Many advocates for a hydrogen economy believe “green” hydrogen, which is produced through electrolysis using renewable energy, will eliminate the need to curtail wind and solar generation. However, there are many reasons why “blue” hydrogen, which is produced from natural gas while using carbon capture technology to reduce or eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, could be a better long-term option for hydrogen production.
Now is not the first hydrogen (H2) revolution. The promise of hydrogen’s energy density and carbon-free combustion has attracted the attention of innovators for years, with the earliest concepts on the hydrogen fuel cell published in 1801. As large-scale efforts to decarbonize the global economy ramp up in earnest, hydrogen is once more being positioned as a critical solution for numerous sectors.
Hydrogen produced from fossil energy resources is commonly viewed as a bridge in this energy transition, enabling the build-out of midstream infrastructure and downstream demand while the cost of renewably driven electrolysis of water to produce “green” hydrogen continues to fall. However, a 100% green hydrogen economy may fail to deliver on the potential for hydrogen or unnecessarily delay progress. To avoid another missed opportunity, “blue” hydrogen (derived from fossil fuels with carbon capture, utilization, and storage [CCUS]) must comprise a considerable market share of the hydrogen economy.
Hydrogen’s Cost Conundrum
Failures of the hydrogen economy to materialize have centered on the chicken-or-the-egg challenge of a paradigm shift in tightly integrated, capital-intensive industries. Analyses have shown that hydrogen becomes the low-cost, low-carbon solution in a majority of potential end-use markets at $2/kilogram (kg) H 2.
Currently, fossil-based hydrogen without carbon capture, known as “gray” hydrogen, can deliver less than $1.50/kg H 2 costs while carbon capture can add $0.10/kg to $0.30/kg. Green hydrogen currently delivers approximately $5/kg unit costs, although these estimates are dropping sharply with advances in electrolyzer manufacturing and oversupply of renewable power expected to achieve $2.60/kg prices by 2030 and less than $1.50/kg by 2050.
High cost and a lack of carbon pricing limit demand across the end-use sectors where H 2 can be most impactful. Without this demand pull, investment into new production capacity and new or retrofitted transmission, distribution, and storage infrastructure has been unjustifiable.
Commercial consortia, such as the Hydrogen Council; industry first movers, like Air Products in Saudi Arabia; and intergovernmental strategies, including the European Union Hydrogen Backbone project, have initiated the investment needed for the transformation of the hydrogen economy. However, in each case, blue hydrogen is at most a steppingstone to a green hydrogen market: a gray-to-blue-to-green transition. This strategy has three primary limitations that may be resolved through continued utilization of blue hydrogen. They are:
- ■ Geographic variability of resource availability.
- ■ Energy inefficiencies of electrolysis.
- ■ Intermittent supply limiting build-out of constant demand end-uses.
Water and Energy Availability Are Key
Hydrogen production requires abundant, low-cost water or simple hydrocarbons (primarily methane). Green hydrogen consumes at least 9 kg of water per kg of H 2 while gray and blue H 2 requires half as much (when produced via steam methane reforming with a subsequent water-gas shift). Water is increasingly a limited resource, with complex and interdependent uses for energy, agriculture, and sanitation. In many regions across the world, often those with abundant renewable energy, water stress may not allow for production at the scale required to meet local demands.
Conversely, utilization of shale gas reservoirs has dramatically expanded the geographic footprint of natural gas extraction. Suitable geologic carbon dioxide (CO 2) storage capacity is also available and plentiful. Infrastructure availability is also vastly different between blue and green hydrogen. The natural gas value chain is globally mature, and both financial and regulatory stakeholders understand its operation in detail; these “soft” infrastructures require development in an all-green hydrogen scenario.
In addition to higher water consumption, green hydrogen requires approximately 11 times as much energy per unit H 2 produced compared to fossil-based routes (before carbon capture) and it needs to be cheap. Greening the current global gray hydrogen supply would require nearly 3,900 TWh of electricity annually, roughly 60% more than the combined global wind and solar photovoltaic generation in 2020 (2,444 TWh).
|1. Capacity factors of potential electrolyzers running on curtailed renewable power in the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) market. Analysis of the data from 2020 found that only 451 tons (t) of hydrogen could be produced from CAISO’s curtailed renewable energy. Source: National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL)|
At current capital prices, electrolyzers meet the $2/kg threshold only when running on “free” electricity 30% of the time or more, dramatically limiting the hydrogen supply. In 2020, 1.6 TWh of renewables were curtailed by the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), enough for approximately 28.9 kilotons of H 2 production. However, analysis of CAISO data shows that only 50 MW of electrolyzers could achieve a 30% capacity factor on curtailed energy (Figure 1), enough to produce only 451 tons of H 2.
