First discovered by scientists in 1766 by Henry Cavendish, the chemical element hydrogen has played a huge role in some of our most beneficial technological and scientific advancements. With a number of different uses in modern society, from fertiliser to fats and oils, hydrogen’s main role is to act as a fuel for various transport vehicles and heating devices in our homes.
So how is hydrogen linked to clean energy?
Although ongoing research and scientific testing are being conducted to evaluate exactly how hydrogen can be used in the long term in general society, the advantages hydrogen can bring to the clean energy industry are numerous.
Hydrogen is a clean-burning fuel that produces only water vapour when used in fuel cells or combustion processes. It does not emit greenhouse gases or pollutants, making it a useful and carbon-neutral alternative to fossil fuels. This means that many industries and businesses currently using harmful fossil fuels could easily make the switch, without suffering any power or energy losses.
Hydrogen is also extremely versatile and can be used to create a number of different fuels for decarbonised transport methods - for example, ships, trains, cars, buses and trucks. As it produces zero emissions, it’s a great alternative for all methods of public and private transport, and will not harm the environment through continued usage. For private car and vehicle owners, making the switch to renewable hydrogen over gas or opting for electrical-charging vehicles powered by hydrogen batteries is a beneficial option for a cleaner, quieter and less impactful drive.
Even the chemical and manufacturing industries can benefit from utilising hydrogen as a renewable energy source. By replacing hydrogen derived from fossil fuels with renewable hydrogen, the sourcing and production of chemicals, metals and steel can significantly reduce their carbon footprint.
Which countries are already investing in hydrogen?
Hydrogen has gained attention globally, leading to international collaborations and agreements to advance its deployment. Several countries and regions have announced hydrogen strategies and initiatives to support research, development, and deployment of hydrogen technologies. Countries such as China, Australia, the US and Canada are already implementing hydrogen fuel stations throughout and are listed among the ten biggest producers of green hydrogen around the world.
In February 2023, the UK also announced a new UK certification to boost the British hydrogen sector, with the scheme helping to ‘verify the sustainability of low carbon hydrogen, giving consumers the confidence to invest in cleaner energy.’ With producers of hydrogen currently having no way to verify the credentials of their energy source, this scheme will create reliable and transparent testing methods for each production industry - helping consumers to trust the product more.
What are the challenges facing clean hydrogen adoption?
Hydrogen has a great number of benefits for widespread decarbonisation and the reduction of harmful fossil fuels usage, but as it is still in its early stages of distribution, there are some obstacles to overcome.
The expense and cost of hydrogen production is one of the biggest challenges for the producers to overcome, with vast amounts of manufacturing required to produce, store and transport the fuel around the world. Whilst the infrastructure for existing fuels such as gas and oil are already in place, the rollout of hydrogen would require increased upfront cost, labour and work.
The energy required to procure hydrogen itself is also a concern to some, as whilst the fuel is clean, some producers are using harmful fossil fuels to supply their production equipment and factories in the process. Hydrogen isn’t difficult to produce however, with every large-scale energy operation, significant resources will always be required.
Finally, there are concerns of adequate storage facilities for the hydrogen power cells - concerns that aren’t applicable to rival fuels, oil, coal and gas. The storage required to house hydrogen is much more complex, expensive and intensive than traditional facilities and would require increasing funding, monitoring, research and development for global usage. Despite the clear benefit of adopting hydrogen as an alternative energy source, the storage and maintenance of the product is still a sticking point for many.
Nonetheless, ongoing research, technological advancements, and supportive policies are expected to overcome these challenges and drive the transition to a hydrogen-based clean energy future.