The Truth About Hydrogen’s Dirty Problem – Green Hydrogen Explained

This episode is brought to you by Brilliant
… click the link in the description below. Hydrogen and fuel cells are often held up
as one of the big solutions to getting off fossil fuels, but what if I told you that
95% of hydrogen is currently produced from fossil fuels? This is when green hydrogen typically comes
up. But what is it and how does it stack up against
other renewable options? And what if I told you there’s a solar cell
that can make hydrogen directly from the air? Let’s explore green hydrogen’s booming
potential. Yeah, I made an explosion joke. I’m Matt Ferrell … welcome to Undecided So when did hydrogen go green? On paper, the British scientist J.B.S. Haldane was the first one to raise the concept
of renewable hydrogen in 1923. It’s not until 1990 that the Haldane prediction
came true. In that year, hydrogen was produced from solar
for the first time in a German pilot plant. But what is green hydrogen … well, there
are three color coded categories of hydrogen production: green, gray, and blue.

As of today, the definition of green hydrogen
doesn’t seem to be the same across the globe. Based on the European CertifHy project, hydrogen
is awarded a …green card…if it’s generated by renewable energy and the process’ carbon
emissions are 60% below those released by gray hydrogen. Gray hydrogen is made from fossil fuels … obviously. Specifically by steam reforming of natural
gas. And gray hydrogen turns into blue when carbon
capture and utilisation/storage (CCS/CCU) are used in the process. Basically you’re just sucking up as much
of the carbon output as you can. I’ve got a video on CCS in another video
if you’re interested, but that’s the full hydrogen rainbow.

But how do we produce green hydrogen from
renewable sources? The most ready-to-go technologies are: 1)
a renewables-powered electrolyzer (a.k.a. power-to-gas (P2G) technology and 2) steam
reforming of biogas with or without CCS/CCU. For the purposes on focusing on the greenest
hydrogen, I’m only going to look at the first one. So first, what’s an electrolyzer? Put simply, it’s a device that breaks down
water into oxygen and hydrogen. This happens in a cell with a membrane separating
a cathode (positive pole) and an anode (negative pole). When you apply a current to the cell you trigger
electrolysis, in other words water splitting.

Now it sounds like a green process, but there’s
a major issue. If you’re not using renewable-generated
electricity to power the electrolyzer, then you’re still having a high environmental
impact. Although industrial renewable-powered electrolyzers
achieve efficiencies of up to 85%, only 4% of the global hydrogen is produced this way. The high-purity hydrogen produced by an electrolyzer
is ideal to be fed to a fuel cell. During the last decade hydrogen fuel cells
development has slowed down, but it’s still moving along and hasn’t stopped.

Japanese companies have been all in on fuel
cells for use in vehicles (FCEVs). Sometimes to a fault, but the cost is dropping
as the technology edges toward mass production. Even if FCEVs lowering costs drop at the expected
rate, it’s not expected to match those of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and fossil-fuelled
cars until 2030. Even though passenger car variants of FCEVs
may be lagging behind battery electric, other transport types might benefit from them. Hydrogen fuel cells may make more sense for
heavier vehicles traveling over longer distances such as buses, trucks and trains. For example, in 2016 in the US there were
12,000 hydrogen fuel cell powered forklift trucks. Other than road and rail transport, green
hydrogen appeals to the shipping industry as well. Many maritime companies are considering this
option, but it’s not clear sailing since hydrogen has a low volumetric energy density
compared to other fuels, which makes it tricky to store on board. The workaround for that would be to use high
pressure systems, liquefied hydrogen or solid material to trap the gas into. All of this is still under development.

So, is green hydrogen getting off the ground? In some cases it is … literally. Airbus is counting on green hydrogen to propel
its zero-emission aircrafts by 2030, but the aviation application isn’t free of challenges
either. We’re still far from having adequate infrastructures
to provide large amounts of hydrogen at airports around the world. There seems to be a lot going on in the transportation
sector, but what else can we do with green hydrogen? We can’t electrify everything and green
hydrogen can work as an…extension cord…for renewable energy.

Plus, clean hydrogen can also be stored, so
it can be used to compensate for renewable energy intermittency. This makes a lot of sense as it gives us flexibility
and a more resilient grid when used in combination with renewable energy. That’s why this clean fuel can be strategic
as we clean up different sectors like heating and other fossil fuel-dependent applications
(e.g. like steel production). For instance, as of 2018, hydrogen fuel cells
heated up 225,000 homes around the world.

So, which countries are in pole position in
the green hydrogen race? One of them is my favorite renewable energy
go to: Australia. Hydrogen Renewables Australia is developing
a 5-gigawatt project to produce green hydrogen for export to Asian countries. The mega electrolyzer will be powered by a
combo of solar and wind and use desalinated water taken from the ocean. The UK is planning to use its offshore wind
power for a 5GW hydrogen production capacity by 2030.

