Guest Contributor: Dr. Mani Vadari
If you didn’t celebrate National Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Day on October 8th, don’t worry, you weren’t alone. Only in its sixth year, the day – much like the objects of its celebration – is just starting to gain momentum. As it was created by and for scientists and engineers, the date is a nod to the atomic weight of hydrogen, which is about 1.008.
Even though we recently started celebrating it, hydrogen was used to power the first internal combustion engines over 200 years ago. And because of its versatility, it’s making a comeback in the transportation and power generation sectors, just in time to help tackle environmental concerns and enhance energy security.
The benefits of hydrogen are that it’s light, storable, energy-dense and produces no direct emissions or greenhouse gases. It can be produced locally from various sources or centrally and then distributed.
For transportation, once the hydrogen is generated through the process of electrolysis (hopefully using renewable energy to create ‘green hydrogen’), it can then be turned back into useful energy through a fuel cell, or even by burning it.
For electricity, hydrogen can be used to replace natural gas as fuel burned to create heat and generate steam. There is also potential to reuse existing coal and natural gas-fired generators and turbines for hydrogen-fueled generation. Hydrogen can be generated with excess renewable electricity and converted to a commodity that provides a sustainable form of dispatchable generation.
No matter how hydrogen is used, the byproducts of electrolysis are water and oxygen: Water when hydrogen is used as fuel, and oxygen when water is converted to hydrogen. This makes it especially beneficial for the environment.
The main challenge of hydrogen is cost. Massive investment is needed and compared to other commodities, there isn’t much of a market for it. Trade is localized with little chance for price discovery.
Support for hydrogen is growing. Fuel cells are improving, and the cost is coming down. There’s increased interest in carbon capture utilization and storage facilities for hydrogen production. And, hydrogen is currently enjoying a revived momentum in various projects around the world.
One such project in the Pacific Northwest is with Douglas County PUD who is proposing producing hydrogen with surplus hydropower. The excess hydropower would be sent to an electrolyzer to separate the hydrogen and oxygen in the water. The hydrogen can then be used to store energy, compressed for transportation fuel or transported in pipelines for industrial purposes.
Join me in marking our calendars for October 8, 2021. After this year, we need to take advantage of every reason to celebrate!
Dr. Mani Vadari is President and founder of Modern Grid Solutions, a global energy consulting firm specializing in delivering strategic services to utilities and vendors seeking deep subject matter expertise in setting the business and technical direction to develop the next-generation electric/energy system. Dr. Vadari is a well-known keynote speaker and contributes regularly to several industry publications. His most recent book “Smart Grid Redefined: Transformation of the Electric Utility” was released to strong reviews from industry and academia. His first book “Electric System Operations – Evolving to the Modern Grid” is in its second edition and is still being used as a textbook at several universities.