While hydrogen is viewed as a solution to renewable curtailment, converting excess power to hydrogen that can be later reclaimed in a turbine or fuel cell (power-to-gas-to-power) can amount to a 70% energy loss. For most grid storage needs—typically several hours at most—the less than 10% roundtrip losses of battery storage represent a considerable advantage.
Chemical energy storage (including hydrogen) does represent the only technically feasible and widely scalable approach to inter-seasonal storage of renewable energy, but the demand for this duration only becomes meaningful for renewable penetration greater than 70% of demand. Thus, oversupplied renewables are unlikely to catalyze transformational use of hydrogen in a timely fashion.
Weighing Hydrogen Options
Hydrogen is best suited to decarbonize certain difficult-to-abate sectors of the economy, specifically heavy road freight, shipping, aviation, chemicals, cement, and iron and steel manufacturing. These sectors account for a combined 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions and are challenging to electrify. In contrast to load shifting of renewables, each of these sectors would have nearly continuous demand for hydrogen. Thus, those demand centers for which hydrogen has the best value proposition are least served by the capabilities of intermittent, green hydrogen or require additional costs associated with storage.
The simplest “solution” to curtailment would be higher demand on the grid. However, in a business model where the electrolyzer is used to maximize utilization of a renewable resource by avoiding curtailment, the grid will not see increased demand, ensuring supply is intermittent. It is not currently economically feasible for most industries to buy power from the grid to generate green hydrogen continuously. Conversely, blue hydrogen is decoupled from power supply and, in many geographies, leverages low-cost and continuously available natural gas.
Taken together, there is a clear need for blue hydrogen to satisfy growing end-uses at affordable pricing and finance the necessary midstream infrastructure to sustain growth of the hydrogen economy. The ubiquity of shale gas plays, along with growing natural gas infrastructure and CO 2 storage sites, creates an opportunity for a geographically diversified hydrogen economy and rapid decarbonization. However, early leaders in the green hydrogen economy, such as Germany, have left little political room for blue hydrogen. A substantial risk exists that a planned obsolescence of blue hydrogen will limit the participants in this ecosystem and lead to financing difficulties, particularly for new capacity.
Despite current advantages of blue hydrogen, work is still needed to realize a hydrogen transformation. These challenges center on the carbon intensity of existing gray hydrogen production designs and the relative immaturity of the carbon sequestration industry. The predominant mode of gray hydrogen production, steam methane reforming with a water-gas shift reaction, will need to be retrofitted to capture two streams of CO 2: a flue gas from natural gas combustion for heat and a process gas stream under pressure. Alternatively, a shift to auto-thermal reforming would make CO 2 capture considerably simpler, albeit with decreased hydrogen yields, and provide blue hydrogen with lifecycle emissions comparable to those of green hydrogen from wind and solar.
Once captured, from the current state of the art or future production processes, the CO 2 must be stored or utilized. Enhanced oil recovery by CO 2 injection is a mature technology, yet, it is likely to be met with intense scrutiny as it relates to the market requirement of carbon-free hydrogen.
|2. The Department of Energy (DOE) partnered with Air Products Inc. to advance a first-of-a-kind retrofit system to capture carbon from large-scale industrial steam methane reformer plants located at the Valero Port Arthur Refinery in Port Arthur, Texas. The project was funded by the DOE’s Office of Fossil Energy, and co-managed by NETL and Air Products. Courtesy: NETL|
The U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Fossil Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) has unique capabilities and experience to help realize the potential of a transformed hydrogen economy and is making investments across the value chain (Figure 2). NETL is already determining how to address near-term technical gaps with increased use of hydrogen in both pipelines and power plants. NETL’s advanced turbines program is enabling the next generation of turbines to operate efficiently with higher ratios of hydrogen fuel.
Work at NETL is targeting improvements to conventional natural gas reforming methods for hydrogen, as well as exploring more novel hydrogen production technologies, including methane pyrolysis with solid carbon co-production and coal/biomass co-gasification with CCUS for carbon-negative hydrogen. In the mid-term, NETL investment, and research and development (R&D) in carbon capture technology, will enable blue hydrogen to be produced cost-effectively.
