Evolution of Energy Storage and Future Role of Hydrogen:
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- Jul 24, 2020 8:50 pm GMTJul 22, 2020 9:42 pm GMT
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This item is part of the Special Issue - 07/2020 - Energy Storage, click here for more
In today’s world, there’s an ever growing need for energy storage because a greater percentage of electricity is expected to come from renewable sources in the future. Wind and solar power have made great strides in the past decade but are still intermittent sources of energy which depend on the availability of wind or sun. Thus, these sources require backup energy as well. Part of the demand growth in natural gas came not just from greater supply and lower pricing due to new technologies such as fracking, but also from greater demand resulting from the growth of intermittent renewable wind and solar energy. However, moving forward, cleaner energy alternatives are being demanded in power applications which include backup energy storage power or other applications such as vehicles powered by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells. Similar to technology advances made in wind and solar, the battery energy storage sector has also evolved resulting in lower cost energy storage.
The application of clean burning hydrogen as a source of energy has been gradual because of high costs associated with production and distribution. Hydrogen produced from Steam Methane Reforming (SMR) has been the most cost effective methodology but it is generated from fossil fuels. About 95% of the hydrogen produced today is from SMR which is often referred to as grey hydrogen. The most cost effective SMR hydrogen comes with large scale production which also necessitates expensive transportation costs which add to the delivered price. The only viable clean commercial source of hydrogen in the past has come from electrolysis which is significantly more costly to produce. In recent years, there have been efforts to make SMR cleaner. Blue hydrogen, for example, is an SMR process where carbon emissions are captured and stored. Also, billions of dollars have been pledged to find ways to lower the cost of electrolysis with improved catalysts or cheaper sources of input electricity from unused renewable energy, but such improvements in electrolysis will be gradual and limited due the basic technology itself. Although hydrogen can be a great source of standalone power and has more benefits than battery powered vehicles, such as longer distances and short fill-up times, its overall costs have prevented rapid widespread adoption except in cases where these added benefits outweigh the extra fuel costs, which can be found in long-haul trucking, fleets, buses or trains. In regard to forklifts, many owners have transitioned from fossil fueled vehicles to battery operated units to minimize risk and emissions. Others, such as Amazon and Walmart have taken it another step forward by converting from battery units to hydrogen fuel cell forklifts to increase productivity through the avoidance of long downtimes to recharge battery units and the loss of cranking power over time during normal operations.
In the international shipping industry, which has been responsible for a large portion of global CO2 emissions, the International Maritime Organization pledged in 2018 to cut emissions by 50% before 2050. To accomplish this, a change needs to be made to sustainable propulsion alternatives with zero or near zero emissions. A non-profit group, Transport & Environment, recently reported that the best way for the shipping industry to decarbonize its operations involves the use of battery power for short distances, hydrogen for medium distances and ammonia for long distance hauls. Batteries were seen as the most cost effective but the need for frequent charging make it less effective for longer distances. Hydrogen is less expensive than ammonia as a fuel but due to hydrogen’s low density, it takes more space to store hydrogen. On a ship, especially in long hauls, extra space for fuel is often limited or at a premium because any area used for storing fuel could have been used to carry additional cargo.
Overall, hydrogen applications as a source of fuel and substitute for energy storage have been growing steadily despite the production and delivery cost challenges and the lack of existing infrastructure to facilitate growth and fuel switching. In today’s environmentally conscious world, there is also a growing need for more green hydrogen rather than grey SMR produced hydrogen, but the cost of electrolysis has been the biggest challenge, until now.
A recently patented (#10,611,633) new technology called magnetohydrodynamic (MHD) Hydrogen has the capability of producing green hydrogen onsite at a cost up to 75% less than the industry standard electrolysis. In the energy balance of the technology, the input energy to create hydrogen from water is a combination of a small amount of electricity and a much larger energy source derived from the chemical reaction, the magnetic component and the special regenerative catalyst. The small amount of electricity is the major cost component in MDH Hydrogen because the other input energies are very inexpensive. Since this technology is modular and small in size with unlimited scalability, hydrogen can now be produced onsite as needed without the need for expensive transportation costs. Because of its modularity, it can act as a substitute for battery energy storage at a lower cost than any battery storage technology existing today. As the production unit can run continuously, there is no intermittency or need to store hydrogen for use in downtimes. In the wind and solar industry, it’s a great improvement on battery energy storage. In the shipping industry, there is no need for extra space to store hydrogen on a ship, making it more economic than batteries or ammonia for short or long hauls, since the technology’s only required input on a continuous basis is pure water. In the transportation industry, it may switch the trend from battery powered passenger vehicles to hydrogen fuel cell powered vehicles for all vehicle sizes. In that sense, it may become a real game-changer and even affect the car you drive in the future.