The hydrogen economy might be on its way, but it won’t be arriving any time soon, not until after 2030 at least. If and when it does make an appearance, it is likely to be somewhat different to the image of popular imagination because a hydrogen economy will run primarily on natural gas.
Parts of the hydrogen economy are falling into place, notably significant gains in electrolysing power. Polymer Electrolyte Membrane (PEM) electrolysers now come as complete operating units the size of an ISO container, offering MWs rather than kWs of power and the production of hydrogen is sufficiently pressurised without the need for a compressor for vehicle fuelling or methanation.
A gradual roll out of infrastructure is taking place, but fuel cell vehicle sales lag far behind EVs. Europe, which to some extent is developing hydrogen transit corridors, has less than a 100 hydrogen refuelling stations in operation. Japan has about half that number and the US even less.
PEM technology is being tested at scale at Shell’s Rhineland refinery in Germany, where an electrolyser with peak capacity of 10 MW will be installed by 2020.
“If powered by renewable electricity, the green hydrogen will help reduce the carbon intensity of the site,” says Shell. It may well be powered by renewable electricity and as such is a valuable way of reducing refinery emissions, which is no easy task as emissions from refinery processes tend to be spread…