Everyone is intent on going green. In recent years, hydrogen fuel has become synonymous with renewable energy. But did you know that hydrogen is the most abundant element on earth?
In tandem with its abundance, it is only natural for scientists to try and make the most of an inexhaustible alternative to fossil fuels. Unlike fossil fuels and other forms of natural gas, hydrogen fuel cell technology produces water as the only waste product. However, like with everything else, there is more than meets the eye.
To understand the pros and cons of hydrogen energy, you have to take a step back and understand both the production process and utilization stages.
Everything you Need to Know about Hydrogen Fuel Cells
Hydrogen is an important element, but luckily you don’t need to know its chemistry to make heads and tails of hydrogen energy. However, it helps to understand the technique by which hydrogen gas is used to generate electricity and how it is used as a non-polluting fuel.
Hydrogen Gas as Green Energy
Despite the popular ideology of hydrogen energy being at the pinnacle of renewable energy, it is not entirely accurate to say it is “green energy.” This is mainly because of the processes involved in production and storage. Consequently, hydrogen energy is classified into several colors depending on greenhouse gas emissions generated in the process of its use.
For the most part, a majority of the hydrogen energy is classified under gray energy. Grey hydrogen is made from processes that result in carbon dioxide emissions.
Steam methane reforming currently forms the backbone of gray hydrogen energy production and is widely adopted by governments such as Germany and the UK. Methane consists of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms; thus, carbon is produced.
Research and funding are being directed toward converting gray energy into blue hydrogen through carbon capture processes. Green hydrogen, on the other hand, refers to hydrogen gas extraction devoid of carbon emission. The electrolysis process is the most widely used method to produce hydrogen.
Electrolysis involves using an electric current to split water molecules into constituent hydrogen and oxygen atoms to produce hydrogen fuel.
Hydrogen Fuel Cells and Hydrogen Batteries: What’s the difference
Ideally, the sun is one of the most efficient renewable energy sources. However, its inability to provide sufficient energy at night disqualifies it in the race for efficiency. Similarly, hydrogen needs to do more than create stored energy to meet industrial and small scale requirements.
Hydrogen batteries are simply energy storage devices. Hydrogen fuel cells differ from hydrogen batteries because they can produce electricity directly.
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Pros and Cons of Hydrogen Energy
Hydrogen extraction might not be entirely green, but with adequate research, hydrogen may lead to more energy production with minimal environmental impact. As things stand, hydrogen is already being used to power vehicles, despite open criticism from key players in the renewable sources industry, such as Elon Musk.
There are many arguments on the advantages and disadvantages of using hydrogen in generating electricity, but the debate is far from over. Fuel cells might be the future, depending on whether you are a glass-half-full or a glass-half-empty kind of person. With stringent regulations, taxation, and legislation, natural gas is quickly being shed as an energy carrier.
The advantages of hydrogen power include the following:
1. Hydrogen Power Is Renewable
Hydrogen accounts for around 78 percent of all matter in the world. Hydrogen fuel cells depend on hydrogen provided by plant matter or fossil fuels but may also be produced from an abundant source such as water, which makes up a significant portion of the earth’s surface.
By sheer abundance, hydrogen fuel cells promise to provide a sustainable hydrogen energy source guaranteed far into the foreseeable future.
2. Hydrogen Has Zero Emissions
With the effects of global warming rapidly impacting lives all over the world, the search for a reliable source of energy to combat greenhouse gasses has never been hotter. Despite the current limitations on hydrogen production, green hydrogen remains a viable option as a renewable energy source.
Unlike the traditional combustion engine that discharges harmful gasses such as lead, nitrite, sulfur, and carbon-based gasses such as carbon monoxide, hydrogen gas burns to produce nothing more than water as the only by-product, which has minimal negative impacts on the environment as compared to other renewable energy sources and fossil fuels.
3. Hydrogen Gas is Non-Toxic
Many fossil fuel sources have been linked to carcinogenic effects, along with other conditions such as neural regression and mental retardation under elevated exposure.
Additionally, they have toxic effects on plants and animals inhabiting the immediate environment. However, chemical energy obtained from fuel cells that utilize hydrogen gas as an energy source is non-toxic.
Human health is arguably the biggest factor to consider when settling on the choice of a source of energy, putting hydrogen fuel at the top of the table.
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4. Hydrogen Fuel Supplements Other Energy Sources
It might be impossible to completely edge out other elements of non-renewable sources when making the transition to greener energy sources. However, in the fight to cut down pollution, hydrogen fuel may serve as a pivotal component in turning the meter towards environmentally friendly means to produce energy.
5. Hydrogen Energy is Highly Efficient
Despite their popularity, combustion-based fuel sources have an efficiency of less than 40 percent, which is evidence of a significant waste of energy. Hydrogen fuel, on the contrary, has an efficiency of slightly over 65 percent, depending on where the fuel cell is being used.
This means that a hydrogen-dependent fuel cell produces more energy per unit of weight as compared to other fossil fuels such as gasoline. In addition to being energy efficient, a hydrogen fuel cell will also aid in cutting down on fuel consumption by up to 50 percent in cars and more on an industrial scale.
Simply put, a hydrogen-powered car will go farther than any other known energy source for the same amount of fuel.
6. Rapid Recharging
Another advantage of hydrogen fuel cells is that they can be recharged remarkably first. You might have grown used to spending less than five minutes filling up your car with natural gas. With hydrogen fuel, there is absolutely no reason why this has to change.
