By Ellsworth Dickson
Unlike, say, hydroelectric power, voltaic solar panels and wind power, which involve basically one technology to generate electricity, hydrogen power involves a number of different but related technologies.
For example, there are different methods to extract hydrogen. There are a number of applications for hydrogen-created electricity such as cars, SUVs, buses, freight trucks, scooters, steel and cement-making, portable generators, aircraft and more.
To complicate the issue, there are actually several “types” of hydrogen, although it is still the same simple element. Hydrogen that is derived from the chemical conversion of natural gas, the main component of which is methane (CH4), also produces carbon dioxide (CO2). If that CO2 is released into the atmosphere, the resulting fuel is called “grey hydrogen”.
If that CO2 is captured and buried underground, it is called “blue hydrogen”. “Green hydrogen” is derived from water (H2O) using renewable electricity; the cleanest but most expensive form of hydrogen – less than 1% of the world’s hydrogen fuel supply is “green”. Hydrogen derived using nuclear power is called “pink” hydrogen.
Next Hydrogen Corp. and a newly-formed subsidiary of BioHep Technologies Ltd. are merging in a reverse takeover to form a subsidiary of BioHep that will list on the TSX Venture Exchange. Raveel Afzaal, President & CEO stated, “Next Hydrogen’s large IP portfolio was developed by proven experts in water electrolysis. Water electrolysis is the only way to generate green hydrogen which is expected to represent 25% of all energy consumption by 2050. This is a significant market opportunity that will continue to grow globally and there are less than ten notable water electrolysis companies to service this need.”
At the present time, many countries are taking steps to develop and utilize hydrogen-generated electricity to achieve their objectives of zero carbon emissions. Most of these plans are in their infancy. As Resource World reported in November 2020, countries around the world have started to consider a hydrogen-based economy as the answer to the growing concerns over increasing carbon emissions, energy security, and climate change. Global hydrogen production is forecast to more than double, reaching 168 million tons by 2030 from 71 million tons in 2020, with revenue expected to reach $420 billion in 2030 from $177.3 billion in 2020.
With the vast sums invested in hydrogen technology and various projects, this will be a big deal in the future. The Hydrogen Council estimates that by 2050, hydrogen will power over 400 million passenger cars globally and as many as 5 million buses and 20 million trucks. Less than 10 years from today, the Hydrogen Council wants to see 10,000 hydrogen stations and 10 million hydrogen-powered vehicles. In California, which already has hydrogen filling stations, the government wants to have 1,000 stations within five years.
At this point in time, that appears unrealistic with only about 8,000 hydrogen-powered vehicles in North America and less than 20,000 around the world – miniscule numbers. While hydrogen-powered vehicles are clean burning and desirable, they have two major challenges: their high cost and lack of servicing infrastructure.
Nevertheless, automakers are producing hydrogen-powered cars – although in small numbers. Toyota sells the Mirai in Canada for about $58,550, Honda’s Clarity sells for $46,660 and Hyundai’s Nexo SUV sells for $71,000 – all well above many gasoline cars and some electric vehicles. In the US, hydrogen-powered cars are only available in California and Hawaii where there are limited re-fueling stations. In North Vancouver, BC, HTEC Hydrogen Technology & Energy Corp., in partnership with 7-Eleven Canada Inc., has established a hydrogen fueling station at an Esso gas station.
What about re-fuelling costs? The Real Engineering program on YouTube determined that it costs US$10-$12 to recharge a Tesla Model 3 for a range for about 500 km at a fuel efficiency of US$0.020-$0.040 compared to the Mirai at US$85 for 480 km and a fuel efficiency of US$0.171 – quite a difference in price. Fueling up with hydrogen is comparable to gasoline but nowhere near as inexpensive as electric vehicles.
For the more budget-minded, as Resource World recently reported, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials IFAM in Dresden, Germany, have developed a unique hydrogen power technology that solves many of hydrogen’s problems.
The institute has developed what it has named POWERPASTE, a solid magnesium hydride that stores hydrogen in a chemical form and releases it on demand. The POWERPASTE comes in a paste and can be used for any kind of vehicle – even small scooters.
Here in Canada, the Honourable Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Natural Resources, said, “Electric vehicles are part of Canada’s net-zero future. Our federal government is working to give Canadians greener options to get where they need to go.”
Other governments are also onboard with hydrogen development. For example, Germany is investing C$13 billion in hydrogen, including subsidizing hydrogen-powered trains. Meanwhile, Australia is spending over C$130 million on hydrogen and even has the world’s first hydrogen export terminal.
Japan takes hydrogen seriously. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga recently announced that Japan will aim to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. To decarbonize its economy, Japan is looking to future fuels such as hydrogen and innovative technology.
The government released the third version of its Strategic Roadmap for Hydrogen and Fuel Cells in March 2019. The timeframes in Japan’s Hydrogen Roadmap for realizing a hydrogen economy are technologically demonstrating the feasibility of storing and transporting hydrogen from abroad by 2022; introducing full-scale hydrogen generation by around 2030; and realizing full-fledged domestic use of carbon dioxide-free hydrogen by around 2050.
