Hydrogen: The green energy game-changer?

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Green hydrogen has the potential to transform our energy system, addressing supply issues and reducing emissions.

But its success depends on how cheaply it can be produced and how appealing it is to consumers.

Hydrogen stands out among renewable energy options. Unlike solar panels, wind turbines, and hydropower plants, which harness natural energy to generate electricity, hydrogen is different.

Andreas Züttel, head of EPFL’s Laboratory of Materials for Renewable Energy, explains: “Hydrogen is not an energy source, it’s an energy carrier.”

Today, hydrogen is crucial in our energy system. It packs more energy per unit mass than any other substance.

It’s used in fossil fuels and powers rockets and fuel-cell vehicles. However, 95% of the hydrogen we use today is “dirty” because it’s produced from fossil fuels, leading to a large carbon footprint.

The shift to clean hydrogen

Despite this, green hydrogen is being seen as vital for a net-zero-emissions future. The Swiss Federal Office of Energy (SFOE) expects green hydrogen to play a key role in Switzerland’s energy mix by 2050, even though its current use is minimal.

To achieve this, we need to clean up hydrogen production. Switching from dirty to clean hydrogen presents many challenges.

For one, hydrogen is hard to store because it doesn’t remain liquid at room temperature. It’s also explosive and can’t be odorized, making leak detection difficult.

Producing hydrogen requires a lot of energy—66 kilowatt-hours per kilogram. Economically, it’s expensive, costing two to three times more per kilowatt-hour than electricity.

Despite these drawbacks, there’s optimism about hydrogen. Under the right conditions, its properties could help solve future energy challenges as we transition to cleaner sources.

Interest in hydrogen surged in the 1990s. Züttel recalls, “When I entered the field 32 years ago, we thought hydrogen would replace all fossil fuels. Back then, we were more concerned about running out of fossil fuels than global warming.” However, as new fossil fuel deposits were found and production costs dropped, interest in hydrogen declined.

Today, as we aim to combat climate change, hydrogen is back in the spotlight. It’s seen as a versatile energy carrier that can complement other renewable sources. Green hydrogen could be produced using renewable energy, making it a clean alternative to fossil fuels.

In conclusion, while green hydrogen faces many challenges, its potential benefits make it a promising player in the future of energy. If we can overcome production and storage issues, hydrogen could help us achieve a net-zero emissions future and transform our energy system for the better.