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Interview Synopsis

Hydrogen's role in energy

  • Multi Asset
  • Utilities
  • North America

Hydrogen is “the most hyped technology out there”, a senior executive from Thunder Said Energy told Third Bridge Forum. Although there is optimism that it could support decarbonisation efforts, there are questions regarding the gas’s affordability and effectiveness across different industries.

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What’s in the pipeline for hydrogen energy?

The specialist explained the three main categories of hydrogen – grey, blue and green – as well as their efficiency and price per kilogram. It is the latter form that is garnering interest at present, which is created by electrolysing water with renewable energy to separate the hydrogen atom.

Transport is where hydrogen is “closest to being economical”. With diesel in Europe standing at about USD 6/gallon (pre-coronavirus), and hydrogen at USD 8.5/gallon, it’s feasible that the price could drop to a competitive level owing to deflation. And this decline is primarily expected to stem from the electrolysers. 

“The biggest challenge you have is that these electrolysers are really only about 70% efficient.” Over-voltage from the anode supplies more electrodes than needed for splitting the molecules – and “that’s the area where the industry is trying to improve”. The maximum efficiency achievable, according to the expert, is around 90%, and there are some patents emerging in China “claiming they can get the efficiency into the 80s”.

However, there are some downsides when comparing hydrogen with more conventional fuel sources. Hydrogen buses are already operating in California, but these have higher maintenance costs and take longer to fuel, resulting in less time on the road. “Even if we get the fuel cost to be about the same, hydrogen trucks are going to cost about 30% more per mile than diesel trucks.”

Transporting the hydrogen is also more complicated. As it’s eight times less dense than natural gas, it requires far more space than natural gas. In addition, smaller molecules means “they can leak, they can embrittle things, they’re explosive, and this means that everything has to be made out of higher-spec materials.” 

One option is freezing, but “you use about 30% of the energy liquefying the hydrogen and another 25% boils off in transit.” Pipelines are also not feasible as, for the reasons cited in the previous paragraph, it is more expensive and complicated than transporting natural gas this way.

Other topics covered in this Interview include which companies are leading the way with patents and the ExxonMobil-FuelCell Energy carbon-capture trial.

To access all the human insights from Third Bridge Forum’s Hydrogen’s Role in Energy Interview, click here to view the full transcript.

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