Why super majors operating in Energy and Transport sectors became extremely interested in hydrogen?

Posted by Karolis Mirinavičius
The transport and energy related news headlines of the recent years highlighted a lot of news from transport sector about hydrogen. Hyunday, BMW, Renault, Mercedez and other major manufacturers announced of testing of their hydrogen-powered vehicles, as well as of experimental, and in some cases commercial, production. This is not surprising bearing in mind that one kilogram of hydrogen (40,000 Wh/kg) contain more than 140 times the energy of lithium-ions (278 Wh/kg). The latest technologies of extracting hydrogen also are extremely “clean” bearing in mind that hydrogen is extracted by splitting water by way of electrolysis to hydrogen and oxygen. For this reason, car manufacturers see hydrogen as an extremely clean fuel, and as an opportunity to significantly increase the single-charge electric car distance. Also, bearing in mind that a hydrogen-powered car can be completely filled with hydrogen within about 5 minutes, while charging most electric cars can take up to several hours and more, depending on a type of charging stations. So, why we still do not see a million of hydrogen-powered cars, and the market of innovative technologies is only dominated by electric cars? The main problem lies within the final price of one and another technology. Currently, travelling a distance of one kilometre by a hydrogen-powered car may be 8 times more expensive than by an electric car. Before hydrogen could power a vehicle, it must be first extracted from water (by way of electrolysis), then it has to be compressed, transported to filling stations, transferred to storages, then to a vehicle, and in a vehicle hydrogen has to be once again transformed to electricity. Because of all these processes, the primary energy losses often reach 60% or more, and this greatly increases the cost of kilometre travelled by an electric car. Meanwhile, energy companies saw an opportunity of avoiding a large part of these processes, and of using hydrogen at the place of its production. Both pure hydrogen, and by blending it with carbon dioxide (CO2) and thus obtaining synthetic methane (natural gas) transferring to the gas network. This way, no matter how interesting it may sound, electricity can be stored in the form of gas. This could help dealing with problems of emerging electricity surplus and network balancing on extremely windy or sunny days in the future when there will be much more wind turbines and solar power plants than today. Thus, as efficient as possible electrolysis process, in other words water splitting into hydrogen and oxygen using electricity, is one of the key issues. Traditional electrolysis methods are too expensive and ineffective. For this reason, in recent years, “reconnaissance” of energy companies intensified greatly in this field too. A message from Ignitis Group Innovation Hub about investment in H2Pro has been recently published. The Smart Energy Fund is one of four directions of Ignitis Group Innovation Hub, which is aimed to attract energy talents and innovations as well as to promote business growth of energy start-ups. The Smart Energy Fund contributes to the Open Funding Programme of Ignitis Group Innovation Hub. The Innovation Hub also includes the Open Infrastructure, Open Partnership and Open Culture programmes.

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