Unlike electric motor vehicles that may have you waiting anywhere from half an hour to several hours to reach full capacity, hydrogen fuel cells can be recharged in a few minutes, affording you the flexibility to move around at will. You really don’t have to worry about charging your car before you go to sleep.
7. Reduced Pollution
Renewable energy sources might not always uphold their reputation as completely pollutant free, but the hydrogen fuel cell comes close. Wind power poses a hazard to birds and other flying animals as well as creates noise pollution through the iconic creaks and clanks associated with windmills.
However, sitting inside a vehicle that generates electricity through hydrogen gas will have you appreciating a sense of serenity without sophisticated sound-muffling technology. Fuel cells also help in minimizing air pollution as they have zero emissions.
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8. Hydrogen Fuel Cells are Powerful
Many people are afraid of sacrificing the powerful engines of conventional combustion engines, but hydrogen fuel cell technology continually proves that this might not be necessary. Hydrogen fuel cells are completely capable of going neck and neck with natural gas combustion engines in an attempt to generate both torque and power.
9. Dynamic Uses
From hydrogen-powered vehicles to hydrogen-powered rockets, hydrogen gas can do more than simply produce electricity. Hydrogen has industrial capabilities and may be used to contribute to the electric grid.
10. Liberalization From Fossil Fuels
Natural gas and other fossil fuels are randomly distributed, with many nations completely lacking this valuable fuel source. For this reason, the availability and retail of natural gas remain in the hands of a few wealthy nations. However, with alternative fuel sources such as hydrogen fuel cell technology, both developing and developed nations can break free from the shackles of energy constraints.
There are many more hydrogen fuel cells advantages, some of which include:
- Practical applications in rural and infrastructure-deprived areas
- Sustainable production
Disadvantages of Hydrogen Fuel
The advantages and disadvantages of hydrogen fuel are counterbalanced, but many critics credit the numerous disadvantages to an absence of funding and research. The biggest disadvantages include the following:
1. Energy is Lost in the Storage of Hydrogen
Hydrogen has to be transported and stored under specific conditions. Hydrogen has to be stored under cryogenic temperatures of -250 degrees where it is in its liquid form. A significant amount of energy is lost in keeping hydrogen in this state. Additionally, about half the energy generated by the fuel cells is lost while converting chemical energy into electrical energy.
Lithium-ion batteries in electric cars have a higher round-trip efficiency as compared to hydrogen-powered vehicles.
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2. Hydrogen is not Completely Safe
If you’ve heard about the Hindenburg air disaster, then you have an idea of how dangerous hydrogen gas can be. Hydrogen might be considered relatively safer than gasoline, but it also has its dangers. One safety concern, for example, is that hydrogen is completely undetectable by smell or sight, unlike gasoline, which has a strong pungent odor.
Adding sensors to detect hydrogen leaks is not only expensive but also poses a route for the development of complications. Hydrogen is also highly flammable and may lead to fatal accidents.
3. Grey Energy is Still Dependent on Natural Gas
Green energy is still more theoretical than practical and accounts for less than ten percent of the hydrogen energy produced. Gray energy accounts for the highest percentage of the fuel’s energy, and therefore its production may be accompanied by the emission of greenhouse gasses that contribute to environmental deterioration and global warming.
Separation of oxygen and hydrogen atoms from oxygen atoms is still dependent on heat pumps that are driven by power from fossil fuels which defeats the purpose of transitioning to green energy sources.
4. There Are Several Energy Carriers with Higher Energy Efficiency
Nuclear energy is a more efficient option as compared to hydrogen gas and provides better roundtrip efficiency that puts hydrogen energy production to shame. Solar panels are also significantly more energy efficient despite their inadequacy in producing energy at peak requirements in the dead of night.
However, compared to the technology required to utilize nuclear energy, hydrogen energy remains the better option.
5. Hydrogen Provides Insufficient Energy
As much as hydrogen is abundantly available all over the earth, the technology required to harness it is far from perfect. The shift to sustainable renewable energy sources, therefore, might not be taking place in the immediate future despite the best efforts from governments and institutions alike.
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Hydrogen Fuel Ratings
Hydrogen energy scores poorly in terms of ease of use because of the complexity of the technology required to produce and utilize hydrogen gas in fuel cells. On a scale of 1-5, hydrogen fuel scores a 2.3 in terms of ease of use.
Hydrogen fuel has several functional features that make it score highly as an alternative fuel source. This is because of the versatility of its use in powering transportation and industrial sectors. It, therefore, has an enviable score of 3.8 on features.
When it comes to value for money, you will do well to keep your money in your pocket before settling on a complete transition to hydrogen gas as your preferred energy source. With insufficient energy production and research, hydrogen fuel is still a long way out from achieving the requirements of modern-day vehicles and industries.
Hydrogen energy is definitely going to play host to the epic power play that is set to take center stage on the renewable energy scene. It provides a powerful energy source that has a reduced carbon footprint.
Hydrogen will be crucial in halting and possibly reversing the effects of global warming by limiting the amount of greenhouse gas emitted to the atmosphere by other fossil fuels. However, hydrogen fuel cell technology is still a long way off from perfection.
When it comes to the pros and cons of hydrogen energy, the pros definitely outweigh the cons.