What Is Hydrogen Energy, & What Is It Used For?

In this guide, we outline answers to the following questions/queries about hydrogen energy:

– What is hydrogen?

– What is hydrogen energy?

– How is hydrogen energy made/produced?

– How does hydrogen energy work?

– What is hydrogen energy used for?

– Which countries use hydrogen energy?

 

What Is Hydrogen? 

Hydrogen is an elemental gas

It is the most abundant chemical substance in the universe

It is most commonly found in molecular form, combined with other elements, in water and organic compounds

Comparatively, this far less hydrogen found in the atmosphere

 

What Is Hydrogen Energy?

Hydrogen energy is a secondary energy source that uses hydrogen as the main element in the fuel or energy application it’s being used for

When taking a look at the example of hydrogen energy used in hydrogen vehicles, hydrogen energy is used in the form of hydrogen fuel cells, or hydrogen fuel

 

How Is Hydrogen Produced For Hydrogen Energy?

Hydrogen Can’t Be Extracted From Nature

Hydrogen can’t be extracted from nature like coal can

The reason for this is because hydrogen is found in the greatest quantities in other organic compounds – mainly water, and also different hydrocarbons (i.e. fossil fuels)

In order to produce hydrogen, it first has to be separated from the elements in the molecules of these compounds

 

Form Of Hydrogen For Production

Hydrogen is usually produced into a liquid or gas

 

How Hydrogen Is Produced

There’s a few different ways to separate hydrogen from organic compounds

Those are:

1. Reforming (From Hydrocarbons)

Reforming is the separation of hydrogen from hydrocarbons/fossil fuels using heat

The specific process is called steam methane reforming, and it extracts hydrogen from methane by combining high-temperature steam with natural gas (i.e. it’s the heating of methane from natural gas)

wikipedia.org (paraphrased) mentions that steam methane reforming is the currently leading technology for producing large quantities of hydrogen, and accounts for most of the hydrogen we produce

renewableenergyworld.com, iea.org and energy.gov (paraphrased) also indicate that natural gas is the primary energy source used for hydrogen production 

wikipedia.org also mentions (paraphrased) that as recently as 2020, approximately 95% of all hydrogen is produced from fossil fuel ‘… by steam reforming or partial oxidation of methane and coal gasification’, and only small quantities come from other methods (like biomass gasification or electrolysis of water or solar thermochemistry)

originenergy.com.au also quotes the same 95% figure, and mentions that this hydrogen production mainly uses ‘… natural gas via a steam methane reformation process or using a coal gasification method’

iea.org has a slightly different figure, indicate that ‘[Natural gas accounts for] around three quarters of the annual global dedicated hydrogen production …’

 

2. Electrolysis (Of Water)

In this process, hydrogen is produced from water

To do that, the hydrogen and oxygen atoms in the water need to be separated

This is achieved by running an electrical current through the water via a process called electrolysis

Electrolysis can be carried out with electricity from a range of energy sources – fossil fuels, renewables (solar, wind, geothermal), biomass, nuclear, or something else

The Hydrogen Production facility in Fukushima is said to produce hydrogen from both grid fed electricity, and solar panel electricity

iea.org indicates that ‘… less than 0.1% of global dedicated hydrogen production today comes from water electrolysis’

Electrolysis for hydrogen production may become more popular as the cost to produce electricity becomes more cost effective compared to the cost to provide natural gas in the steam methane reforming process

If costs for electricity come down in the future, or the cost competitiveness of electrolysis generally improves, this could make electrolysis more appealing

 

*Another Way Hydrogen Is Produced?

energy.gov notes that ‘… microbes like bacteria and microalgae … consume plant material and produce hydrogen gas too …’

 

What Happens To Hydrogen After Production

Once the hydrogen is produced, it can be transported, stored, and/or used. 

