Wind and solar developers are eyeballing green hydrogen as a pathway for future growth, and it looks like they won’t have to depend on the transportation sector for sole support. That’s because hydrogen has many other uses, aside from being used to power fuel cell electric vehicles. Take the vehicles out of the equation and you still have the potential for rapid growth in demand for green hydrogen — and therefore in the demand for wind and solar farms, too.
Green Hydrogen Steps In Where Grid Cannot
One area of significant growth could be the use of hydrogen as an energy gathering and storage medium in areas where the existing grid does not support enough electricity for local needs.
That’s the case for the Swedish cable manufacturing firm Amokabel AB. The company has been experiencing complications with its plans for increasing production at its main facility in Alstermo, Småland, due to lack of an adequate power supply.
Amokabel has enlisted two other Swedish firms, PowerCell and the Soltech group, to study the feasibility of producing green hydrogen with solar power, storing it, and deploying it in stationary fuel cells when its manufacturing complex needs more electricity than the grid can provide.
For those of you new to the idea of solar-powered hydrogen, the study involves electrolysis, in which hydrogen is “split” from water using an electrical current. If the current is generated by fossil fuels, that’s a sustainability no-go. Bringing solar or wind power into the mix is a different kettle of fish.
Neither Soltech or PowerCell has a track record in green hydrogen — yet. Soltech is experienced in turnkey solar solutions for rooftops and building facades. PowerCell is focused on the fuel cell end of things, though the company does emphasize that hydrogen can be produced from renewable resources. If all goes according to plan, the feasibility study could lead to a hydrogen project for Amokabel and similar projects as well.
If you’re wondering why they don’t simply fix the grid, that’s a good question. Green hydrogen probably offers a more resilient and competitive solution, that’s our guess. A shorter construction timeline could also come into play.
Others are already thinking along those lines. The idea of using green hydrogen to work around a transmission bottleneck is taking shape in Maine, and policy makers in the state are already looking to Equinor’s Kincardine floating offshore wind farm for inspiration.
The UK is also looking at hydrogen fuel cells to replace diesel locomotives rather than installing new electricity infrastructure.
Along those lines, the US Department of Energy is leaning on green hydrogen to help support the development of the nation’s copious distributed wind resources.
Green Hydrogen For Export
Another area of interest for green hydrogen fans is overseas trade. Although hydrogen is similar to a battery in that it stores energy, it is also transportable as a liquid or gas, or in the form of a carrier such as ammonia.
An international market for green hydrogen would enable countries rich in wind and solar resources, but low in electricity demand, to support more renewable energy development than they otherwise could.
That’s the idea behind Australia’s $300 million Arrowsmith Hydrogen Project, which comes under the wing of the company Infinite Blue Energy.
For those of you familiar with “blue” hydrogen, don’t let the name Infinite Blue fool you. Blue hydrogen refers to a greenwash, in which hydrogen is produced from fossil gas with carbon capture. The Arrowsmith project is something entirely different.
“IBE will be a true Zero Carbon commercial green Hydrogen producer, the first of its kind in Australia, as opposed to existing projects that use traditional fossil fuels to produce liquid hydrogen,” explains the company.
IBE expects Arrowsmith to start producing green hydrogen with wind and solar power in 2022. In the latest development on that score, IBE has engaged the company Xodus Group to undertake environmental assessments.
There’s plenty more where that came from. The Australia Renewable Energy Agency announced a $70 million round of funding for green hydrogen projects last April and receive 36 expressions of interest. BP is also eyeballing sustainable hydrogen development in the country,
It’s also worth noting that Australia has things other than hydrogen fuel on its mind. Hydrogen is widely used in food processing and agriculture among other areas, and ARENA has already put out word that it is interested in green hydrogen for ammonia-based fertilizer production.
Who’s Gonna Pay For All This?
The cost of green hydrogen still remains an obstacle, but activity is accelerating in that area as well. One company on the CleanTechnica radar is SunHydrogen, formerly named HyperSolar. As the name indicates, SunHydrogen is working the solar energy side of green hydrogen, with a focus on reducing costs.
Earlier this week SunHydrogen announced that it has re-upped a research partnership with the University of Iowa, which involves “a considerable increase in funding and staffing.”
“The expanded R&D team will focus on the development efforts needed to expedite the commercialization of its game-changing nanoparticle technology approach to renewable hydrogen,” explained the company.
If you caught that thing about nanoparticle technology, that refers to the “artificial leaf” pathway for hydrogen production, in which a human-made photoelectrochemical device mimics the natural process of photosynthesis. Somewhat of a riff on conventional water-splitting, these devices deploy solar energy directly to power a reaction in water, rather than using an electrical current to do the job.
Good News For Green Hydrogen, Bad News For Petrochemicals
Here in the US, the activity includes three newly announced projects in the US under the Mitsubishi umbrella, aimed at transitioning power plants from coal and natural gas into green hydrogen. The transition is to be accomplished in phases with the help of new turbines designed specifically to shift from fossil gas to renewable hydrogen.
Also in the US, interest in the sparkling green “hydrogen society” of the future has spread beyond California and other coastal hotspots to reach the country’s midsection, where both solar and wind resources are in abundance.
The Energy Department’s Fuel Cell Technologies office has been making a sharp pivot into the green hydrogen field as well, with a new focus on reducing the cost of electrolyzer technology.
Meanwhile, the prospects for industrial-scale green hydrogen should be giving petrochemical stakeholders the heebie-jeebies. Fossil gas currently provides for nearly all of the hydrogen produced today, and that door is going to slam shut as alternative sources emerge. In addition to water-sourced hydrogen, renewable biogas and microbial biomass conversion are also in the mix.
While all this is happening, the petrochemical industry is foundering on a sea of overproduction that slammed into the COVID-19 crisis. The global economy will recover eventually but prospects for petrochemical stakeholders to pick up where they left off are dimming by the minute.
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Photo (cropped): Renewable energy for green hydrogen, courtesy of Infinite Blue Energy.