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Easton Price
Easton Price

Hydrogen Fuel

Hydrogen is a clean fuel that, when consumed in a fuel cell, produces only water. Hydrogen can be produced from a variety of domestic resources, such as natural gas, nuclear power, biomass, and renewable power like solar and wind. These qualities make it an attractive fuel option for transportation and electricity generation applications. It can be used in cars, in houses, for portable power, and in many more applications.

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Today, hydrogen fuel can be produced through several methods. The most common methods today are natural gas reforming (a thermal process), and electrolysis. Other methods include solar-driven and biological processes.

Thermal processes for hydrogen production typically involve steam reforming, a high-temperature process in which steam reacts with a hydrocarbon fuel to produce hydrogen. Many hydrocarbon fuels can be reformed to produce hydrogen, including natural gas, diesel, renewable liquid fuels, gasified coal, or gasified biomass. Today, about 95% of all hydrogen is produced from steam reforming of natural gas.

Solar-driven processes use light as the agent for hydrogen production. There are a few solar-driven processes, including photobiological, photoelectrochemical, and solar thermochemical. Photobiological processes use the natural photosynthetic activity of bacteria and green algae to produce hydrogen. Photoelectrochemical processes use specialized semiconductors to separate water into hydrogen and oxygen. Solar thermochemical hydrogen production uses concentrated solar power to drive water splitting reactions often along with other species such as metal oxides.

Biological processes use microbes such as bacteria and microalgae and can produce hydrogen through biological reactions. In microbial biomass conversion, the microbes break down organic matter like biomass or wastewater to produce hydrogen, while in photobiological processes the microbes use sunlight as the energy source.

Several auto manufacturers are selling or leasing FCVs in select markets, primarily in California where some hydrogen fueling stations already exist. Hydrogen infrastructure is also popping up in other locations around the country. Stations are being planned or built in the Northeast and Hawaii, and fuel cell transit buses are already cruising the streets in cities like Boston, Massachusetts, and Flint, Michigan. There are plans to expand FCV offerings over the next few years as infrastructure grows and the technology continues to mature.

Hydrogen fuel can be produced from water. In a process called electrolysis, electricity is used to split water into H2 and O2. The electricity can come from renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power.

While hydrogen is abundant in the universe, it must be separated from other compounds to be used as fuel. This process can be energy intensive. The amount of emissions associated with producing hydrogen fuels depends on the source of hydrogen and production method. Currently, the majority of hydrogen that is made for use as a fuel comes from natural gas, but hydrogen fuel also can be made from water, oil, coal, and plant material. Hydrogen can even be produced from your trash! Pilot projects have used landfill gas and wastewater to make hydrogen fuel.

Fueling a hydrogen FCV is similar to refilling your gas tank. Simply attach a nozzle from a designated hydrogen dispenser at a public station and fill up the tank. The refueling times are also similar: FCVs can be refueled in as little as 5 minutes.

This paper assesses the development of hydrogen fueling infrastructure networks around the world. We compile data on the current state of development of fuel cell vehicle technology. We summarize research on hydrogen fueling infrastructure, technology pathways, station planning, and funding from prominent fuel cell vehicle development markets. Much of the data and analytical research are based on work in California, Europe, Japan, and Korea due to more extensive study and activity in these regions.

Hydrogen is the lightest element in the universe and the most abundant, so on paper, hydrogen fuel has a lot going for it. Although it rarely exists on its own on Earth, it can be produced using clean energy to split essentially inexhaustible water molecules, producing only oxygen as a by-product.

Humanity produces around 70 million tonnes of hydrogen each year, mainly for use in making ammonia fertiliser and chemicals such as methanol, and to remove impurities during oil refining. Proponents of using hydrogen as a clean fuel think it could soon also play a vital role in decarbonising other sectors, including lorries, aviation, and heavy industry.

There is a live debate in hydrogen technology over which production methods will win out. Green is the lowest carbon approach, because blue typically captures 85 to 90 per cent of the CO2 at best. While 10-15 per cent of lost CO2 emissions may not sound like a lot, it could have significant climate change ramifications if production is scaled up. Advocates of blue hydrogen contend it will play a key role because it is so much cheaper than green hydrogen.

One stumbling block any hydrogen energy revolution faces is storage and transport. Hydrogen molecules are so small they can leak out of containers, meaning pipe networks previously used for methane may have to be upgraded before they are fit for hydrogen.

The Energy Department has opened up applications for $7 billion to establish up to 10 regional hydrogen hubs, part of a broader road map unveiled Thursday that officials described as essential to lowering emissions in industrial sectors such as energy, transportation, steel, and cement.

Hydrogen is a versatile source of energy that can be used to clean up hard-to-decarbonize industries and reach climate goals of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the power sector by 2035 and across the U.S. economy by 2050, David Turk, deputy secretary of energy, told reporters in a conference call. A colorless and odorless gas, hydrogen releases water as the sole byproduct when used in a fuel cell.

The department is seeking geographic diversity and expects to see applications that include broad groups of hydrogen stakeholders: companies, government agencies, producers and consumers, pipelines, and transportation companies, said Kelly Cummins, acting director and principal deputy director for the Office of Clean Energy Demonstrations, which is managing the program.

Transportation of hydrogen will be a key component, conference participants said. Permitting overhaul legislation unveiled by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on Wednesday includes giving oversight of hydrogen pipelines to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which currently regulates interstate natural gas pipelines.

Paul Ronney, a USC Viterbi School of Engineering professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering who studies combustion and propulsion, says hydrogen has some barriers before it, including efficiency and cost. He is studying what it would take to overcome some of them. Here, he brings us up to speed on the role of hydrogen in the field of alternative fuels.

Fuel cells are appealing because, in theory, they overcome efficiency limitations associated with traditional internal combustion engines. Think of the energy wasted as heat and noise in a traditional vehicle. While many scientists are exploring ways to make cheaper fuel cells, my research takes a different approach: improving the feasibility of internal combustion engines that use hydrogen.

Vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells, which emit only water vapor, are one of our best potential alternatives to pollution-spewing traditional automobile engines, which account for 30% of all carbon emissions in the United States.

When they integrated their new catalysts into a fuel cell, the results were surprising even to them. Their specialized system exceeded the ambitious targets set by the U.S. Department of Energy for hydrogen fuel cell stability, low platinum use and performance, generating 75 times more catalytic activity and 65% more power, among other coups.

The Fuel Cell and Hydrogen Energy Association (FCHEA) is the trade association for the fuel cell and hydrogen energy industry, and is dedicated to the commercialization of fuel cells and hydrogen energy technologies. Fuel cells and hydrogen energy technologies deliver clean, reliable power to leading edge corporate, academic and public sector users, and FCHEA members are helping to transform our energy future. FCHEA represents the full global supply chain, including universities, government laboratories and agencies, trade associations, fuel cell materials, components and systems manufacturers, hydrogen producers and fuel distributors, utilities and other end users.


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