The race to integrate hydrogen into the energy mix is well underway, but realizing the full potential of this low-carbon fuel means overcoming a number of challenges.
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Producing hydrogen through the electrolysis of water, powered by wind, solar or hydro.
The Challenge: Renewable power is intermittent in nature and is generally has higher power costs relative to other sources of power.
The Solution: Technologies across generation and electrolysis continue to improve as well as society’s value on renewable energy is increasing. As more renewable power supply comes online, excess electricity can be directed towards Green hydrogen production. Green hydrogen is one of several potential low-carbon fuels that could take the place of today’s hydrocarbons.
Wind and Solar Energy and have many advantages as low-cost and clean energy sources.
The Challenge: Intermittent and unpredictable, wind and solar energy are typically generated at-scale in remote areas. During windy and sunny days, renewable energy is sold at unprofitably low prices and some generators may be forced offline to balance the system.
The Solution: The integration of hydrogen fuel at the energy farms allows flexibility to shift production to best match demand and market factors. Electrolyser at the turbine or panel could reduce costs and increase flexibility and hydrogen could be transported relatively cheaply. As well, coupling hydrogen and power technologies (electrolyser to storage; storage to fuel cell) benefits the power system, through ancillary services to support stability.
Hydropower utilizes the potential energy of water to generate power and represents the cheapest and most consistent renewable energy source.
The Challenge: Hydropower is typically generated in remote areas. Large dam projects are capital and time-intensive to deploy.
The Solution: Run-of-river (ROR) hydropower projects allow for smaller and scalable generation that does not rely on dams. Electrolysers as well as integrated storage could enhance ROR power by making it possible to ramp power up or down on demand.
Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) is a pipeline-quality gas that is fully interchangeable with conventional natural gas and thus can be used in natural gas vehicles. RNG can be produced anaerobically from agricultural and agri-food sources, from the pyrolysis and gasification of forestry bi-products, and from landfill gas collection of municipal solid waste and bio-solids from wastewater.
The Challenge: As RNG is primarily composed of methane, it presents many of the same challenges to non-renewable natural gas, including fugitive emissions and CO2 emissions from burning.
The Solution: RNG projects need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis in regards to waste reduction benefits, methane emission impact and if the project contributes to the decrease in new construction of non-renewable infrastructure. By combining existing natural gas infrastructure and CCUS technologies, RNG can be an important part of the energy transition and circular economy.
Biomass power uses fuel from organic materials such as scrap lumber, manure or waste materials, to generate energy for electricity production. Other Waste-to-Energy feedstocks include non-recyclable and non-compostable solid waste, which contributes to a circular economy.
The Challenge: When anything is burned, it can create emissions and ash.
The Solution: Along with CCUS to capture the emissions, various technologies such as calcination, graphitization, carburization, controlled oxidation, oxide reduction, purification, pyrolysis, drying, reduction, solid-solid reaction, gas-solid reaction, metalizing, debinding, and waste remediation help to reduce emissions. Biomass power and Waste-to-Energy should be part of a broader sustainable waste management plan that encompasses reducing, reusing and recycling materials.
Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) describes a broad package of solutions that capture CO2 by removing it from the source gas, use the CO2 or determines safe and permanent storage options. CCUS will be essential to building a cost-effective pathway for low-carbon hydrogen production.
The Challenge: Capture technology is advancing but scaling from research and development to commercially successful operations can be costly and energy intensive. There are many capture technologies but few have full-scale, commercially operating plants. Carbon capture costs are high and government funding is low so overall the costs are prohibitive.
The Solution: Knowledge sharing across regions, sectors and disciplines across the energy value chain is required on every project. From understanding existing infrastructure, injection well design and delivery, reservoir characterization, process modeling, capture technologies and their associated energy costs, CO2 transportation or economic reviews, creating flexible teams to fit the specific requirements of a project will dictate its success. The technology learning curve and evaluating the benefits of emissions reduction will strengthen the business case for CCUS.
Producing hydrogen from natural gas with a process of methane reforming, while capturing and storing the resulting carbon emissions.