NETL is also addressing longer-term R&D challenges, such as hydrogen storage, and working with external partners to assess technical gaps. NETL’s systems analysis capabilities are investigating blue hydrogen production economics, end-use markets, and infrastructure constraints. Finally, realizing the decarbonization potential of hydrogen demands a collaborative ecosystem of technology developers, end-users, and regulators. NETL is well-positioned to support each of these stakeholder groups in rising to this challenge. ■
—Clinton Noack, PhD is a senior consultant focused on research and development, and innovation strategy, for NETL’s Crosscutting Materials, Water Management, and Advanced Energy programs; and Briggs White, PhD is technology manager for High Performance Materials, Water Management, and Energy Storage
Blue hydrogen is likely to remain more expensive than natural gas because of production and carbon capture inefficiencies.What is the most efficient way to convert hydrogen to electricity? ›
|Fuel Cells||Chemical Energy ⇒ Electrical Energy|
|Steam Turbine Generators||Chemical Energy ⇒ Heat ⇒ Mechanical Energy ⇒ Electrical Energy|
Water is added to that mixture, turning the carbon monoxide into carbon dioxide and more hydrogen. If the carbon dioxide emissions are then captured and stored underground, the process is considered carbon-neutral, and the resulting hydrogen is called “blue hydrogen.”What is the most efficient way to obtain hydrogen? ›
Photoelectrochemical Water Splitting
The cleanest way to produce hydrogen is by using sunlight to directly split water into hydrogen and oxygen.
Hydrogen produced from natural gas paired with carbon capture technology, known as blue hydrogen, can essentially function as a bridge to a hydrogen economy dominated by green supplies, panelists at an Aug.Why is blue hydrogen bad for the environment? ›
Scientists at Cornell and Stanford Universities found blue hydrogen causes more pollution than burning coal because it requires huge amounts of natural gas to produce.What is the cheapest way to produce hydrogen? ›
The carbon monoxide is reacted with water to produce additional hydrogen. This method is the cheapest, most efficient, and most common. Natural gas reforming using steam accounts for the majority of hydrogen produced in the United States annually.Is it cheaper to transport hydrogen or electricity? ›
Hydrogen's Potential As an Energy Carrier
That's the interesting thing: It is about 10 times cheaper to transport energy by a hydrogen pipeline than by an electric cable.
How much electricity is needed to make hydrogen? A completely efficient electrolysis system would require 39 kWh of electricity to produce 1 kg of hydrogen. However, the devices commonly found in operation for this process are less efficient. A typical operational figure is about 48 kWh per kg of hydrogen.Is Blue hydrogen cheaper than green? ›
Blue hydrogen can produce low-carbon hydrogen at scale to help decarbonize hard-to-abate sectors such as transportation. Currently, it is also significantly cheaper than green hydrogen.
Blue hydrogen is often touted as a low-carbon fuel for generating electricity. But according to a new report it may be no better for the climate than continuing to use fossil natural gas.Is Blue hydrogen better than fossil fuels? ›
The carbon footprint to create blue hydrogen is more than 20% greater than using either natural gas or coal directly for heat, or about 60% greater than using diesel oil for heat, according to new research published Aug. 12 in Energy Science & Engineering.What are three challenges to implementing a hydrogen economy? ›
Specifically, there are three major obstacles to the implementation of a clean hydrogen economy, namely elevated costs of production, the lack of an existing value chain, and the need for international standards.Is there a limitless supply of hydrogen? ›
Hydrogen is abundant and its supply is virtually limitless. It can be used where it is produced or transported elsewhere.Is hydrogen production economically viable? ›
The issue is that similar to carbon capture and sequestration, green hydrogen is not yet at a place where it is commercially viable.What are the main three 3 hydrogen production technologies? ›
The seven key production technologies fall into three broad categories: thermal, electrolytic, and photolytic processes. One type of thermal process uses the energy stored in such resources as coal or biomass to simply release the hydrogen contained within their molecular structures.What is the cost of blue hydrogen? ›
Blue hydrogen cost ranges from $1.69-$2.55 per kg H2 depending on the production technology. Autothermal reforming (ATR) with carbon capture and storage (CCS) and natural gas decomposition with CCS produce H2 has the lowest and highest cost, respectively.What is the point of blue hydrogen? ›
Blue hydrogen is when natural gas is split into hydrogen and CO2 either by Steam Methane Reforming (SMR) or Auto Thermal Reforming (ATR), but the CO2 is captured and then stored. As the greenhouse gasses are captured, this mitigates the environmental impacts on the planet.Why is hydrogen not sustainable? ›
Today, very little hydrogen is green, because the process involved — electrolyzing water to separate hydrogen atoms from oxygen — is hugely energy intensive. In most places, there simply isn't enough renewable energy to produce vast amounts of green hydrogen.Does Blue hydrogen use fossil fuels? ›
Blue hydrogen, once an unfamiliar term to most, is at the center of the energy and climate debate. It involves making hydrogen from fossil fuels and capturing and storing the associated carbon emissions as part of efforts to meet net zero climate targets.
