The debate about the glittering green hydrogen economy of the future is getting hot. Hydrogen is an abundant, zero-emission fuel, but almost all of the hydrogen on the market today comes from natural gas, which is a significant contributor to the greenhouse gas problem. Ouch! Well, it seems the U.S. Department of Energy is determined to resolve the issue once and for all, and so far, green hydrogen is winning.
Why is everyone talking about fuel cell cars when there is so much else to talk about?
Hydrogen is a zero emission fuel, and much of the attention related to hydrogen has focused on its use in fuel cell electric cars and whether or not fuel cell cars make sense. That’s not surprising. Everyone loves cars, and everyone loves to drive, and everyone loves to talk about cars and driving a car. Add in racing cars, luxury cars, and hypercars, and that's a lot of talk – and a lot of hot air for some, too.
On the other hand, cars are only part of the mobility market. More and more automakers are diving into fuel cell water, and some of these activities are focused on the less glamorous area of fuel cell trucks. If the idea of the fuel cell car fails (as some believe and / or should), automakers have plenty of opportunities to drive demand for hydrogen in other areas.
Fuel cells are gaining ground in watercraft, aircraft, construction vehicles, and other heavy equipment. Add in the Department of Defense and its contractors, and the idea of getting a fuel cell going is starting to make sense.
The idea of filling a zero-emission fuel cell with hydrogen from natural gas is pointless. The glittering green hydrogen economy of the future is an illusion as long as volatile emissions from gas drilling sites and the natural gas transport and storage chain continue to make a significant contribution to the climate crisis.
Then there's the whole thing about the impact of gas drilling and drilling waste disposal on the country's water resources, but that's a whole different can of worms.
The green hydrogen nightmare (for natural gas stakeholders)
All this talk about fuel cell cars and hydrogen got oil and gas players excited. As the demand for oil declines, they could at least offset some of the loss with gas. In addition to the mobility market, hydrogen can be used in stationary fuel cells to power buildings and as fuel for gas turbines. There is also talk of adding hydrogen to the gas network. Then there's the world market for ammonia, but that's another cauldron for fish.
The point is that the natural gas market will grow explosively because of the sparkling green hydrogen economy of the future. Or not, it depends.
There is a much larger, cleaner, and more geographically dispersed source of hydrogen waiting to be tapped. That's pure old water, and it's starting to bring the real green to the glitzy green hydrogen economy of the future.
The technology of producing so-called green hydrogen from H2O has been around for generations in the form of electrolysis systems. Electrolysis systems are expensive and require electrical power, so their high cost and energy use kept them in the shadows until recently, when system costs began to decline and lower-cost wind and solar power came on the market. Now, all of a sudden, green hydrogen is a big deal.
Who will be the next top producer of green hydrogen?
The natural gas lobby can talk about as much hydrogen from fossil sources as it wants, but the US Department of Energy seems determined to make the country the world's leading producer of green hydrogen.
Oddly, the Department of Energy's pursuit of sustainable hydrogen began to gain momentum during the Trump administration, including a multinational collaboration aimed at accelerating the use of offshore wind energy for hydrogen production.
This is strange given former President Trump's well-known antipathy towards wind turbines, but now the water is under the bridge. Earlier this spring, President Biden's FY22 budget indicated a strong role for sustainable hydrogen, and last month the stimulus took shape when Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm announced that hydrogen would be the very first focus of the Earthshots. -Energy of the President will be innovation initiative.
The Hydrogen Shot program, in combination with carbon capture, leaves some leeway for fossil sources. That will certainly help natural gas players feel better, but probably not for long. The public is getting mad at the “natural gas is a bridging fuel” promotional gimmick, and the consumer awareness trend is having an impact on manufacturers and other gas buyers looking to clean up their supply chains.