Green hydrogen can inspire a vision for futuristic
cities. Just like the Saudi Arabian Neom, a $500bn
urban project, whose energy demand will come from renewable hydrogen. To make the dream come true, the US company
Air Products & Chemicals has been building what they claim to be the world’s largest
green hydrogen plant. 4 GW worth of solar and wind installations
will generate the clean fuel. And then there’s Wuhan … it’s not just
famous … or infamous … for what we all know it for. China is planning to shape Wuhan as a hydrogen
city, which will have up to 100 fueling stations by 2025.

But solar and wind aren’t the only options
to produce green hydrogen. Despite an explosion at a hydrogen filling
station, Nel’s fuel cell EVs production is still going at … full blast … the Norwegian
company has been generating their clean hydrogen from hydropower since 1940. This year Scotland will launch the world’s
first continuous green hydrogen plant powered by tides. The missing link is vanadium flow batteries,
which will store energy surplus generated by tidal turbines at high tide and release
it at low tide. To add to that, geothermal energy will also
contribute to green hydrogen generation in New Zealand at some point this year. That’s not the end of it. Scientists around the world have been brewing
up clean hydrogen using crazy innovations. What if you could produce hydrogen using the
solar panel on your roof? A Belgian research team did it. Well, they didn’t actually use the one on
your roof, but developed a solar cell prototype that produced 250 liters of hydrogen per day
out of sunlight and moisture. Yes, just the moisture from the air. To add to that, their latest panel efficiency
increased 150 times compared to the one created 10 years earlier.

Now, this is still lab talk, but if they’re
able to scale up the technology, we won’t need expensive electrolysis mega-plants. What about producing hydrogen while reducing
global warming at the same time? Sounds crazy, right? Well, South Korean researchers developed a
catalyst made of cheap materials like magnesium to convert the two worst greenhouse gases,
CO2 and CH4, into hydrogen. Their climate-friendly process is called dry
reforming. Another cheap yet efficient solution is coming
from Japan. The University of Tokyo made hydrogen out
of light, organic waste and a catalyst made of rust. Yes, rust. By-passing the energy-demanding, water-thirsty
electrolysis, their technology produced 25 times more hydrogen than the conventional
techniques. While there is a buzz around green hydrogen,
it’s money that makes the world go around, right? So, is it worth it? Let’s look at the true cost of green hydrogen
and see how competitive it is compared to other fuels.

Based on the International Renewable Energy
Agency (IRENA), as of today green hydrogen has a comparable cost (around $2.50/kg) to
some of the fossil-fuel alternatives only when produced with the cheapest renewable
technology. Good news is the levelized cost of energy
(LCOE) of solar and wind has fallen dramatically over the last decade and is expected to continue
to fall over the next 30 years from additional technology improvements. The same applies to electrolyzers. This favorable combo is expected to make green
hydrogen cheaper than all forms of hydrogen from fossil fuels by 2050. Or even by 2025 according to Nel. The Norwegian electrolyzer manufacturer claimed
they could cut the cost of their devices by 75%. This will bring down the levelized cost of
hydrogen (LCOH) to $1.50/kg. The same as grey hydrogen. So if they pull this off, they’ll be price
parity in just a few years. The Hydrogen Council also predicted green
hydrogen to become more competitive than grey hydrogen as early as 2030 for long-range large
vehicles (trains, buses, forklifts), boilers and industrial heating. But this won’t come for free. We’ll need to invest $70B to up-scale hydrogen
technologies.

It’s a big investment. Throwing money at hydrogen might not be a
good idea for some. Green hydrogen skeptics argue we might struggle
to produce enough renewable energy to meet its global demand. So what do we do? We could mix and match the colors. Remember blue hydrogen? It might be able to act as a bridge as we
ramp up green production. The point is that the much-hyped hydrogen
economy might be slower and less green than many think. The hydrogen hype might work as a diversion
driving money away from renewables and battery technologies … shifting it towards oil companies. Regardless of how you may feel about that,
green hydrogen might be an essential piece of the renewable energy puzzle over the next
few decades.

If you’d like to learn more about hydrogen,
energy, and the “how” behind a lot of this, check out the Science Essentials course
at Brilliant. I’m not a scientist, so taking this course
really helped to fill in the gaps for me on a lot of the topics I cover … and it’s
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about energy, they have over 60 courses including topics in computer science, physics, and mathematics. They teach all of the concepts through fun
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Not
just the "how." It helps to develop your intuition, which
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annual premium membership. Thanks to Brilliant and to all of you for
supporting the channel. So what do you think of green hydrogen? Is it an essential part of our fossil fuel
free energy future? Jump into the comments and let me know. If you liked this video be sure to check out
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