With the world still reliant on fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, to meet its ever-increasing energy requirements, there is a strong push to find and use renewable energy sources, like Hydrogen, to displace fossil fuels.
Hydrogen (specifically green Hydrogen) has been a viable candidate for decades. However, will the future run on hydrogen furnaces and hydrogen fuel cells?
This article will unpack what renewable Hydrogen offers, directly comparing it to natural gas. The objective is to identify the advantages and drawbacks of embracing Hydrogen by understanding what natural gas offers and how we must evolve if Hydrogen is to be more widely adopted.
Natural gas’s wide availability and flexibility allow it to be used within dozens of industries. It enables a wide array of fundamental industrial and manufacturing processes, including:
- Pulp and paper
- Food processing
- Paints and Pigment
- Ethanol & Methanol
- The most common primary applications tend to be fuel for:
- Direct contact water heating
- Co-firing alongside other fuels ()
In its raw state, Natural gas is colorless and odorless. But before it is piped to consumers, methane is blended with a foul-smelling odorant called mercaptan to make it easier for humans to detect. It can contain several carcinogenic compounds, including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, and hexane. Natural gas is widely considered one of the safer fossil fuels to use both industrially and in a residential setting because of its relatively clean burn.
One of the primary features that make it safe is that it’s lighter than air. So when gas leaks occur, the gas disperses more quickly than other fuels.
There are dangers, but relatively speaking, it’s a safer energy source than other fossil fuels.
According to sources such as the Millennium Alliance for Humanity and the Biosphere (MAHB), assuming we maintain our current demand, there are approximately 50 years of known natural gas reserves on earth.
As natural gas is readily available, it’s also considered the ideal backup fuel source for emergency situations. For example, after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, the Japanese turned to natural gas. The Japanese imported large quantities to help match the energy demand.
Fossil-fuel-caused pollution remains a major concern. LNG is considered a lower-emission alternative to diesel and other fuel sources, specifically when considering power for transportation. In transportation applications, natural gas emits 20% less CO2 and over 90% less particulate matter than diesel fuel, lessening air pollution.
When comparing natural gas to coal, natural gas produces approximately half of the carbon dioxide (CO2) that coal does when burned to generate electricity. That is significant, but it also produces less than 1/10th of the air pollutants like NOx.
Natural gas is abundant in the USA, which directly impacts costs. The greater the supply, the lower the cost. The savings are significant when you map these facts to an industrial setting.
You can also expect to pay lower taxes and fees with natural gas. Lower emissions mean fewer government-mandated penalties for emissions.
There is a movement for Hydrogen to be embraced by industries where it is presently absent. These include manufacturing, heating, transportation, and power production.
We are now going to explore some of the drivers behind the calls for increased hydrogen adoption, specifically why new Hydrogen based technologies are attracting heavy investor interest.
For example, at Modern Electron, we are investing in technology that can be used to make resilient and efficient net-zero hydrogen boilers and furnaces.
Critical energy difficulties can be overcome with the aid of Hydrogen. It enables strategies for decarbonizing many key industries, including long-distance transportation, chemical products, and iron and steel, where cutting emissions significantly is difficult.
Additionally, Hydrogen can boost energy independence and aid in cleaning the air. Despite incredibly ambitious global climate objectives, CO2 emissions connected to energy continue to hit new global highs.
An estimated 3 million people die needlessly each year due to air pollution, which continues to be a major issue.
Renewable energy sources might contribute considerably more thanks to Hydrogen. It could assist with fluctuating production from renewable energy sources like wind and solar, whose availability doesn’t always align well with energy demand and usage.
One of the most promising options for storing renewable power is Hydrogen. Surplus renewable electricity can be used to generate Hydrogen that can then be stored as a potential power for days, weeks, or even months.
Power from renewables can then be transported over large distances using Hydrogen and hydrogen-based fuels, from places with plentiful solar and wind resources to energy-starved customers in factories and cities in different locations.
Recent achievements in solar PV, wind, batteries, and EVs (electric vehicles) have demonstrated the potential of policy and technological innovation to create a worldwide clean energy sector.
The adaptability of Hydrogen is attracting an increasingly wide base of attention from government and businesses due to the increasing focus on global warming and international challenges in the global energy market.
Interest in Hydrogen is growing from countries that import energy to companies that generate electricity. Suppliers of industrial gasses are forecasting rapid growth in hydrogen demand, and makers of both automobiles and Class-8 trucks are advertising new vehicles soon to be on the market.
Investing in hydrogen research can support new industrial and technical growth, generating skilled employment throughout the world’s economy.
CleanHydrogen is gaining prominence in the energy market. In addition to President Biden’s pledges to accelerate green Hydrogen and renewable energy developments, new clean hydrogen pyrolysis and reforming technologies have attracted the attention of some of the world’s largest investors.
The US Department of Energy has already committed up to $100 million to fund research into fuel cells and Hydrogen. Many experts expect this to grow due to pending legislation. The European Union plans to spend $430 billion to develop and implement the use of green Hydrogen by 2030. Germany, Saudi Arabia, Australia, Chile, Japan, and Saudi Arabia are all working on domestic green Hydrogen projects.
There are, of course, other reasons to want Hydrogen as a clean fuel of the future. But, the driving forces now seem to be the public’s increasing understanding that we need to change how we create and consume energy and the sobering reality that fossil fuels are a finite resource. Unfortunately, continuous use is not sustainable.
There are many ways to tell the two apart. In the context of this article, though, the critical difference is that by volume (assuming the same pressure), natural gas is more energy dense than Hydrogen; but by mass, Hydrogen is more energy dense than natural gas. This means that natural gas is easier to transport than Hydrogen (and needs less energy). Distributed methane pyrolysis and clean on-site methane reforming can solve these logistics and economic challenges by eliminating the need for hydrogen transportation and storage.
Since fossil fuels are the most common energy source, they offer an excellent reference for Hydrogen. When comparing the same mass, Hydrogen holds around three times as much energy as natural gas. Hydrogen fuel cells can be 2-3 times more efficient than modern internal combustion engines. Hydrogen also produces no global warming emissions, so the true lifecycle cost that includes health and environmental externalities is much less than natural gas.
Today more Hydrogen is used in oil refining and fertilizer production than anywhere else. We can use energy efficiency, renewable power, and direct electrification to reduce emissions from many industries. However, industries like aviation, concrete and steel production, and long-distance trucking are challenging to decarbonize because they require energy-dense fuels and a lot of heat. These demands could be satisfied using energy-dense green and clean Hydrogen.