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Irina Slav

Irina Slav

Irina is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing on the oil and gas industry.

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Will Hydrogen Break The Battery Market?

Electric Wires

The most abundant element in the universe—hydrogen—has been attracting less attention than it deserves on the clean energy stage, with batteries of all sorts stealing the spotlight. This may be about to change as big energy companies start investing heavily in hydrogen-based energy storage solutions, at least according to industry experts that Bloomberg’s Anna Hirtenstein spoke to.

Hydrogen can be used for the storage of energy through hydrolysis, a process that breaks down water into its constituent elements. The hydrogen resulting from this process is then stored in caverns or tanks until the time comes when it needs to be converted back into electricity in gas-powered plants, for instance, or in fuel cells for vehicles.

Theoretically, proponents of hydrogen energy storage argue it would be a superior alternative to batteries, since the latter need discharging and recharging, and they don’t have very long productive lives. Hydrogen, on the other hand, does not need recharging. It can stay in the cavern for weeks and months, and only when the need arises is it whisked through pipelines to a power plant or a chemical plant, or even an oil refinery.

The theory is great, but there is a reason why hydrogen storage has not yet had its time in the spotlight: it has not been commercially tested, possibly because of issues with the cost of the technology and its efficiency. Appropriate storage can also be a problem because of hydrogen’s high energy-per-mass unit density but low energy-per-volume density, which requires special holding features for storage facilities, beginning with spaciousness.

The Energy Storage Association, for example, notes in an overview of hydrogen storage tech that the efficiency of the whole electricity-hydrogen-electricity process is only about 30-40 percent. On the flipside, hydrogen’s energy storage capacity is much higher than that of batteries, and if new technologies are pursued, efficiency could rise to 50 percent. Related: Russia’s Comeback In The LNG Race

The pursuit of these technologies requires funding, which is where the Hydrogen Council comes in. The trade group formed earlier this year involves 17 companies including Shell, Total, and a number of major car makers looking for ways to find a commercially viable application of hydrogen in clean energy systems.

To this end, the Council plans to spend more than US$1.4 billion (1.2 billion euro) on R&D and market introduction and deployment of hydrogen systems between 2018 and 2020, including both storage and fuel cells for vehicles. This may not sound like a lot, but compared to a total investment of US$2.5 billion in hydrogen systems for the last decade, it is certainly a marked improvement.

There are five hydrogen storage projects in progress in Europe, with their capacity ranging from 0.7 MW to 2 MW. In the U.S., the National Renewable Energy laboratory is among those also working in a solution in this area. The Wind-to-Hydrogen project, developed in partnership with Xcel Energy, features both wind turbines and PV panels that produce electricity, part of which is used to electrolyze water to make hydrogen. Most of this hydrogen is then stored and the remainder is used for vehicle fuel cells at the hydrogen fueling station of the National Wind Technology Center, which houses the project.

Despite challenges in the cost and efficiency departments, we will probably see more hydrogen storage projects start popping up in the coming years because of all the benefits they can potentially offer: emission-free power that can also double as car fuel and raw material in a range of industrial production applications. In fact, the secretary of the Hydrogen Council, Air Liquide's VP of advanced business and technologies Pierre-Etienne Franc, says that “The years 2020 to 2030 will be for hydrogen what the 1990s were for solar and wind. 

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com


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  • Steve on September 07 2017 said:
    "The most abundant element in the universe—hydrogen—has been attracting less attention than it deserves on the clean energy stage..."
    We need to all stop using the term 'clean energy'. There is no such animal. There may be some that are 'cleaner' than others, but none are 'clean' in the sense of avoiding significant impacts on the environment. If we want to be honest and use language properly, then the term should be completely avoided for the oxymoron it is.
  • Dan on September 07 2017 said:
    The UK is leading the world from the front with Alkoline Fuel Cells and Gasification technology which uses and produces Hydrogen.

    Just look at AFC Energy and Powerhouse Energy.

    The sky is the limit, we just need government support or like everything else the technology with move abroad and benefit every other country before the U.K.
  • Josh Gregner on September 08 2017 said:
    This is ridiculous. Batteries are already (TODAY) better than hydrogen. And even if, using enormous efforts, hydrogen gets to 50% efficiency, batteries with >90% efficiency will always be much better.

    Hydrogen infrastructure is also ridiculously expensive, complicated and complex. You can't use any standard materials at all and handling/storing/using hydrogen is at least an order of magnitude more difficult than managing electricity/batteries.

    Hydrogen is no match to batteries. Physics just won't allow it.
  • George Kafantaris on September 08 2017 said:
    “Hydrogen offers an opportunity to create a new industry in South Australia where we can export our sun and wind resources to the world.” -- Tom Koutsantonis
  • zipsprite on September 08 2017 said:
    For transportation, at least, batteries have already won that fight. Fuel cell vehicles are too complex and too expensive to compete with battery powered, and that doesn't even begin to address the deal killer of distribution: electricity is everywhere; hydrogen fueling stations are nowhere.
  • Powerhouse Energy on September 08 2017 said:
    "Operating on a feedstock of tyre crumb, PowerHouse engineers were able to demonstrate control of the process at ultra-high temperature which led to the generation of synthesis gas (syngas.) According to onsite, in-line analytical instrumentation, """"the syngas produced was greater than 50% hydrogen by volume."""""" The remaining, measurable, constituent elements of the syngas were CO (carbon monoxide) and CH4 (methane.) Importantly, the in-line gas analysis equipment detected absolutely no CO2 in the gas stream generated by the Unit. A more rigorous analysis of the syngas produced in the DMG process will be conducted by certified external laboratories in future trials."

