Hydrogen constitutes roughly 75% of the universe’s elemental mass and is one of the most abundant elements in the universe. Hydrogen is present in most organic compounds such as water, gasoline, propane, or natural gas. Hydrogen is used in the petrochemical industry and plays an important role in making many different industrial raw materials – ammonia or methanol. Then how do people make high-purity hydrogen?
There are several different kinds of hydrogen – electrolysis hydrogen, byproduct hydrogen, and reformed hydrogen. Synthesis gas can be created by reacting natural gas with high-temperature steam. The carbon monoxide gets reacted with water molecules to produce hydrogen. This method is the most common way to produce ‘reformed’ hydrogen worldwide, though it is considered to be not so eco-friendly since this reforming procedure also creates CO2. Still, we can use this CO2 for making soda or fire extinguishers.
Pure hydrogen can also be created through petrochemical processing. This can be easier for countries such as South Korea, where petrochemical processing is quite common. This way, Korea produces 1.9 million tons of ‘byproduct’ hydrogen. Though the amount of hydrogen production is limited, this process can be cost-effective since it does not require any additional facility.
Lastly, people can split water into hydrogen and oxygen using an electric current. And when the electricity is produced by renewable sources such as solar or wind, the hydrogen produced will be the most eco-friendly. This method is called electrolysis. The infrastructures are not very common yet, however. Considering the increasing demand for hydrogen, there should be more of them in the future.
Emerge of FCEVs
Most of the hydrogen produced so far is only consumed among petrochemical companies, smelting businesses, or display manufacturers. But hydrogen will be used in much more various fields in the future. FCEV is one example.
Back in 2013, Hyundai Motors became the first to mass-produce FCEVs in the world. The company had started to develop fuel cell systems in 1998. FCEV is powered by electricity generated in a fuel cell, from the electrochemical reactions between hydrogen and oxygen. People created the fuel cell system a long time ago, but its low durability and high price made it mostly be used in the aerospace industry. However, when fuel cells were proven to be stable enough to be used in automobiles, FCEVs became more promising.
According to the Mckinsey report, ‘Hydrogen scaling up, 2017,’ the annual demand for hydrogen will be skyrocketed. This increase is due to an increase in uses – from feedstock to the industry, residential, transportation, and power sectors – as well as a global rollout from priority markets to the rest of the world that is expected to start soon. Japan, Germany, and the U.S are about to commercialize hydrogen gas turbines, and South Korea succeeded in developing hydrogen fuel cells. Now is the time to deploy hydrogen infrastructure and scale-up manufacturing capacities so as to achieve competitive costs and mass-market acceptance.
Because hydrogen has a relatively higher energy density than other elements, it can fuel huge vehicles such as trucks, buses, and also vessels, planes, and trains. With a range of over 800km, for example, a truck for long-distance transportation can increase its heavy load carrying capacity if it has the hydrogen fuel cell, which weighs 2.5 times lighter than a battery-electric. A hydrogen-powered sedan can drive a long distance with a single charge.
Speaking of industry energy, hydrogen will be the main option for decarbonization of industrial processes that require high heat and combustion. Clean or green hydrogen can be used as an alternative to post-combustion carbon capture and storage. Hydrogen can also help decarbonize building heat and power. Not only it will reduce the amount of CO2, but also its high energy density would heat and power buildings at the same time.
Hydrogen Society: Storage, distribution, and use of hydrogen
The reason people think hydrogen will be the next global energy source is that hydrogen is highly efficient, green, and can become a substitute for electricity. Since electricity is not an ideal energy source to store large quantities, it will be nearly impossible to store all the energy unless we use the Energy Storage System(ESS) for long-term use. Though we can change the supply of energy from fossil fuel, we cannot control the amount of energy generated from solar or wind power since it is a matter of an environmental condition. At this moment, hydrogen can be a problem-solver. If we could use the surplus amount of electricity from renewable energy to produce hydrogen through electrolysis, it will be an easier and more efficient way to store energy. We can also compress and liquefy hydrogen for storage, or transport through a pipeline, just like petroleum.
Hyundai Motor took part in the Hydrogen House, displaying prototypes of the new fuel cell vehicle that will promote emission-free fuel cell vehicles and the Hydrogen Society. It is through initiatives like this that Hyundai Motor demonstrated how a Hydrogen Society could be realized in the not-too-distant future. It showed that each ‘hydrogen house’ can generate and store electricity without transmission lines or even a power plant. This house even could use water produced from electrolysis to grow plants, and purify the air inside the house using fuel cells that can filter fine dust.
Still, there are difficulties to overcome – infrastructures for storing and distributing hydrogen, more developed renewable power plant, etc. But our planet will become much cleaner if we could use this care-free hydrogen power.