 

Burning Hydrogen For Energy Directly, & Combining It With Other Energy Sources

Hydrogen liquid or gas can be burnt directly as a fuel for energy

Two examples of this are in rocket ships, and in vehicles that combust hydrogen fuel directly (although there aren’t a large amount of these vehicles)

Hydrogen can also be used partially with another fuel for energy

One example of this provided by wikipedia.org is an internal combustion engine car that has been converted to run on a diesel-hydrogen mix 

Another example provided by wikipedia.org is in heating and cooking where a small % of hydrogen (such as 20% hydrogen, or an amount that won’t cause issues in the pipes) can be mixed with natural gas 

 

Using Hydrogen In A Fuel Cell

Hydrogen can be delivered to fuel cells to generate electricity, or heat

A fuel cell is an electrochemical cell that combines hydrogen and oxygen together.

When hydrogen and oxygen react across the electrochemical cell, they produce a usable form of electricity for the consumer, along with water and a small amount of heat.

The engie.com.au resource in the resources list does a very good job of explaining exactly how the chemical reaction in a hydrogen fuel cell works 

Fuel cells come in different types, different sizes, and can be used for various applications

An example of this is in a fuel cell vehicle where the fuel cell powers an electric motor.

 

From renewableenergyworld.com:

Fuel cells [can be ] a source of heat and electricity for buildings, and as an electrical power source for electric motors propelling vehicles [and unlike a battery, a hydrogen fuel cell will never lose it’s charge … it will keep working until the supply of hydrogen runs out] 

 

What Is Hydrogen Used For As Energy?

General Uses

It’s main uses might be:

Fuel for transport

Heating

A way to store electricity

 

Hydrogen might be used in a similar way as natural gas as energy.

 

Additionally, as a raw material, hydrogen can be used in industrial processes

 

Specific Uses

Some examples of the different applications or uses of hydrogen are:

 

– Hydrogen fuel cells

Hydrogen is delivered to fuel cells to generate electricity and heat

Hydrogen fuel cells have been used for multiple applications

One example is road vehicles like commercial hydrogen fuel cell passenger vehicles and also fuel cell buses (vehicles can use hydrogen fuel cells to produce electricity to power an electric motor)

Other examples are:

To generate electricity in stationary or portable/mobile power stations

For spaceships (to power electrical systems)

 

– A small number of vehicles use hydrogen directly as a fuel

They burn hydrogen to run a combustion engine

 

– Hydrogen fuel can be used as an alternative to natural gas for heating and cooking and heating applications

 

– Used in a combined cycle gas turbine to produce larger quantities of centrally produced electricity

 

– Liquid hydrogen has been used in the past as rocket fuel

 

– The IEA resource listed below outlines the various sectors that hydrogen and hydrogen energy are used in, such as industry, power generation, transport, and buildings

 

Hydrogen Used In Industry

It’s worth noting that most of the hydrogen most of the hydrogen consumed in the US is used by industry 

energy.gov mentions that it’s most commonly used in ‘… petroleum refining and fertilizer production [hydrogen is a key component of ammonia], while transportation and utilities are emerging markets’

eia.gov lists other examples in their guide, such as treating metals

 

vittana.org notes that when hydrogen is used as energy for refining: ‘… the vapor from hydrogen energy can even be condensed into water that is safe to drink’

 

Which Countries Are Using Hydrogen Energy Already? 

The US is one of the leaders in hydrogen energy use, but it’s not the only country that uses hydrogen energy.

Both the US and Japan are examples of hydrogen producers.

 

 

Sources

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

2. https://www.engie.com.au/home/engie-today/education/how-does-hydrogen-power-work/

3. https://www.originenergy.com.au/blog/hydrogen-energy-what-is-it-and-why-origins-looking-into-it/

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

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

6. https://www.renewableenergyworld.com/types-of-renewable-energy/hydrogen/#gref

7. https://arena.gov.au/renewable-energy/hydrogen/

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

9. https://vittana.org/18-biggest-hydrogen-energy-pros-and-cons

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