    "Our design program has benefited tremendously from these results and were confident in our ability to continue to improve upon them and incorporate the data into our process design."
  • Richard Giroux on September 08 2017 said:
    I understand that many years ago, engineers in the U.S. studied long-range energy transmission through conversion to hydrogen and flowing through pipelines and then reconversion to electricity (through fuel cells). This was intended to prevent the energy losses associated with long distance AC transmission.
    The development of High Voltage DC transmission (enabled by development of a high voltage DC breaker), which is very efficient, eliminated consideration of hydrogen conversion as a means of electricity transmission.
  • hall monitor on September 08 2017 said:
    A few quick observations.

    This makes no economic sense at present. Production of H2 from natural gas is less expensive at the present and projected prices for nat gas.

    Large scale storage of H2 seems unlikely. H2 leaks easily and also likes to bind with other elements. Construction of hermetically sealed, chemically stable storage containers at present is expensive.

    Longer term, this may be a direction for production of "sustainable" ammonia, versus the present practice of using nag gas.

    While this may be "too little, too late", I give the Hydrogen Council credit for trying.
  • Rik on September 08 2017 said:
    Hydrogen requires the same distribution network as Petrol and Diesel, think it’s fair to say this is fairly common around the world. To upgrade to hydrogen is not the massive step you would think.
    Despite the battery salesman’s attempt, they are not better than hydrogen. 90% efficient in energy transfer, possibly – but where is the energy produced to charge the battery in the first place? What we require for personal transportation is a compact transportable energy source – hydrogen tops the league outdoing any other fuel. If it was cheaper to produce than oil & gas we would be a hydrogen society.
  • Dave on September 08 2017 said:
    “The years 2020 to 2030 will be for hydrogen what the 1990s were for solar and wind.”

    Meanwhile, lithium ion batteries are today about where solar was in 2010, that puts it between 20 and 30 years ahead of hydrogen on the development timeline.

    The Bloomberg article has a graphic showing that batteries fill different segments of the storage market. The batteries are best for sizes ranging from kilowatts to megawatts and storage duration from minutes to days, whereas hydrogen is best for sizes of megawatts to gigawatts and duration from days to months. The best fit for batteries is thus in the distributed market to smooth out intra-day supply/demand mismatches whereas hydrogen is good for centralized storage for seasonal supply /demand mismatches.
  • Oilracle on September 08 2017 said:
    ----Will Hydrogen Break The Battery Market?----

    Just combine 4 atoms of hydrogen with one atom of carbon.
    No patent is required - the planet Earth is already doing just that for free!
  • Michael on September 11 2017 said:
    Hydrogen will have a place in the market but not a significant one. Why trade a gas station for a hydrogen fueling station when one can charge their electric vehicle from solar panels attached to their roof. It's the ultimate in cord cutting.
  • Timmie Tee on September 12 2017 said:
    The EV ecosystem has so many inefficiencies, from transport losses, charge time, battery life and disposal, it's market share will top out at about 10%..... Hydrogen has a better future, Toyota got it right with the Murai, but it will take time for it to gain mindshare, and the folly of EV's to become evident to the green sheep.
  • Null on September 12 2017 said:
    Never going to happen. Waste at every stage.
    Onboard storage requires compression. Such a huge waste of energy in itself.

    Far better to just burn the natural gas to generate electricity and be done with it.
  • William Hughes-Games on September 16 2017 said:
    Hydrogen, as an energy storage medium might just make it if the hydrogen was stored in those huge storage tanks we used to use for producer gas and if the oxygen was captured for sale in welding, medicine, steel production and so forth. If you have to compress or liquefy Hydrogen it becomes uneconomic. This restricts Hydrogen to static applications. For a vehicle, Hydrogen can never achieve the over all energy efficiency from generation to wheel, of transmitting power from a power station through existing lines to charge a battery in your car. If you have solar panels on your roof ..............
  • decent on September 25 2017 said:
    Unless hydrogen will be produced from water by a high temperature nuclear reactor, there is no efficient enough or clean enough methods to produce hydrogen in order for hydrogen to stay in competition with battery.
    It is cheaper to burn methane directly on ICE than break it into hydrogen and carbon, and use fancy and expensive infrastructure to achieve efficiency less than burning it directly.
    It is cheaper to charge battery from solar panels than to increase solar panel capacity 4 times to compensate energy losses converting electricity to hydrogen and then back to electricity again. With hydrogen fancy, expensive, hydrogen resistant compression, storage added of course.
  • duncan cairncross on September 25 2017 said:
    Hydrogen is simply a SCAM - an attempt to ensure that people have to use filling stations
    It is at minimum 20% LESS efficient than simply using a battery - and that is if they fix the rest of the issues
  • Tom on September 28 2017 said:
    We are peak battery before it started.
  • ProclaimLiberty on October 11 2017 said:
    When hydrogen storage can exceed the energy density of batteries in similarly-sized volume and with no greater weight or idle-time storage losses, then it will be able to compete, especially in residential, mobile, or vehicular applications. Present batteries still offer only barely tolerable limitations in range or duration of vehicular operations.
  • Randy Bryan on November 02 2017 said:
    Battery and electricity creation/generation is still more economic, efficient and clean than hydrogen creation/generation. Battery storage is currently more cost effective than hydrogen storage. But this could change.
    Hydrogen needs two improvements to break out. One is a competitively efficient and clean "refining" process to make it [catalytic breakdown of water shows promise], and the storage of hydrogen chemically and reversibly [borax like storage is being looked at].
    A third related improvement would be to get the precious metals out of fuel cells [ie nickel to replace platinum/palladium].
    Keep an open mind on hydrogen, but don't hold your breath for the breakout.

    Other forms of recyclable primary storage are also possible. Maybe aluminum or magnesium chemistries..

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