Russia is attacking millions of ordinary people in Ukraine, while over here in the US a number of ordinary people in oversized vehicles have decided to drive around the nation’s capital in order to make a point about infectious disease prevention. Whatever. Meanwhile, three big new green hydrogen projects indicate that the global economy could decarbonize much more rapidly than anticipated, so let’s take a look at those.
The Green Hydrogen Revolution Started With A Trickle
Everybody knows that natural gas is the primary source of hydrogen, along with coal, so here is the caveat: hydrogen is not a sustainable fuel, unless it comes from renewable resources instead of gas or coal.
Gas and coal were the only options until recently, when the cost of renewable energy came down, which provides a bottom line platform for electrolysis systems that push hydrogen gas out of water with an electrical current. Other emerging non-fossil sources are biogas, organic wastes, and industrial wastes, but most of the activity is coalescing around water electrolysis.
California Opens Up The Green Hydrogen Floodgates
One might ask why not just deploy the electricity from renewable resources to the grid, instead of using it for water electrolysis. That’s a good question. Stored hydrogen may be a better fit than direct-from-grid electricity in some cases, and hydrogen production enables wind and solar owners to continue realizing value from their wind turbines and solar panels during periods when demand is normally low.
In addition, hydrogen transportation can be off-gridded to highways, railways, and pipelines.
That brings us to the concept of a sustainable H2 hub, in which a region leverages its renewable energy resources, transportation resources, and existing energy infrastructure to scale up green hydrogen production. Utah and Texas are already exploring the H2 hub idea, and a proposal is floating around Mississippi as well.
Now here comes the firm Southern California Gas with the mother of all sustainable H2 projects. Billed as the biggest project of its kind in in the US, the proposed Angeles Link would leverage California’s considerable wind and solar resources. That includes offshore wind, which also means that wave energy harvesting devices, floating solar panels, and co-located offshore electrolysis systems could also come into play.
“The proposed Angeles Link green hydrogen system would drive deep decarbonization of dispatchable electric generation, hard-to-electrify industries, and heavy-duty transportation in the LA Basin,” SoCal gas explained in a press release dated February 17, deftly making the case for water electrolysis.
SoCal estimates that green hydrogen could sub in for about 25% of its current gas delivery. That works out to up to 3 million gallons of diesel fuel daily, presumably by replacing diesel generators as well as truck engines with hydrogen fuel cells.
In addition, SoCal anticipates that up to 4 natural gas power plants could convert to green hydrogen.
Where Will All The Hydrogen Come From?
If all this sounds like a chicken-and-egg problem, it’s not. Hydrogen is already a ubiquitous presence in industry and agriculture. Several legacy automakers have recently committed to the heavy duty fuel cell truck field, and the US Department of Energy is lending a hand. In addition, stationary fuel cell generators are already a thing, and leading gas turbine stakeholders have already introduced new turbines that can transition into green hydrogen once the supply chain ramps up.
In past years, the ramping up of demand for hydrogen would have sent natural gas stakeholders into paroxysms of joy, but now a sustainable alternative is emerging and two powerful forces are also converging to nip the fossil angle back.
One of those forces is decarbonization as a matter of public policy. The other is supply chain pressure from manufacturers, retailers and other private sector stakeholders, who are beginning to clamor for decarbonization tools that enable them to attract climate-aware consumers in addition to satisfying new public policies.
“As the nation’s largest manufacturing hub, the Los Angeles Basin is home to many potential green hydrogen users,” SoCal points out. They also point out that they have a running start on the competition, through their existing relationships with thousands of end users in various industrial sectors.
The Angeles Link is still in the proposal stages, but SoCal Gas has already enlisted support for the concept from the Utility Workers Union of America Local 132 and the Los Angeles County Business Federation, as well as public officials, hydrogen stakeholders, and fuel cell manufacturers.
Big H2-Enabled Decarbonization Plans For Aircraft
SoCal Gas didn’t mention fuel cell aircraft in its press release, but activity in that area is also beginning to ramp up.
In addition, the idea of burning hydrogen gas in an airborne combustion engine is beginning to take shape, and 4 leading global stakeholders — Airbus, CFM International, GE, and Safran Aircraft Engines — have formed a joint venture aimed at rapid scale-up in that area.
“The programme’s objective is to ground and flight test a direct combustion engine fueled by hydrogen, in preparation for entry-into-service of a zero-emission aircraft by 2035,” Airbus explained in a press release earlier this week. “The demonstration will use a A380 flying testbed equipped with liquid hydrogen tanks prepared at Airbus facilities in France and Germany.”
The meat of the project is a GE Passport turbofan, which will be modified to run on hydrogen.
More Hydrogen By Sea
Another area to keep an eye on is the maritime sector, where ship owners are eyeballing all sorts of decarbonization pathways including sails (yes, sails) and other wind power devices as well as ammonia and hydrogen fuel cells.
On the hydrogen side, ABB and Ballard have just formed a partnership that scales up fuel cells to the 3-megawatt range, or the equivalent of 4,000 horsepower. That’s enough to power a ferry or other larger ship with electricity, or provide auxiliary power for one of those colossal ships that ply the oceans.
Work on the project began in 2018 and the concept recently passed muster with the global verification firm DNV, enabling the partners to move on to the next step. With the seal of approval from DNV, the partners anticipate that their new fuel cell will be ready for deployment within the next several years.
ABB already has a headstart on the fuel cell end, and Ballard is contributing its proton exchange membrane to the project.
As for hydrogen supply, the partners point out that hydrogen demand has tripled since 1975, and ABB seems determined to pivot that market into green hydrogen.
Among other projects, ABB has a green hydrogen partnership under way with the Swiss utility company Axpo in Italy, with the green hydrogen producer Lhyfe in France, and the Canadian H2 firm Hydrogen Optimized.
The railway sector is also dabbling in fuel cells, so stay tuned for more on that.
As for the man-made disaster spinning out in Ukraine, don’t just sit there. Media in the US and elsewhere are distributing lists of legitimate, effective organizations that can put your donated dollars to use to help stop a psychopathic killer on the loose.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Photo: Hydrogen fuel cell for marine transport courtesy of ABB.
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