Japan’s Hydrogen Roadmap has an ambitious goal of 40,000 fuel cell vehicles by 2020; 200,000 fuel cell vehicles by 2025; and 800,000 by 2030; 320 hydrogen refuelling stations by 2025; and 900 by 2030.
Indeed, there are over 30 countries with hydrogen plans, including 228 large-scale hydrogen projects with 85% located in Europe, Asia and Australia. If all projects come to fruition, total investments will reach more than $300 billion by 2030. Currently, about 95% of hydrogen produced globally is from hydrocarbons.
The Hydrogen Council expects hydrogen to provide 18% of the world’s energy requirements by that time with fuel cell market sales topping US$2.5 trillion.
Here in British Columbia, in 2019 the provincial government’s Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, Fortis BC and the BC Bioenergy Network stated that BC is well positioned to develop a C$15 billion hydrogen industry for the domestic and export market.
Even Big Oil is getting into hydrogen with oil-and-gas majors such as Shell, Equinor, and BP having spent tens of millions of dollars on pilot projects. Bloomberg Green reports that supplying hydrogen could potentially become a huge new market that oil companies could dominate quickly thanks to their existing expertise in transporting and selling gas.
According to BloombergNEF, the world currently produces more than 110 million metric tons of hydrogen annually. Most of that is used to make ammonia, NH₃, needed in fertilizers and to convert crude oil into more valuable products such as gasoline and diesel. About three-quarters of that hydrogen is derived from the chemical conversion of natural gas.
HPQ Silicon Resources Inc. [HPQ-TSXV] has received the Trekhy system, a portable hydrogen-based mini-power generator, jointly developed by the French companies Apollon Solar SAS and Pragma Industries SAS. While continuing to work with Apollon on the development of new generations of more efficient silicon powders for hydrogen production, HPQ signed a memorandum of understanding with Apollon and Pragma to study the commercial potential of the Trekhy autonomous power generator in Canada.
Clean Power Capital Corp. [MOVE-CSE] recently invested in PowerTap Hydrogen Fuelling Corp. which is building cost-effective hydrogen fueling infrastructure through its environmentally friendly intellectual property, product design for the modularized and lowest tier production cost of hydrogen, and launch plan. PowerTap technology-based hydrogen fueling stations are located in private enterprises and public stations (near LAX airport) in California, Texas, Massachusetts, and Maryland.
PowerTap recently reported on its third generation PowerTap (Gen3) hydrogen fueling units. The company is finalizing its Gen3 modular blue hydrogen production and dispensing unit for deployment on existing US fueling stations. The produced hydrogen fuel being dispensed at pumps located at traditional gas stations. A combination of renewable gas, water and electricity are processed through the series of components in the Gen3 hydrogen fueling unit to produce hydrogen fuel.
The International Energy Agency has stated what most experts already know: that the world should work harder to boost the use of pure hydrogen as an emissions-free energy source. But what if you could use an existing source of wasted energy to help with hydrogen production? A new approach developed by researchers at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology does exactly this – by using waste heat from other industrial processes.
“We’ve found a way of using heat that otherwise isn’t worth much,” said Kjersti Wergeland Krakhella, first author of an article about the process published in the academic journal MDPI Energies. “It’s low-grade, low-temperature heat – but it can be used to make hydrogen.”
Other organizations are also promoting the use of hydrogen. The Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association aims to advance the role of hydrogen and fuel cells in all forms of transportation on land and sea, and in the stationary and portable power sectors. It represents Canadian industry and research centers active in the hydrogen and fuel cell sector, as well as international automotive manufacturers developing and marketing fuel cell vehicles in Canada.
One promising use of hydrogen could be the use of liquid hydrogen in aircraft as it can be used in existing engines with minimum modifications. Hydrogen-powered aircraft can either burn hydrogen fuel directly in their engines or use fuel cells to create electricity to power electric motors fitted with propellers.
However, it is more expensive to make hydrogen fuel than jet fuel (kerosene). Essentially, the cost of producing hydrogen needs to come down; a hydrogen vehicle fill-up is eight times more expensive than charging an electric vehicle.
The mining sector is just beginning to investigate the use of hydrogen. Anglo American and partner ENGIE to create on-site hydrogen generating for a hydrogen-powered haul truck at the Mogalakwena open pit platinum mine in South Africa.
At Glencore Canada’s Raglan Mine in far northern Quebec, a closed loop, a Microgrid system converts excess wind power to hydrogen, which is stored in tanks. Then, during periods of low wind power, a fuel cell produces electricity from the stored hydrogen.
Hydrogenics has been involved in a number of hydrogen projects such as forklifts, surface mobility applications on the moon for the Canadian Space Agency, energy storage systems, fuel cell buses and hydrogen fueling stations.
The common and widespread use of hydrogen still has a long way to go; however, things are ramping up as governments need to keep their promises of zero emissions, and, like EV batteries in their infancy, costs will come down.
According to a recent research report by Canaccord Genuity, which notes that there are now over a hundred hydrogen companies, stated, “Proponents of hydrogen believe it has the potential to account for ~10% to 30% of world energy consumption… More optimistic estimates suggest this would equate to a ~$10 trillion market for hydrogen, implying significant growth potential.”