Got Gas? Hydrogen is trending but where’s the economy?
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The hydrogen economy has continued to be the talk of town with investors jumping on every new player on the market.
But sit back and think for a bit, when was the last time you saw a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle of any kind or any kind of hydrogen infrastructure like refuelling stations?
Yeah, thought so.
It may be a little different now, but as of 2019, industrial processes were responsible for the vast majority of hydrogen consumption.
Hydrogen used for transportation purposes still makes up a tiny percentage of total consumption and here’s an example of why.
There are currently two hydrogen FCVs for sale in Australia, Hyundai’s Nexo and Toyota’s Mirai, though only specialised fleets are allowed to buy them at this stage thanks to a paucity of refuelling points.
The Mirai is a bog-standard sedan while the Nexo’s a small SUV, which might be a little more palatable for our battery hating and SUV loving Energy Minister. Maybe.
As a bit of an exercise in contrasts, there are close to 20 models of battery electric vehicles (BEV) available for sale (to the general public) in Australia.
Costs of FCVs are also prohibitive. It is entirely possible to buy two of the cheapest BEVs for the cost of one hydrogen FCV, and it’s way easier to recharge a BEV at this point in time.
Greater adoption of FCVs would certainly help in the growth (though it is not a necessity of) the hydrogen economy, but it’s hard to see it making headway given the lack of choice, cost and headstart enjoyed by BEVs.
That’s not to say that there is no future for hydrogen.
On the contrary, hydrogen is likely to see greater use in the years to come, enough certainly to earn the title of an economy.
It just won’t be quite as big as some of its pundits think.
One area where hydrogen is almost certain to make an impact is in power generation.
While renewable energy supporters will have you believe that solar and wind combined with battery storage would be enough, it fails to take into consideration that batteries are (still) expensive and have a limited life.
Germany has already unveiled plans to replace existing diesel-fired power stations with their hydrogen counterparts, which would provide all the benefits of base load power without the emissions.
Combine that with green hydrogen produced using renewable energy and the gas essentially becomes a store for clean energy.
Ironically, Australia’s efforts in the same area can be best described as anaemic despite the government’s push to embrace the hydrogen economy.
While the New South Wales government has approved the country’s first dual-fuel power plant, operator EnergyAustralia has only committed to replacing 5 per cent of the gas feed with hydrogen from 2025 and has made no commitments to increase this ratio.
A strange move given that other gas-to-hydrogen projects (again in Europe) have found no issues moving to 100 per cent hydrogen.
Long range haul, whether for trucks, trains or ships, could also be an area where hydrogen reigns supreme.
Fuel cells provide long range and their tanks can be refilled quickly, making them an ideal option for these forms of transport.
Norway has already passed legislation requiring all cruise ships and ferries operating in its fjords to halt emissions as soon as possible and no later than 2026.
All these applications are in addition to the existing industrial applications and points that highlight the way for the hydrogen. Just don’t look for it at the pumps anytime soon.