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Jon LeSage

Jon LeSage

Jon LeSage is a California-based journalist covering clean vehicles, alternative energy, and economic and regulatory trends shaping the automotive, transportation, and mobility sectors.

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European Nations Backing Hydrogen As Viable Alternative

Hydrogen charging station

Hydrogen is seeing support grow in Europe as an alternative to oil and gas, and over renewable energy such as wind and solar.

On Tuesday, 25 European nations backed a measure to increase hydrogen use to power factories, drive vehicles, and heat homes. A non-binding agreement was signed in Linz, Austria, that delved into increasing research into the technology and using existing gas grids to distribute hydrogen.

The coalition sees it as an alternative to fossil fuels to cut the continent's carbon emissions, and to solve the problem for electricity generation caused by fluctuating supply of renewable energies.

Advocates of the "hydrogen economy" have been pushing the fuel for decades. Yet support has been slow and instead, lawmakers have backed other technologies like electric vehicles. Oil and gas continue to be dominant in power plants, vehicles, and heating systems. Natural gas continues to grow as a cleaner and safer fuel over coal and nuclear for electric power, and is seeing more support for liquefied and com-pressed natural gas technologies in commercial vessels and vehicles.

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and hydrogen as an alternative power source does have growing business and government support in Europe, the U.S., Japan, and China. While fuel cell passenger vehicles are much smaller than even electric vehicles in sales, hydrogen is gaining global support for energy production and storage, heating systems, and fuel cell vehicles in the transport and public transit sectors.

Miguel Arias Canete, the European Union's top climate and energy official, said hydrogen could help Eu-rope meet its obligations to cut carbon emissions under the 2015 Paris accord. Canete told reporters it could also contribute to energy security by reducing imports of natural gas, much of which is shipped from Russia and countries outside of Europe. Related: Just How Low Can Iran’s Oil Exports Go?

Hydrogen advocates say that using more of it can stabilize energy prices and supply that can be erratic from fluctuating supplies of wind, solar, hydro, and other renewable energies. Converting electricity gen-erated by renewables into hydrogen means the energy can be stored in large tanks and released again when necessary.

They say hydrogen fuel cell vehicles become just as clean as EVs, which need large lithium-ion battery packs to store their energy. Fuel cell vehicles generate power on board, taking away the range restrictions EVs face; and the fueling can be done in less than five minutes versus a half hour or more for recharging an EV.

Trains and transit buses are seen as a growth area, but it is at an embryonic phase. The world's first com-muter train service using a prototype hydrogen-powered train began in northern Germany on Monday.

Sources of hydrogen vary from fueling station to station, coming from techniques such as electrolysis and hydrolysis, and gases such as methane. Japan continues to lead the world in hydrogen fueling stations, and aims to have 160 of these stations opened by March 2021 to support a fleet of 40,000 fuel cell vehicles. That beats out California, which aims to have 50 of these stations in place by 2020. Japan expects to see the number of hydrogen stations grow to 900 by 2030, supporting a fleet of 800,000 FCVs.

Europe has about 80 hydrogen fueling stations in operation, and China is only just starting to deploy sta-tions.

California (and eight other U.S. states backing California’s policy) and China support hydrogen stations and fuel cell vehicles through their zero emission vehicle mandates.

Japan sees it as part of its economic growth, with two of its local companies, Toyota and Honda, leading the charge. Much of the appeal in Japan came forth out of the Fukushima disaster in 2011. The country has shut down almost all its nuclear reactors since that time, and has been importing hydrogen, oil, coal, and liquefied natural gas since then. Related: Ex GM Boss: Tesla ‘Headed For The Graveyard’

Toyota continues to lead the fuel cell passenger car market with its Mirai sedan. Along with Toyota, other global automakers have made commitments and vehicle launches in fuel cell vehicles — including Honda, Hyundai, Audi, BMW, General Motors, and Mercedes-Benz.

The Japanese automaker also sees commercial trucks as a viable channel for sales growth supporting city government efforts to bring in more low-emissions trucks capable of driving through crowded city streets and pulling into restricted cargo storage yards. Toyota has made a deal with Seven-Eleven Japan to bring small fuel cell trucks into the retail chain’s distribution system.

During the summer, Toyota revealed a new prototype of its “Project Portal” fuel cell electric truck while hinting at future commercialization. The “Beta” test truck is built on a glider version of the Kenworth T680 tractor. It can go 300 miles on a tank of hydrogen, and is about 10 percent more powerful than the “Al-pha” prototype that Toyota unveiled last year, according to the company.

Toyota has remained silent on the fuel cell truck’s future production plans, but sees it as more commercial-ly viable than its past efforts. The company continues to remain committed to its broad, across-the-board strategy in vehicle technology and fuel. That covers fuel cell vehicles, hybrids, electric vehicles, gasoline-powered light-duty vehicles, and gasoline- and diesel-powered medium duty trucks through its Hino Trucks subsidiary.

By Jon LeSage for Oilprice.com

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  • John Scior on September 21 2018 said:
    I think it would be a good idea to understand that Hydrogen is not a "source" of energy. Hydrogen is a medium from which energy can be withdrawn once the hydrogen has been separated from the element it has been combined with ( usually oxygen ). In the Hydrogen economy, one must first generate power to store it in the pure hydrogen which your article speaks about. That source power still has all the pros and cons of the wide spectrum of power generation methods available today. Simply converting generated power into stored "Hydrogen Power" does not absolve that original power source from whatever impact it has on the environment.
  • Tony Leech on September 25 2018 said:
    @John, your point that Hydrogen is not a 'source' of energy could be equally thrown at fossil fuel sources. In many cases the oil doesn't simply leap from the ground, instead taking a lot of power and cost to extract it from there. Furthermore, the gasoline that we pump into our cars is also not directly available for use straight out of the ground and has to be refined from the sludge we extracted...this takes a lot of power and a lot of cost. The simplest and fairest consideration is that neither are a 'source' of energy, merely a store of energy that can be usefully converted into other forms. As long as Hydrogen is extracted from water using renewable energy sources, wind and solar, then it is a viable store of that energy, and when converted further into useful work there are no harmful emissions...unlike fossil fuels.
  • John Scior on September 29 2018 said:
    Tony, there is a big difference between Hydrogen and other fossil fuel sources. Take Coal for example . It can be mined, sent to a generating station where it is burned ( combined with oxygen ) to create steam which is passed through a generator and then the electricity is transmitted to where it is needed. The end result being Co2 and steam. Oil is extracted ( a complex hydrocarbon with a great amount of potential energy ) and then refined ( or distilled ) into constituent parts to produce a wide variety of petroleum products. The energy expended is worth the effort because when the fuel is consumed ( burned or combined with oxygen ) the potential chemical energy is released and you have exhaust composed of CO2 ; carbon monoxide; water vapor etc. Essentially, you are starting with something that has a great deal of potential energy and using a fraction amount of energy to get it to the place where it can be utilized ( in an engine or generator ) To obtain Hydrogen you need to use electricity to separate the oxygen, then transport the hydrogen, then use fuel cells or a hydrogen generator to combine with oxygen to utilize the fuel. I agree if you have surplus renewable energy that Hydrogen would be a way to store that energy ( for example when the sun goes down to provide power at night ) Otherwise, my opinion would be to send the power to the grid to displace say a coal powered plants operation during the day so it would better operate at night. The reason being that whenever you convert water to hydrogen or subsequently utilize the hydrogen, your utilization efficiency goes down. The following wiki link might be useful in understanding what I am trying to relate to you :
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_conversion_efficiency

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