Hydrogen’s environmental benefits have been studied for years, but has been underestimated as clean fuel source until recently. With newfound appreciation of its potential, we take another look at just what hydrogen is, how it’s created, what it can be used for, and its different types below.
What is hydrogen?
The most abundant element on earth is hydrogen. Hydrogen is a gas made up of oxygen and water. While it occurs naturally, it escapes the atmosphere rapidly, so it is produced for use on Earth from compounds that contain it. It is a clean fuel source, meaning that it has no carbon emissions. Hydrogen only produces water when burned. While there are clean hydrogen production methods, most of the hydrogen produced does not use these methods and instead uses natural gas that generates carbon dioxide (CO2).
How is hydrogen created?
Today, around 95 percent of the world’s hydrogen production is from fossil fuels. However, hydrogen can also be produced with more environmentally friendly methods by using renewable energy technology. The most common of these methods occurs in an electrolyser. An Electrolyser uses electricity and a chemical process called electrolysis to split water molecules into hydrogen and oxygen. Electricity used in this process can come from renewable energy sources like wind, geothermal or solar, which makes this process carbon neutral.
Hydrogen can also be produced through biological reactions and using sunlight. Read more about those processes here.
What is hydrogen used for?
There are many different uses and applications for hydrogen today. It can be used to fuel cars and provides a greener alternative to traditional combustion engines. Hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) emit only water as an exhaust product. They also have shorter fueling times and longer driving ranges compared to battery electric vehicles (BEVs).
Hydrogen can be used in an energy storage capacity as well. Energy storage systems store surplus energy produced from renewable sources to be used at peak electricity demand. For this to work, renewables need to be supplemented with an energy source that can adjust output at peak times, which in this case is hydrogen. With hydrogen energy storage, electrolysis is powered by renewables when there is low energy demand. Hydrogen is created in this process and can be used to generate power.
Hydrogen energy storage is similar in concept to battery energy storage. However, hydrogen energy storage has advantages over battery energy storage. Batteries can store a much more limited amount of energy for shorter time period.
Along with transportation and energy storage applications, when consumed in a fuel cell hydrogen can be used in commercial, industrial, residential and portable applications. A fuel cell generates electricity through an electrochemical reaction instead of a combustion. Applications of hydrogen include combined heat and power (CHP), backup power and portable power. Read more about its applications here.
Types of hydrogen
Types of hydrogen are classified using a color system that detonates how environmentally friendly each type is. From least to most environmentally friendly, the colors are brown, grey, blue and green. Brown hydrogen is made from coal. Grey is produced with fossil fuels. Blue is produced with fossil fuels the same as grey, but it employs carbon capture and storage (CSS), which prevents CO2 from escaping.
Green hydrogen is produced through electrons and powered by renewable energy. The fuel produced with this type is a clean and sustainable one that has no negative environmental impacts. Unfortunately, green hydrogen is the least common type produced today but it is gaining momentum as governments and businesses start to focus on a sustainable future.
Want to learn more about hydrogen?
Is hydrogen the future of carbon neutral efforts? Make sure to stay updated on the clean and green fuel source that is hydrogen by clicking the link below and subscribing to our blog. The EnergyLink team is excited about hydrogen’s potential. Our team can design renewable energy systems to make hydrogen production carbon neutral. If you are interested in what EnergyLink can do for your hydrogen refinery, click here to get started. If you would like to speak with a team member directly, call (866) 218-0830.