The key isn't in the H2 itself but is in the fact that it is blue hydrogen. This specific type of H2 production uses natural gas and a process called steam methane reforming (SMR). This process might result in an emission-free fuel, but its production still produces greenhouse gases.Which country has cheapest hydrogen? ›
China will be the cheapest place to produce green hydrogen in the long term, followed by Chile, Morocco, Colombia and Australia, in an “optimistic” scenario, according to analysis from the International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena). Will hydrogen be the skeleton key to unlock a carbon-neutral world?What is the cost of 1 Litre of hydrogen? ›
The cost of hydrogen as fuel is very cheap when compare to other fuels. Hydrogen gas costs just Rs. 30 per liter making it the cheapest option that India is not considering.Can I make hydrogen at home for my car? ›
Yes, it's possible to generate hydrogen in a science fair kind of way by electrolysing water. A liter of water will get you about 111 grams of hydrogen if you can capture it all. You would probably need one of these industrial electrolysis units to actually get pure enough hydrogen for your car.Is hydrogen Cheaper Than gas UK? ›
Using hydrogen for home heating could prove much a more expensive option than natural gas, according to the leading energy analysts Cornwall Insight.Will hydrogen cars overtake electric? ›
Future of Hydrogen Vehicles
According to the research findings, due to recent developments in battery technology and the new megawatt charging standard for battery-electric trucks, the next generation of electric trucks is anticipated to surpass fuel cell hydrogen cars in terms of market share.
Purpose of the Report:
It is planned to place an order for the Hydrogen Fuel Cell buses in quarter one of 2022/23, with the buses coming into service during the fourth quarter of 2022/23 and the first quarter of 2023/24. Procurement costs are forecast at £16.4m, subject to further negotiation with the supplier.
The Toyota Mirai
The increased efficiency of the fuel cell system, coupled with a 1 kg increase in hydrogen capacity gives the Mirai a certified range of approximately 650 kilometres (400 miles), under normal driving conditions.
A 100MW electrolyser, which will be built in 2022, can produce 1.7 tonnes of hydrogen gas per hour, which is equal to 70% of the requirements of the blast furnace at the Duisburg steel plant and an annual supply of 50,000 tonnes of climate-neutral steel.How much does blue hydrogen go for per kg? ›
As of 2021, the fuel costs about $5 per kilogram in the U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Department, compared to $1.50/kg for gray hydrogen, which is produced without carbon capture.
The researchers also found the financial cost of creating blue hydrogen using CCS becomes more expensive as a plant gets closer to capturing 90% of emissions. This is because it becomes harder to capture CO2 as concentrations begin to fall.Can green hydrogen production be economically? ›
Green hydrogen can help abate 3.6 gigatons of cumulative CO2 emissions by 2050. A new report released today by NITI Aayog highlights thatgreen hydrogen can substantially spur industrial decarbonisation and economic growth for India in the coming decades.Do we need blue hydrogen? ›
Proponents of blue hydrogen — derived from natural gas with carbon capture and storage — say it is a vital tool in reducing greenhouse gas emissions as vast amounts can be produced more rapidly and cheaply than green H2 from renewable energy.How efficient is blue gas? ›
A peer-reviewed study published in Energy Science & Engineering, an open-source journal, concludes "the greenhouse gas footprint of blue hydrogen is more than 20 percent greater than burning natural gas or coal for heat and some 60 percent greater than burning diesel oil for heat," according to the paper.How much CO2 is produced from blue hydrogen? ›
Hydrogen may also be used to store excess energy generated by intermittent renewable electricity sources when supply exceeds demand, albeit with significant losses. The virtue of hydrogen is that it produces zero carbon emissions at the point of use.How many blue hydrogen projects are there? ›
Globally, there are 31 active blue hydrogen plants, and 63 blue hydrogen projects.Could hydrogen fuel replace fossil fuels in the future? ›
Unlike most fuels, hydrogen does not produce the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) when burned: instead, it yields water. This means that burning hydrogen fuel does not contribute to climate change. The versatility of hydrogen fuel creates many opportunities to replace fossil fuels in different parts of our economy.Is hydrogen more sustainable than fossil fuels? ›
More Energy Efficient than Fossil Fuels: Hydrogen contains nearly three times as much energy as fossil fuels, making it more energy efficient. Readily Available: Because green hydrogen can be produced wherever there is water and electricity to generate more heat and electricity, it is readily available for production.Is hydrogen the best fuel option to replace fossil fuels? ›
Debates continue regarding hydrogen fuel cells advantages and disadvantages, but despite current limitations, hydrogen is still an environmentally-friendly alternative to fossil fuels and can be used to provide flexible and high-density power and propulsion for a wide range of industrial plant and modes of ...What are some of the major barriers to a hydrogen economy? ›
There are a few barriers to be knocked down before the commercial aspect of green hydrogen is advanced; the costs of renewable energies need to be viable themselves, the storage of electricity generated is still too inefficient, the storage of hydrogen too volatile, the costs of desalination remain significant and ...