The Challenge: The carbon footprint of hydrogen production via methane reforming is high. In fact, more carbon is generated in the production of hydrogen via methane reforming than if you simply burned the methane used to make the hydrogen. As well, fugitive emissions from natural gas production are a large emitter of potent GHGs.
The Solution: 1) Carbon capture technologies and infrastructure are a game-changer for the energy industry, by enabling sequestering or utilizing the CO2. 2) Fugitive emission management programs that combine tracking, monitoring, reporting and repair of infrastructure. 3) Also, technological improvements like specialized blowdown systems that capture vented gases and reinject them to be combusted.
Raw natural gas consists of many components such as methane, ethane and propane, can be classified as sweet, sour, liquids rich, or liquids lean and must be processed before it can be utilized or sold as sales gas. Natural gas will be a key feedstock for hydrogen production as well as lowering the carbon intensity of existing energy pathways.
The Challenge: Natural gas production, especially in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin, is quite competitive with thin margins and additional transportation costs to major centers.
The Solution: Efficient processing, which requires a deep understanding of the subtle differences in gas compositions and then pairing with the most cost-effective solution, like deep cut or shallow cut plants. By removing impurities to meet all pipeline specifications, gas can be transported with minimal disruption and maximizing its value.
Hydrogen can be blended to an allowable limit with natural gas, without risks to the integrity, reliability or safety of existing networks, including end-use appliances which are usually the limiting factor. Blending also represents a unique opportunity to connect hydrogen producers and end users with relatively little significant additional investment in infrastructure.
The Challenge: Hydrogen is about three times less energy-dense than methane, meaning that a 20% mixture of H2 in natural gas would have 86% of the energy of commercial natural gas. Based on this decreased energy-by-volume, burning natural gas blended with hydrogen may not have as large of an impact on decarbonization as other strategies.
The Solution: Burning hydrogen blended natural gas may not be the most efficient or long- term use case. As the downstream hydrogen fuel market matures and a fixed price for pure hydrogen is set, deploying extraction at key consumption and storage points along the in-place natural gas network will ensure more efficient utilization.
Underground Hydrogen Storage (UHS) within salt caverns or depleted oil and gas reservoirs allows for large quantities of hydrogen to be stored at higher pressures, with lower environmental impacts, longer operating lifetimes, and reduced specific investment costs than above-ground storage.
The Challenge: Hydrogen behaves differently than other gases (such as methane and CO2) stored underground. The high mobility and permeability of hydrogen causes a greater risk of migration outside the storage, as well as low viscosity increases the risk of the formation of unrecoverable zones.
The Solution: Detailed analysis of the geological structures must be combined with solid understanding of the form of the final energy consumed, the methods of energy conversion and the combination between these elements, as these will dictate exactly which type of underground storage should be used. This risk-based approach is essential for achieving the intended results, increasing the desired effects and limiting or preventing the occurrence of undesirable effects, as well as achieving improvement.
As hydrogen has a very low density, storage for hydrogen gas requires high pressure vessels and liquid hydrogen storage requires cryogenic temperatures.
The Challenge: Above-ground storage, either as a gas or liquid, entails high investment costs.
The Solution: Current advances in material science technology are improving the safety and efficiency, as well as higher volumetric and gravimetric hydrogen density, but a perfect hydrogen storage technology does not currently exist. The costs of infrastructure, the costs of energy to operate the facility and the costs of maintenance of the facility, must all be understood when making the decision.
Cooling gaseous hydrogen to –253 °C, results in liquid hydrogen (LH2) that is less than 800 times its gaseous volume, ensures hydrogen purity, and provides an energy dense product. LH2 also offers advantages for easy conversion into gaseous hydrogen.
The Challenge: The efficiency of hydrogen liquefaction is very low, consuming almost 30–40% of the energy content of hydrogen, in addition there are boil-off losses during transportation.
The Solution: Until low-cost, high efficiency, hydrogen liquefiers are developed, several other carbon-based fuels such as methanol (CH3OH), methylcyclohexane (MCH) and ammonia (NH3) have been recommended as more technically viable options.
