Hydrogen is really the element of the moment – a big call but the simple elegance and functionality of the lightest gas makes it a very serious contender.
Hydrogen can be used as a fuel and is important to many manufacturing processes, especially in the hydrocarbon and petrochemical industries (which, as a major source of hydrogen, in a broad sense, can be seen as extending to the ammonia and fertilisers industry). Fuel applications are likely to be critical in a decarbonised, low emissions economy but there are challenges ahead for hydrogen. It’s not commonly used as an automotive fuel now for example and the hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle, at mass scale, is still a decade or so away.
Such challenges to which a helpful overview is provided by the CSIRO National Hydrogen Roadmap (2018) and following which much discussion has followed in the petroleum industry at least, are addressed by innovation and will include addressing issues in at least the following:
- Hydrogen production
- Hydrogen storage
- Electricity Grid Firming and Remote Area Power Systems (RAPS)
The Roadmap provides direction on where innovation is necessary and Tables 23, 24 and 28 are particularly useful.
Some questions to consider are modes of producing hydrogen. Schemes could include producing hydrogen from methane for which there are a number of schemes including steam methane reforming, some requiring carbon dioxide abatement.
Alkaline electrolysis or use of polyelectrolyte membrane (PEM) electrolysis provide potential electrochemical alternatives for hydrogen production though there is work to do on improving process efficiencies through development of innovative membranes. High temperature electrolysis also provides a possible way forward. There is great potential for process development.
Another issue relates to hydrogen storage and this raises issues for liquefaction technology and development of materials less permeable to hydrogen. Liquefaction processes need innovative coolant schemes and handling of ammonia presents another challenge.
Electricity Grid Firming and Remote Area Power Systems (RAPS)
Lastly, but not least, on electricity grid firming and RAPS, it’s trite to note the need for continued research and development on fuel cells of various types, especially for use in fuel cell electric vehicles and ammonia/hydrogen turbines.
This short summary of opportunities for hydrogen innovation shows the clear potential of this field. There is much opportunity for development and collaboration, taking leads from the key national innovators which appear to be Japan, China and Korea though this varies with specific technology. Landscaping analysis is a convenient way to show how an organisation can contribute to hydrogen innovation in a significant way.