Hydrogen is an element. It is, in fact, the simplest and most abundant element in the universe.
On Earth, hydrogen is most often associated with water, H2O, and organic compounds.
In addition, hydrogen is highly energetic and has the highest energy per unit mass of any fuel. It is combustible, and when burned,hydrogen atoms combine with oxygen atoms to form water molecules. This is how it was named: hydrogen in Greek means water-former.
These characteristics of hydrogen make it an excellent energy carrier. Much focus is now being placed on the development of the hydrogen economy, utilizing hydrogen as a means to increase the use of renewable energy in those sectors that are more difficult to decarbonise such as heat and transport.
Hydrogen can be sourced from water by splitting H2O into its component elements, a process called electrolysis, and if the electricity used to split water comes from a renewable source, such as wind power or solar power,then the resulting hydrogen is a renewable fuel. It does not release carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, when it is used. The benefit of this approach is that the renewable hydrogen fuel can be stored for later use. And the uses are many:
- hydrogen can today be blended with the natural gas (a fossil fuel) in our gas networks, to reduce our reliance on imported gas and reduce carbon emissions.In addition, the natural gas can be replaced with bio-methane from our local anaerobic digesters, to create a zero-carbon gas network. It may even be possible to convert parts of the natural gas network to be a renewable hydrogen gas network.
- hydrogen can be combined with oxygen in fuel cells to release electricity. Fuel cell buses are already in use in Northern Ireland and hydrogen can be the solution to de-carbonise long range transport.
- hydrogen can be transported from areas where it is generated, such as off-shore wind farms, via pipelines. This raises opportunities for reconfiguring existing offshore oil and gas infrastructure to be used within the renewable hydrogen sector.
- hydrogen can offer solutions to match renewable energy generation with demand. There are several projects underway, including in Northern Ireland, investigating the potential of hydrogen as a means of storing energy. This solves the problem of intermittency and seasonality of renewable energy supply from wind and solar. The renewable electricity generated by solar and wind power can be converted to hydrogen, stored, and then reconverted back to electricity when needed.
Action Renewables is a Partner in the European SEAFUEL project which investigated the feasibility of powering local transportation networks using fuels produced by renewable energies and seawater, with no net carbon footprint. You can read more about our recent site visit to view the Hydrogen Re-fueling station in Tenerife here.
You can also read more about Hydrogen in our recent blog posts:
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