Hydrogen energy is difficult to store
To be able to store it we need to compress it into a liquid and store it at a low temperature. The high amounts of pressure needed to store hydrogen makes it a difficult fuel to transport in large quantities.
One of the main challenges to hydrogen is the issue of storing it. If using it as a direct fuel to a vehicle it must be stored on board and must be pressurized (in some cases to five or ten-thousand psi) or liquefied to have an appropriate driving range.Is the universe running out of hydrogen? ›
No - there is no chance “tomorrow”. As stars burn hydrogen into helium, will the universe run out of hydrogen some time in the future? By 10^14 (100 trillion) years from now, star formation will end. This period, known as the Degenerate Era, will last until the degenerate remnants finally decay.Can the universe make more hydrogen? ›
There are very few hydrogen atoms being created afresh in the Universe. But there are some. Occasionally, a type of radioactivity called 'proton emission' can produce a 'new' proton and this can form 'new' hydrogen by capturing an electron. Hawking radiation can also produce 'new' protons and hence 'new' hydrogen.Why hydrogen is not the future? ›
Sure, hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, and it's only used as an energy carrier, so it doesn't get used up in a fuel cell. However, it doesn't exactly grow on trees either, and there are no underground “hydrogen pockets” that we can simply pump it out from.Why hydrogen is not an economy? ›
We don't yet have a hydrogen economy because: Elemental hydrogen is scarce. The cheapest way to make hydrogen also makes lots of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide emissions are not yet priced.Why hydrogen is not used in industry? ›
Hydrogen is not easily available and cost of production is high Unlike other gases, hydrogen is not readily available in the atmosphere. It requires processes like electrolysis of water for its production. This is a very costly process and time consuming.Can hydrogen be produced economically? ›
Hydrogen economy is an economy that relies on hydrogen as the commercial fuel that would deliver a substantial fraction of a nation's energy and services. This vision can become a reality if hydrogen can be produced from domestic energy sources economically and in an environmental-friendly manner.Is hydrogen good for the economy? ›
Hydrogen can be used as a mobile source of power for transportation by being compressed and stored in small tanks for applications similar to gasoline or propane. With increasing use of hydrogen and technical advances, the costs of production, distribution and product manufacturing will becoming increasing affordable.Why is hydrogen no longer the fuel of the future? ›
The practical issues against hydrogen fuel cell cars
A large amount of hydrogen is required to generate just a small amount of energy. As a result, cars would need huge tanks with hydrogen or they'd have a very short range between fuel stops.
There are a few barriers to be knocked down before the commercial aspect of green hydrogen is advanced; the costs of renewable energies need to be viable themselves, the storage of electricity generated is still too inefficient, the storage of hydrogen too volatile, the costs of desalination remain significant and ...Who is leading the hydrogen economy? ›
China. China consumes and produces more hydrogen than any other country – its current annual usage is more than 24 million tonnes.How do you make hydrogen economy? ›
Establishing a hydrogen economy that meets our climate needs calls for cross-sector collaboration and policy support to reduce cost and risk for investors, incentivize low-carbon hydrogen production and accelerate technology and infrastructure development.What did George Bush mean by a hydrogen economy? ›
President Bush's Hydrogen Fuel Initiative, announced on January 28, 2003, envisions the transformation of the nation's transportation fleet from a near-total reliance on petroleum to steadily increasing use of clean-burning hydrogen.What price is hydrogen in the UK? ›
In the UK, hydrogen costs about £12 per kg, which means a 62-mile (100km) journey in the Hyundai NEXO, for example (which does 0.95kg/100km), will cost around £11.40.What are 3 disadvantages of hydrogen? ›
- If it is “grey”, it pollutes. If it is not produced using renewable sources, hydrogen pollutes. ...
- It is a gas that is difficult to handle. ...
- It is less advantageous than electric power for cars.