (i.e. Including regenerative braking) (wikipedia.org)

 

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles vs Hydrogen Combustion Vehicles

Fuel cell vehicles may be more efficient in terms of energy use.

 

[There might be] greater fuel economy … available using hydrogen in a fuel cell, compared to that of a hydrogen combustion engine (wikipedia.org)

 

Most Efficient Ways To Convert Hydrogen To Energy

Fuel cells might be one of the most efficient ways to convert hydrogen to energy.

 

Fuel cells present the most attractive choice for energy conversion from hydrogen directly towards electricity, due to their high efficiency … (wikipedia.org)

 

Is Hydrogen Energy Safe or Dangerous?

Two potential safety considerations for hydrogen might be:

– Leakage From Pipes, & Tanks

wikipedia.org mentions that (paraphrased) hydrogen is the smallest element, and because of this, it might be slightly more susceptible to leaking from ‘… venerable natural gas pipes such as those made from iron’

 

However, wikipedia.org also mentions that ‘… leakage from plastic (polyethylene PE100) pipes is expected to be very low at about 0.001%’

 

So, leakage may not be as big of an issue depending on the type of pipes used.

 

Whether it’s susceptible to leaking from tanks though (such as storage tanks at refill stations) might be a different story though.

 

– The Traits Of Hydrogen Fuel May May It More Susceptible To Flammability, Or More Dangerous In An Explosion

Some reports indicate that hydrogen fuel has a low ignition energy and high combustion energy

This may make hydrogen fuel more dangerous from a flammability or explosion perspective

 

Other Safety Factors To Consider

It’s important to note though that these are just two safety factors to consider.

Read more in this guide about how safe and how dangerous each energy source could potentially be across a wider range of factors.

 

Other Practical Considerations With Hydrogen Energy

Examples of other potential practical considerations in using hydrogen energy might be:

 

– Interruptions In Hydrogen Supply

Interruptions hydrogen supply facilities might for example lead to interruptions at hydrogen refill stations

 

– Sustainability

Read more about how potentially sustainable, renewable and clean hydrogen energy might be

 

– Other

There can be many other practical considerations, with just a few being consistency/reliability of supply, the infrastructure and capability of a city to support hydrogen energy, politics, and more.

Read more in this guide about the main challenges (cost, demand, supply) to greater scaling of hydrogen energy, and what might be done to improve hydrogen energy in the future.

It’s worth noting that hydrogen energy, unlike some other energy sources, can unlock capabilities of other energy sources.

One example of this is that surplus renewable energy like solar and wind can store energy as hydrogen if they funnel electricity into electrolysis.

So, hydrogen can be used as a means of energy storage, and this may decrease the need for other storage methods like batteries.

Hydrogen energy can be flexible, versatile and complimentary in this way.

 

 

Sources

1. https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/hydrogen/use-of-hydrogen.php

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_fuel#Uses

3. https://www.energy.gov/eere/articles/hydrogen-clean-flexible-energy-carrier

4. https://www.iea.org/reports/the-future-of-hydrogen

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