Renewable Natural Gas (RNG) is a pipeline-quality gas that is fully interchangeable with conventional natural gas and thus can be used in natural gas vehicles. RNG can be produced anaerobically from agricultural and agri-food sources, the pyrolysis and gasification of forestry bi-products, and landfill gas collection of municipal solid waste and bio-solids from wastewater.
The Challenge: As RNG is primarily composed of methane, it presents many of the same challenges to non-renewable natural gas like fugitive emissions and CO2 emissions when burned.
The Solution: RNG projects need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis as regards waste reduction benefits, methane emission impact and if the project contributes to the decrease in new construction of non-renewable infrastructure. By combining existing natural gas infrastructure and CCUS technologies, RNG can be an important part of the energy transition and circular economy.
Biomass power uses fuel from organic materials such as scrap lumber, manure or waste materials, to generate energy for electricity production. Other Waste-to-Energy feedstocks include non-recyclable and non-compostable solid waste which contributes to a circular economy.
The Challenge: When anything is burned, it can create emissions and ash.
The Solution: Along with CCUS to capture emissions, various technologies across calcination, graphitization, carburization, controlled oxidation, oxide reduction, purification, pyrolysis, drying, reduction, solid-solid reaction, gas-solid reaction, metalizing, debinding, and waste remediation help to reduce emissions. Biomass power and Waste-to-Energy should be part of a broader sustainable waste management plan that encompasses reducing, reusing and recycling materials.
Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) describes a broad package of solutions to capture and remove CO2, followed by recycling the CO2 for utilization or determining safe and permanent storage options. CCUS will be essential to building a cost-effective pathway for low-carbon hydrogen production.
The Challenge: Technology is advancing but scaling from research and development to commercially successful operations can be costly and energy intensive.
The Solution: Knowledge sharing across regions, sectors and disciplines across the energy value chain is needed on every project. From understanding existing infrastructure, injection well design and delivery, reservoir characterization, process modeling, CO2 transportation or economic reviews, creating flexible teams to fit the specific requirements of a project will dictate its success. The technology learning curve and valuing the benefits of emissions reduction will strengthen the business case for CCUS.
Ammonia (NH3) is safe and easy to store and transport because of its low vapor pressure and high boiling point. It can be used directly as a zero-carbon fuel, for energy storage or for transportation of hydrogen. Blue ammonia might offer a quicker and cheaper route to a hydrogen economy as green hydrogen is currently about 3x more expensive than producing it conventionally.
The Challenge: Extracting pure hydrogen from ammonia is currently costly due the large energy requirement for cracking and compressing at the consumption end.
The Solution: Until more effective technologies have been commercialized, direct utilization of ammonia in fuel cells or combustion can be deployed in heavy-duty vehicles like those used in aviation, shipping, trucking, and power plants.
Pipelines are the most economical means of transporting large quantities of hydrogen long distances.
The Challenge: Hydrogen has very specific properties including low density and high diffusivity.
The Solution: Most of the high and medium pressure natural gas distribution system would need to be completely replaced to accommodate pure hydrogen. When blended with natural gas, many of these issues can be safely mitigated, without negatively affecting the integrity of the pipe due to hydrogen embrittlement.
Building operations are responsible for 28% of annual global CO2 emissions. Pure hydrogen can substitute for methane gas in heating buildings or be blended with natural gas to lower the carbon intensity of the fuel.
The Challenge: There are many engineering challenges to implementation, as the properties of hydrogen are different. Hydrogen burns hotter than natural gas, produces 60% more water vapour, and is more prone to leakage.
The Solution: Individual consumers may find it more efficient to utilize hydrogen as a fuel cell to store quantities of renewable electricity to be used for heating and general electric needs. Other, high-intensity gas users may utilize hydrogen combustion with specialized equipment, such as district energy plants, peaking power plants, and heavy industry requiring high-temperature heat.