$ 52.5 million for hydrogen and green hydrogen
If the Department of Energy's latest round of hydrogen extraction is any clue, gas advocates have even less reason to be happy. Earlier this week, the agency announced a $ 52.5 million fund of funding for hydrogen, and much of it will go into green hydrogen systems, including bio-based and electrochemical pathways, and electrolysis.
These include projects aimed at extracting carbon from steam reforming systems, the main method of extracting hydrogen from natural gas. However, steam reforming can also be applied to biogas, so improvements in carbon capture could be a double-edged sword.
West Virginia leads the hydrogen economy of the future
With that in mind, let's take a closer look at the Department of Energy's announcement that highlighted funding for hydrogen research at the University of West Virginia and supportive quotes for the WVU from the two U.S. Senators representing the mountain state, Democrat Joe Manchin (yes that Joe Manchin) and the Republican Shelley Moore Capito.
Interesting! West Virginia happens to be the historic epicenter of U.S. coal production, and now that the coal industry is stunted, the state relies on its natural gas resources to stay afloat. Or maybe not, depending on the situation.
“West Virginia University continues to harness our state's vast natural gas resources to meet some of the toughest challenges in industrial research, including developing clean, innovative ways to produce hydrogen – a fuel that is increasingly important to our economy and has the potential to decarbonise our energy. “Systems, industrial processes, and the transportation sector,” said Senator Manchin, who happens to chair the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
That suggests that WVU's $ 52.5 million portion of the $ 52.5 million will go towards steam reforming and carbon capture, especially since their recent partnerships with the Department of Energy have $ 3 million in funding for investigation into capture of emissions at shale gas sites, including carbon capture, include research areas.
However, this is not the case, at least in the new funding round. WVU also has a healthy portfolio of advanced materials research that can be applied to green hydrogen. Under the project name “Designing Internal Surfaces of Porous Electrodes in Solid Oxide Electrolysis Cells for Highly Efficiency and Durable Hydrogen Production”, his share of US $ 1 million of the new funding pot will go there.
Let's explain that from the Department of Energy:
“West Virginia University Research Association develops and implants highly active and robust nanoscale coating layers on the inner surface of a porous electrode. The coating layer is developed using the additive manufacturing process of atomic layer deposition (ALD) and implanted directly on the inner surface of porous electrodes of the commercial cells produced in this way. The project will provide a simple solution to various material challenges at the cell level and could also enable extensive and more efficient SOEC stacks and systems. “
For those of you keeping your points at home, the school is combining its $ 1 million in Department of Energy funding with $ 250,000 from other sources for a total of $ 1,250,000.
Green hydrogen in, natural gas out, finally
The new $ 52.5 million hydrogen funding round is also interesting because it sets the tone for the Department of Energy's newly established Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management, which used to be the plain old Office of Fossil Energy until the Biden government intervened and realigned itself. on the agency's climate protection mandate.
Twelve of the 31 projects in the $ 52.5 million pie fall under FECM. Most of these, like the WVU project, deal with electrolysis materials and systems that can apply to both green and fossil hydrogen. Another project is targeting the blending of hydrogen in gas turbines and distribution systems, an area where private sector stakeholders are already monitoring the green hydrogen market.
Only two of the twelve projects involve carbon capture from natural gas-to-hydrogen systems. One deals with steam reforming. The other concerns the emerging field of ATR for autothermal reforming.
Shell is reportedly a huge fan of ATR, but also a huge fan of wind power, and is putting its know-how to a new green hydrogen project in New Jersey that will use offshore wind energy from the proposed Atlantic Wind Farm, a partnership between Shell New Energies US and EDF Renewables.
Interesting! It looks like some fossil fuel stakeholders are better at coverage than others. Natural gas won't disappear from the global economy overnight, but the conditions are in place for green hydrogen to marginalize it, which we hope will happen in time to keep the climate crisis from getting worse than it is now.
Follow me on Twitter @TinaMCasey.
Image: Hydrogen at the top of the US Department of Energy's homepage.
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