Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the Universe. It is also the lightest element on the period table.
Hydrogen has been produced on a large scale industrially since the 1930s. It has been primarily used in the manufacture of ammonia, plastics and for the refining of petroleum.
Hydrogen is primarily produced from fossil fuels or as a by-product from by industrial processes. However, hydrogen can also be produced by using an electrolyser to split water (H2O) into Hydrogen (H) and Oxygen (O).
Green hydrogen, or zero emissions hydrogen, is produced when an electrolyser is powered by electricity generated from renewable sources such as solar or wind.
Hydrogen is referred to as an “energy carrier”. It does not exist freely in nature and has to be produced from other sources of energy. As an “energy carrier” hydrogen is a very efficient way to store and transport energy. It is for this reason that investment in hydrogen production technology over the past two decades is being seen as developing a credible alternative to fossil fuels (petrol and diesel).
Hydrogen and fuels cells go together.
Hydrogen is a preferred fuel for fuel cells on account of its high reactivity. It is what powers the fuel cell to generate electricity.
While Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles (HFCV or FCEV’s) run on hydrogen, they are effectively “electric” vehicles. The only by-product is water. No pollutants or greenhouse gases are emitted by vehicles powered by fuel cells.
The first fuel cell was demonstrated in 1838 but it took over 100 years to move from concept to reality. It was not until the space programme of the 1960s that fuel cells found their first commercial application. Without fuel cells, mankind would not have travelled to the moon! They were used in the Apollo missions to generate power for the spacecraft and pure water for consumption by the crew.
Increasingly now, fuel cell systems are being used to power vehicles and for stationary power applications for commerce and industry.
Fuel Cell Transport
While Australia is yet to accept the role hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and green hydrogen will have in reducing emissions, the technology is already being adopted and deployed in many countries. Hydrogen is finding application in fuel cell cars, buses, trucks, trains, and marine vessels and aircraft around the world.
- Korea plans to commercialise hydrogen-powered trains by 2025, with train hubs to be supported by hydrogen fuel-cell buses.
- Korea has a target to install 310 hydrogen stations by 2022, to supply 16,000 fuel cell vehicles.
- Japan is aiming to have 160 Hydrogen Fuel Stations by 2020 and 320 by 2025.
- Hyundai has partnered with H2 Energy (fuel cell manufacturer) to build 1000 heavy duty fuel cell trucks for the Swiss market, commencing in 2019 to be produced and deployed over a five-year period.
- Scania (Sweden) is developing a fuel cell garbage truck with delivery anticipated by the end of 2019/2020.
- Norway is aiming to have 1000 hydrogen trucks operational by 2023.Hydrogen fuels cell trains will run in the UK from 2022.
- Germany has commenced service on two of the world’s first hydrogen-powered trains which can travel 1000 km’s on a single tank of hydrogen (similar to the range of diesel trains) – September 2018.
- Germany added 17 new public hydrogen refuelling stations in 2019, making Germany the second largest public refuelling infrastructure globally with 60 public stations. Japan has the largest number with 96 stations.
- China to provide US$12.4B in Chinese national and local subsidies to support fuel cell powered vehicles commencing in 2018. Beijing’s has a target of 1 million fuel cell vehicles to be on the roads by 2030.
- 200 Fuel Cell buses to be operational in Denmark, with Copenhagen planning to become the first CO2-neutral city in the world by 2025.
- Anglo Mining hopes to have a truck running on hydrogen in the next 12 months, with the company’s mining fleet eventually being replaced by hydrogen fuel cell trucks.