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.
Summary – Is Hydrogen Energy Practical? (Cost, Efficiency, Safety, & More)
Weighing up the practicality of hydrogen energy:
And, when looking at the capital costs of fuel cells for example compared to other energy sources, this certainly seems to be accurate.
Firstly, the cost of hydrogen energy can be dependent on HOW the hydrogen is produced.
Hydrogen produced from hydrocarbons like natural gas can have cost largely influenced by the price of gas, and the cost of capital.
It makes sense then that countries and regions around the world with access to cheap natural gas might be able to make hydrogen at cheaper costs.
The price of natural gas can also fluctuate over time, so the price of hydrogen energy may fluctuate with these prices.
Something to consider is that hydrogen can be produced from electrolysis with electricity generated from other energy sources other than hydrocarbons.
There is the possibility that electricity provided by renewable energy sources like solar and wind could become more affordable in the future.
If this happens, the cost to produce hydrogen via electrolysis with renewable energy sources could decrease, leading to cheaper overall hydrogen energy.
Secondly, hydrogen has to be able to compete from a pricing point of view with the alternative energy and fuel sources.
With this being the case, it doesn’t matter as much whether hydrogen energy costs decrease, but rather if they are able to decrease to the point that they out compete alternatives.
One example of this is with hydrogen fuel cell vs gasoline vehicles.
The energy.gov resource listed below explains this in greater detail
Efficiency can be measured in various ways, and can also be influenced by various factors
For example, efficiency might be measured in terms of how efficiently the primary source of energy (like natural gas, or solar energy) converts into hydrogen. It could also be measured in terms of the efficiency of the conversion method – steam reforming vs electrolysis. It could also be measured in terms of 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).
From the sources below, we see that the efficiency of hydrogen might involve:
– Hydrogen fuel cells being a more efficient way to produce energy or electricity, compared to using hydrogen directly, or using hydrogen in an internal combustion engine
– Electrolysis being more efficient process than steam reforming when producing hydrogen
– When hydrogen is used in fuel cells in cars, other factors and features like regenerative braking can also impact efficiency. So, the other features used in activities like transport or electricity production should be considered
Two of the potential danger issues with hydrogen might involve:
– Leaking from pipes – although, hydrogen might be at more risk to leak from iron natural gas pipes, compared to plastic pipes
– Ignition, combustion and explosions – because of the properties of hydrogen. Explosions at hydrogen refuelling stations have been reported.
It’s important to note though that these are just two safety factors to consider.
Other Considerations To Do With Practicality
There can be many other practical considerations, with just a few being consistency of supply, environmental sustainability, the infrastructure and capability of a city to support hydrogen energy, politics, and more.
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.
*NOTE – The practicality of hydrogen energy depends on many different factors, and although there are generalisations that can be made, practicality also differs depending on the individual country or State/province (as each one will have their own challenges)
In this guide, we cover some of the general considerations of the practicality of hydrogen energy.
Cost Of Hydrogen Energy
Producing hydrogen from natural gas
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.
Low gas prices in the Middle East, Russia and North America give rise to some of the lowest hydrogen production costs.
Gas importers like Japan, Korea, China and India have to contend with higher gas import prices, and that makes for higher hydrogen production costs.
Producing hydrogen from primary energy sources other than fossil fuels
In the longer term, solar energy and biomass can be used more directly to generate hydrogen as new technologies make alternative production methods cost competitive.
Energy losses with hydrogen
In order for hydrogen to be profitable, there’s production cost to consider, but also energy loss during transportation, storage and boil off energy losses.
Energy loss should be minimized in order to keep hydrogen affordable – producing hydrogen locally and using it immediately or soon after production is a way to do this.
Vittana.org provides more information on energy loss with hydrogen:
When transporting hydrogen, there is an expected 20% energy loss associated with its movement.
Hydrogen energy loses an average of 1% of its viability for every day that it is kept in storage for transportation.
There are also boil-off losses associated with hydrogen energy that can be as high as 50%.
Efficiency Of Hydrogen Energy
Hydrogen energy uses in fuel cells in general
[When hydrogen reacts with oxygen and releases energy in] an electrochemical cell, that energy can be used with relatively high efficiency.
If it is used simply for heat, the usual thermodynamics limits on the thermal efficiency apply
Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles vs conventional internal combustion engine vehicles running on gasoline
The interest in hydrogen as a transportation fuel is based on its potential for domestic production and use in fuel cells for high efficiency, zero-emission electric vehicles.
A fuel cell is two to three times more efficient than an internal combustion engine running on gasoline.
Hydrogen use in vehicles is a major focus of fuel cell research and development
Fuel cells present the most attractive choice for energy conversion from hydrogen directly towards electricity, due to their high efficiency, low noise, and limited number of moving parts.
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).
This means that much greater fuel economy is available using hydrogen in a fuel cell, compared to that of a hydrogen combustion engine
The efficiency of steam reforming vs electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen
[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
Is Hydrogen Energy Safe or Dangerous?
Although hydrogen is the smallest element and thus has a slightly higher propensity to leak from venerable natural gas pipes such as those made from iron, leakage from plastic (polyethylene PE100) pipes is expected to be very low at about 0.001%
Hydrogen fuel is hazardous because of the low ignition energy and high combustion energy of hydrogen, and because it tends to leak easily from tanks.
Explosions at hydrogen filling stations have been reported.
Other Practical Considerations With Hydrogen Energy
There are many other practical considerations in using hydrogen energy.
Just a few other examples include but aren’t limited to:
Hydrogen fuelling stations generally receive deliveries of hydrogen by truck from hydrogen suppliers.
An interruption at a hydrogen supply facility can shut down multiple hydrogen fuelling stations
Infrastructure & Capabilities Of A Town, City Or Country