Hydrogen Fuels Rockets, But What About Power For Daily Life?

Hydrogen Fuels Rockets, But What About Power For Daily Life? NASA has launched all of its space shuttle missions using hydrogen as fuel. NASA, CC BY

Have you ever watched a space shuttle launch? The fuel used to thrust these enormous structures away from Earth’s gravitational pull is hydrogen.

Hydrogen also holds potential as a source of energy for our daily activities – driving, heating our houses, and maybe more.

This month the federal coalition government opened public consultation on a national hydrogen strategy. Labor has also pledged to set aside funding to develop clean hydrogen. The COAG Energy Ministers meeting in December 2018 indicated strong support for a hydrogen economy.

But is Australia ready to explore this competitive, low-carbon energy alternative for residential, commercial, industrial and transport sectors?

There are two key aspects to assessing our readiness for a hydrogen economy - technological advancement (can we actually do it?) and societal acceptance (will we use it?).

Is the technology mature enough?

The hydrogen economy cycle consists of three key steps:

  • hydrogen production
  • hydrogen storage and delivery
  • hydrogen consumption – converting the chemical energy of hydrogen into other forms of energy.

Hydrogen production

For hydrogen to become a major future fuel, water electrolysis is likely the best method of production. In this process, electricity is used to split water molecules into hydrogen (H₂) and oxygen (O₂).

This technology becomes commercially feasible when electricity is produced at relatively low costs by renewable sources such as solar and wind. Costs may drop further in the near future as the production technology becomes more efficient.

How hydrogen is created and used as a power source.

Hydrogen storage and delivery

Effective storage and delivery are vital for the safe and efficient handling of large amounts of hydrogen.

Because it is very light, hydrogen has conventionally been compressed at high pressure, or liquefied and stored at an extremely low temperature of -253℃. Taking these steps requires an extra energy investment, so efficiency drops by up to 40%. But current hydrogen storage and delivery still rests on these two technologies – compression and liquefaction – as they are proven and supported by well-established infrastructure and experience.

Another option being explored (but needing further development) is to combine hydrogen with other elements, and then release it when required for use.

Currently, most hydrogen fuel cell cars use carbon-fibre reinforced tanks to store highly compressed hydrogen gas. The cost of tanks will need to lower to make this option more economic (currently over a few thousands of US dollars per unit).

Using hydrogen as a fuel

There are two main ways to convert the chemical energy in hydrogen into usable energy (electrical energy or heat energy). Both of these approaches produce water as the by-product.

A primitive and straightforward way of using hydrogen is to burn it to generate heat – just like you use natural gas for cooking and heating in your home.

A trial planned for South Australia aims to generate hydrogen using renewable electricity, and then inject it into the local gas distribution network. This way of “blending” gases can avoid the cost of building costly delivery infrastructure, but will incur expenditures associated with modifications to existing pipelines. Extensive study and testing of this activity are required.

When used in hydrogen fuel cells, energy is produced when hydrogen reacts with oxygen. This is the technology used by NASA and other operators in space missions, and by car manufacturers in hydrogen fuel cell cars. It’s the most advanced method for hydrogen use at the moment.

Turn up the sound for this hydrogen-fuelled launch.

It works, but will we accept it?

Safety considerations

As a fuel, hydrogen has some properties that make it safer to use than the fuels more commonly used today, such as diesel and petrol.

Hydrogen is non-toxic. It is also much lighter than air, allowing for rapid dispersal in case of a leak. This contrasts with the buildup of flammable gases in the case of diesel and petrol leaks, which can cause explosions.

However, hydrogen does burn easily in air, and ignites more readily than gasoline or natural gas. This is why hydrogen cars have such robust carbon fibre tanks – to prevent leakages.

Where hydrogen is used in commercial settings as a fuel, strict regulations and effective measures have been established to prevent and detect leaks, and to vent hydrogen. Household applications of hydrogen fuel would also need to address this issue.