Hydrogen is a key building block in chemical processes, with 42% of all hydrogen produced being used for ammonia production and 52% for petrochemicals in different refineries.
The Challenge: Most of the hydrogen produced for the chemical and fertilizer industries is produced through steam-methane reforming, as green hydrogen costs remain high.
The Solution: A balanced approach is required. Moving the market for green hydrogen forward with incentives, regulations and market solutions, like premium pricing for green hydrogen products, will lower costs and increase new investment. Enhancing current hydrogen production with carbon capture strategies, will ensure the transition will be gradual and less carbon intensive.
Steel is critical to our modern lives, from the cars we drive, the buildings we work in, to the homes in which we live.
The Challenge: Currently the steel industry is among the three biggest producers of carbon dioxide with most steel made in coal-fired blast furnaces (BF).
The Solution: Hydrogen can replace coal and other carbon-based auxiliary reducing agents in the BF process or be used as the sole reducing agent in creating direct reduced iron (DRI). Injecting green or blue hydrogen into the BF route can reduce emissions by 21%, while the DRI process can be fully reliant on hydrogen.
Shipping is the backbone of the global economy, accounting for around 2.7% of global emissions. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) has set the ambition of reducing the shipping industry’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% by 2050 and large international shipping companies such as Maersk, MSC and CMA CGM have already committed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 or sooner.
The Challenge: Even when compressed or liquified, hydrogen remains too bulky or difficult to handle and store in the quantities required to replace regular marine fuel.
The Solution: An analysis from the ICCT has found that that 43% of current voyages between China and the United States – one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes – could be made using hydrogen without the decreased cargo space or the need to stop more times to refuel. Nearly all the voyages could be powered by hydrogen with only minor changes to fuel capacity or operations. Other solutions including alternative lower-carbon fuels made from hydrogen, like ammonia, methanol and methane, can be manufactured and more easily stored in ship fuel tanks in the quantities required. These chemical compounds can still be burned in existing ship engines if small modifications are made to their design and construction.
While there is potential to power trains with hydrogen using a converted combustion engine, current technology focuses on the use of hydrogen fuel cells. Overall lifetime costs of building and operating a hydrogen rail (hydrail) system is equivalent to a conventional overhead electrification system.
The Challenge: Some fear that a derailment or other incident could cause a hydrogen tank car to ignite.
The Solution: Hydrogen is light and does not pool but disperses into the air. In the event of a fire, fuel cell modules are designed to shut down and hybrid battery systems take over to keep the train powered.
Technologies for the utilization of hydrogen for Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) can be split into fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) or hydrogen internal compression engines (H2-ICEs). Both technologies have quicker refuelling times and increased range than battery electric vehicles, as well as are better suited for cold climates. H2-ICEs also have the additional high-power requirements required for the harsh operating conditions that heavy-duty vehicles like mining trucks are exposed to.
The Challenge: Battery electric vehicles are considerably more energy efficient than hydrogen powered vehicles with an energy loss of 20% compared to 35-40% for FCEVs.
The Solution: The creation of hydrogen highways – networks along long-range trucking hubs with focus on the Class 8 and intensive Class 6 applications, that capitalize on the quick refueling, lightness and range benefits of hydrogen. Within larger municipalities, development can take the form of centralized hubs to support FCEV fleets across transit and waste management, where frequent stop-and-starts combined with variable loads are proving to be taxing on batteries. By increasing the utilization across these markets, in addition to government subsidies, hydrogen costs could be lowered to parity with diesel.
As all sectors are looking to meet the rising demand for power, maintain secure and reliable energy supplies, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The conversion of hydrogen into electricity through fuel cells has a wide range of applications.
The Challenge: Hydrogen from electrolysers can only compete with natural gas if the electricity used to make the hydrogen is 2 to 6 cents/kWh.
The Solution: Hydrogen is becoming more viable as an island microgrid fuel and storage source. Less expensive than diesel, hydrogen solves the problem of seasonal or long-term storage that batteries cannot provide and may be the catalyst to full conversion to renewable power generation for remote communities.