Hydrogen To Power Vehicles of the Future?

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In an article published in January 2019, the National Geographic Society had said that the levels of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere are currently the highest in the past 800,000 years! This has drastically affected the global climate, which is visible in the erratic or unseasonal rainfall, snowfall in hot deserts, and a general increase in the temperature, known as global warming. Everybody now knows who is responsible for it…we, humans are. This is why efforts are now on to decrease the emission of GHGs, so that the air we breathe can be cleaned up.

This is one of the primary reasons for the growth of the hydrogen generation market, as analyzed by P&S Intelligence, a market research firm. Since much of the GHG emissions are attributed to the burning of crude oil-based fuels and coal, the demand for alternative fuels has been on a constant rise. Since the 1950s, hydrogen has been one of the key fuels for NASA’s space missions. Even more interesting is that the gas, along with oxygen, has been envisioned as a potential energy source since as early as the late 19th century!

Despite such an early emphasis on the use of hydrogen as a fuel, the dream has not been realized to its fullest potential because of the difficulty in obtaining the gas. Even though hydrogen is abundant on earth (water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen), it is rarely available in its elemental form, existing mostly as compounds. This is why hydrogen needs to be produced industrially, via a variety of processes, including partial oil oxidation, steam methane reforming, water electrolysis, and coal gasification.

As per the U.S. Department of Energy, more than 95% of the commercially viable hydrogen today is produced via the steam methane reforming process, wherein a hydrocarbon, most commonly methane, is reacted with high-pressure steam to produce hydrogen. This is where the problem lies; as per the International Energy Agency (IEA), the production of the fuel from hydrocarbons is responsible for 830 million tonnes of CO2 emissions each year. Hydrogen is only completely clean as long as it is produced cleanly.

This has put a strong focus on the production of low-carbon hydrogen, which is why the electrolysis capacity is being increased around the world. The IEA says that around the world, a 25.4-Megawatt (MW) electrolysis capacity was added in 2019. Such measures are being taken due to the rising popularity of hydrogen in various applications; till some time ago, the chemical and oil refining industries had been the largest consumers of this gas, whereas, now, the demand for it is also rising rapidly for transportation purposes.

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