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Benefits of Green Hydrogen

Barry Cinnamon's picture
CEO, Cinnamon Energy Systems

Barry Cinnamon heads up Cinnamon Energy Systesms (a San Jose CA residential and commercial solar and energy storage contractor) and Spice Solar (suppliers of built-in solar racking technology)....

  • Member since 2016
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  • Apr 29, 2021

Green Hydrogen

 Photo Credit: Cinnamon Energy Systems

Riddle me this: what is the most common element in the universe, comes in various colors, and was not the subject of “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” by The Rolling Stones?

Here are a few more hints. Over 100 million metric tons of this gas are produced per year globally, and nearly all of that is made from fossil fuels. In its most common form, this element has one proton and one electron. It was the combustion source for the demise of the Hindenburg. And if you take two of these atoms, add an oxygen atom, you’re all wet.

OK, it’s hydrogen. Almost all of the world’s hydrogen is made from natural gas. The best hydrogen is green, produced by the electrolysis of water, using electricity from renewable sources (solar, wind, hydro). The worst hydrogen is brown, made from coal from a gasification process. Gray hydrogen is produced from natural gas using the steam-reforming method. Both brown and gray hydrogen production results in large quantities of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere. Blue hydrogen is made from either coal or natural gas, and is theoretically cleaner since the CO2 emissions are sequestered or repurposed.

What really interests me is the potential for using renewables, most likely solar and wind, to create vast quantities of affordable green hydrogen for industrial processes — and possibly transportation.

Our guest on this week’s Energy Show is Janice Lin, CEO of Strategen Consulting. She is the driving force behind the Green Hydrogen Coalition, as well as several other successful energy storage organizations. Please join us on this week’s Energy Show Podcast as Janice explains how hydrogen is made, distributed, and used today — as well as the potential for widespread applications of green hydrogen.


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Apr 29, 2021

Thanks for sharing, Barry. It seems like green hydrogen as a hyped product is really having a moment recently-- which is great, and I do want to see the potential for storing energy from renewable overgeneration, as a means of cleaning up industrial processes, etc.-- but it seems like there hasn't actually been a recent breakthrough in the technology, so I'm curious why 'all of a sudden' it's getting people even more excited? Are the economics shifting in a beneficial way? 

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Apr 29, 2021

Barry, your riddle brought a smile to my face - a real accomplishment before coffee. Like Jumpin' Jack Flash, hydrogen is a "gas, gas, gas!" too, of course, and "hydrogen, hydrogen, hydrogen!" would be a mouthful.

There isn't much of a thermodynamic reason for using hydrogen as an energy storage medium, however. Like any chemical reaction, we only get back as much energy as we put into it. If electrolysis and fuel cells were perfectly efficient, we'd get back exactly the same amount of energy as that required to pull it apart from water.

But neither are very efficient, and the amount of progress it's possible to make in that regard is limited. Depending on variables, at least 90% of the energy invested in pulling hydrogen apart from H20 then converting it back to water is wasted. Storing electrical energy in batteries is nearly the opposite - with the best Li-ion grid systems, only 20% of energy is wasted. So if our goal is to try to overcome intermittency from solar and wind, we're getting far more energy back if we store it in batteries. But compared to massive storage tanks, batteries cost a fortune.

The most efficient way to power a grid is generating electricity in real time to match demand - by far - and that's impossible to do reliably with renewables. CNN host Fareed Zakaria calls that limitation the "Achilles' Heel" of solar and wind, which seems to be a particularly apt description.

Though venture capitalists are enamored with hydrogen, ask a physicist or chemical engineer about its potential - you'll likely get an eye roll. And curiously, most of its proponents seem to work for oil companies, raising the question: is green hydrogen another elusive "just around the corner" solution designed to ensure continuing dependence on natural gas? Before we invest any significant public money in hydrogen, whether green, brown, blue, or black, it's a question that demands an answer.

Barry Cinnamon's picture
Thank Barry for the Post!
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