Impact on the environment

From an environmental perspective, the ideal cycle in a hydrogen economy involves:

  • hydrogen production through using electrolysis to split water
  • hydrogen consumption via reacting it with oxygen in a fuel cell, producing water as a byproduct.

If the electricity for electrolysis is generated from renewable sources, this whole value chain has minimal environment impact and is sustainable.

Moving closer to a hydrogen economy

Cheap electricity from renewable energy resources is the key in making large-scale hydrogen production via electrolysis a reality in Australia. Internationally it’s already clear – for example, in Germany and Texas – that renewable hydrogen is cost competitive in niche applications, although not yet for industrial-scale supply.

Techniques for storage and delivery need to be improved in terms of cost and efficiency, and manufacturing of hydrogen fuel cells requires advancement.

Hydrogen is a desirable source of energy, since it can be produced in large quantities and stored for a long time without loss of capacity. Because it’s so light, it’s an economical way to transport energy produced by renewables over large distances (including across oceans).

Underpinned by advanced technologies, with strong support by governments, and commitment from many multinational energy and automobile companies, hydrogen fuel links renewable energy with end-users in a clean and sustainable way.

Let’s see if hydrogen takes off.The Conversation

About The Author

Zhenguo Huang, Senior lecturer, University of Technology Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Related Books

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

by Paul Hawken and Tom Steyer
9780143130444In the face of widespread fear and apathy, an international coalition of researchers, professionals, and scientists have come together to offer a set of realistic and bold solutions to climate change. One hundred techniques and practices are described here—some are well known; some you may have never heard of. They range from clean energy to educating girls in lower-income countries to land use practices that pull carbon out of the air. The solutions exist, are economically viable, and communities throughout the world are currently enacting them with skill and determination. Available On Amazon

Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy

by Hal Harvey, Robbie Orvis, Jeffrey Rissman
1610919564With the effects of climate change already upon us, the need to cut global greenhouse gas emissions is nothing less than urgent. It’s a daunting challenge, but the technologies and strategies to meet it exist today. A small set of energy policies, designed and implemented well, can put us on the path to a low carbon future. Energy systems are large and complex, so energy policy must be focused and cost-effective. One-size-fits-all approaches simply won’t get the job done. Policymakers need a clear, comprehensive resource that outlines the energy policies that will have the biggest impact on our climate future, and describes how to design these policies well. Available On Amazon

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate

by Naomi Klein
1451697392In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn’t just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and health care. It’s an alarm that calls us to fix an economic system that is already failing us in many ways. Klein meticulously builds the case for how massively reducing our greenhouse emissions is our best chance to simultaneously reduce gaping inequalities, re-imagine our broken democracies, and rebuild our gutted local economies. She exposes the ideological desperation of the climate-change deniers, the messianic delusions of the would-be geoengineers, and the tragic defeatism of too many mainstream green initiatives. And she demonstrates precisely why the market has not—and cannot—fix the climate crisis but will instead make things worse, with ever more extreme and ecologically damaging extraction methods, accompanied by rampant disaster capitalism. Available On Amazon

From The Publisher:
Purchases on Amazon go to defray the cost of bringing you InnerSelf.comelf.com, MightyNatural.com, and ClimateImpactNews.com at no cost and without advertisers that track your browsing habits. Even if you click on a link but don't buy these selected products, anything else you buy in that same visit on Amazon pays us a small commission. There is no additional cost to you, so please contribute to the effort. You can also use this link to use to Amazon at any time so you can help support our efforts.

 

enafarzh-CNzh-TWdanltlfifrdeiwhihuiditjakomsnofaplptruesswsvthtrukurvi

follow InnerSelf on

facebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

LATEST VIDEOS

Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
Tiny Plankton Drive Processes In The Ocean That Capture Twice As Much Carbon As Scientists Thought
by Ken Buesseler
The ocean plays a major role in the global carbon cycle. The driving force comes from tiny plankton that produce…
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
Climate Change Threatens Drinking Water Quality Across The Great Lakes
by Gabriel Filippelli and Joseph D. Ortiz
“Do Not Drink/Do Not Boil” is not what anyone wants to hear about their city’s tap water. But the combined effects of…
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate impasse
Talking About Energy Change Could Break The Climate Impasse
by InnerSelf Staff
Everyone has energy stories, whether they’re about a relative working on an oil rig, a parent teaching a child to turn…
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
Crops Could Face Double Trouble From Insects And A Warming Climate
by Gregg Howe and Nathan Havko
For millennia, insects and the plants they feed on have been engaged in a co-evolutionary battle: to eat or not be…
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
To Reach Zero Emissions Government Must Address Hurdles Putting People Off Electric Cars
by Swapnesh Masrani
Ambitious targets have been set by the UK and Scottish governments to become net-zero carbon economies by 2050 and 2045…
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
Spring Is Arriving Earlier Across The US, And That's Not Always Good News
by Theresa Crimmins
Across much of the United States, a warming climate has advanced the arrival of spring. This year is no exception.
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
The Last Ice Age Tells Us Why We Need To Care About A 2℃ Change In Temperature
by Alan N Williams, et al
The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that without a substantial decrease…
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
A Georgia Town Gets Half Of Its Electricity From President Jimmy Carter's Solar Farm
by Johnna Crider
Plains, Georgia, is a small town that is just south of Columbus, Macon, and Atlanta and north of Albany. It is the…

LATEST ARTICLES

Hurricanes And Other Extreme Weather Disasters Prompt Some People To Move And Trap Others In Place
Hurricanes And Other Extreme Weather Disasters Prompt Some People To Move And Trap Others In Place
by Jack DeWaard
If it seems like extreme weather disasters such as hurricanes and wildfires are becoming more frequent, severe and…
If All Cars Were Electric, UK Carbon Emissions Would Drop By 12%
If All Cars Were Electric, UK Carbon Emissions Would Drop By 12%
by George Milev and Amin Al-Habaibeh
The COVID-19 lockdown has led to reduced pollution and emissions in the UK and around the world, providing a clear…
Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Is Devastating Indigenous Lands, With The World Distracted
Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro Is Devastating Indigenous Lands, With The World Distracted
by Brian Garvey, and Mauricio Torres
The Amazon fires of 2019 drove the greatest single year loss of Brazilian forest in a decade. But with the world in the…
Why Countries Don't Count Emissions From Goods They Import
Why Countries Don't Count Emissions From Goods They Import
by Sarah McLaren
I would like to know if New Zealand’s carbon emissions of 0.17% include emissions produced from products manufactured…
Green Bailouts: Relying On Carbon Offsetting Will Let Polluting Airlines Off The Hook
Green Bailouts: Relying On Carbon Offsetting Will Let Polluting Airlines Off The Hook
by Ben Christopher Howard
The coronavirus pandemic has grounded thousands of aircraft, contributing to the largest-ever annual fall in CO₂…
Longer Growing Seasons Have A Limited Effect On Combating Climate Change
Longer Growing Seasons Have A Limited Effect On Combating Climate Change
by Alemu Gonsamo
Climate warming is leading to early springs and delayed autumns in colder environments, allowing plants to grow for a…
Both Conservatives And Liberals Want A Green Energy Future, But For Different Reasons
Both Conservatives And Liberals Want A Green Energy Future, But For Different Reasons
by Deidra Miniard et al
Political divisions are a growing fixture in the United States today, whether the topic is marriage across party lines,…
How The Climate Impact Of Beef Compares With Plant-based Alternatives
How The Climate Impact Of Beef Compares With Plant-based Alternatives
by Alexandra Macmillan and Jono Drew
I am wondering about the climate impact of vegan meat versus beef. How does a highly processed patty compare to…