Nations around the world want to transition from fossil fuels to renewables as quickly and safely as possible. The planet needs that effort to survive in the coming decades. Well, he’s going to survive, the problem is that we’re not.
To achieve this energy transition we need to give prominence to electric cars and hydrogen cars. Today we focus on hydrogen, an element found in water (H2O) and that is easy to extract… although somewhat polluting at the moment.
The energetic power of hydrogen It’s one of the reasons why engineers have been working for years to transform gasoline and diesel cars into hydrogen-powered vehicles. Without a doubt, it is the closest thing to the fuel of a lifetime.
But, before seeing what kind of hydrogen cars are on the market, Let’s see what kind of hydrogen is currently being produced. Because it is not always a renewable and sustainable energy option.
Type of hydrogen depending on its origin and emissions
gray hydrogen: The most common form of hydrogen, it is created from fossil fuels and the process releases carbon dioxide that is not captured.
The process used to create hydrogen from natural gas is called steam methane reforming (SMR)in which high-temperature steam (700°C – 1,000°C) is used to produce hydrogen from a methane source, such as natural gas.
In steam methane reforming, methane reacts with steam in the presence of a catalyst to produce hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and a relatively small amount of carbon dioxide.
there is also a gasification process that uses coal as a feedstock, creating brown hydrogenwhich also releases carbon dioxide and can be put in the same category as gray.
blue hydrogen: Blue hydrogen uses the same process as gray, but this time the carbon is captured and stored. This makes it much more environmentally friendly, but brings added technical challenges and a large increase in costs.
Carbon capture and storage technology has been around for a long time and is used by heavy industry and power generation companies. Energy that burn fossil fuels. The technology can capture up to 90% of the CO2 produced, which is clearly a huge improvement.
Most of the time, this CO2 is transported through a pipeline and stored underground, often in salt caverns or depleted oil and gas reservoirs. When it comes to hydrogen production, blue hydrogen is often seen as a stepping stone from gray to green.
green hydrogen: The utopian vision of the future is a zero emission world, in which all electricity and fuel are produced from emission-free sources. And this means a global green hydrogen industry.
It has the potential to be an important part of solving the intermittent generation capacity of most renewable energy sources. Excess electricity can be used to create hydrogen, which is then stored as a gas or liquid until needed.
Green hydrogen is one that is obtained from non-conventional sources of renewable energy, such as biomass, energy wind, solar and geothermal heat, among others. Hence, it is the sustainable way to obtain hydrogen without polluting along the way.
Types of hydrogen cars
Hydrogen fuel cell: Hydrogen fuel cell cars may seem like something new, but fuel cells are a technology that predates the automobile.
A hydrogen fuel cell vehicle is an electric vehicle, but without a plug. There is no big battery to recharge. Instead, simply fill a tank with compressed hydrogen gas.
From that pressurized fuel tank, hydrogen gas flows into a fuel cell, which combines the hydrogen with oxygen from the air. A chemical reaction produces electrical current and water, the only emission from the car, which exits through a ventilation tube located under the vehicle.
At the same time, the electricity generated by the fuel cell (as well as the vehicle’s regenerative braking system) is stored in a lithium-ion battery. Stepping on the vehicle’s accelerator pedal causes an immediate flow of electrical energy from the fuel cell and/or battery to an electric motor, which drives the wheels.
The advantage of a fuel cell drive, compared to a battery electric drive, is that the battery can be much smaller than those of a battery electric car.
This means that the vehicle can be much lighter and more efficient overall. Since hydrogen fuel cell cars don’t rely on a huge battery for decent range, they are more responsive to driving, lighter and perform better than battery electric vehicles.
hydrogen combustion: Unlike a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, which creates electricity that powers an electric motor, a hydrogen combustion engine looks, sounds, and behaves like a gasoline engine, except for the fact that it burns hydrogen and doesn’t produces harmful exhaust emissions.
However, like a fuel cell car, a hydrogen-burning car only emits water.
The advantage of hydrogen combustion? Faster time to market because traditional automakers can retrofit existing engineering, and easier deployment of refueling infrastructure.
Gas stations could be adapted to offer hydrogen, since it can be stored in gas or liquid form on board the vehicle. A bit like gasoline or diesel.
From a driving point of view, hydrogen-burning cars will be familiar to anyone who has driven a gasoline-powered carwith an engine, gears and a little bit of noise.
Hydrogen burns faster than gasolinewhich makes hydrogen-burning powertrains feel like driving a gas-powered car at high revs.
On the other hand, hydrogen combustion cars are mechanically more complex than hydrogen fuel cell cars, which consist of a simple and reliable electric motor and fuel cell system. In this sense, the workshops would win.
Can you produce green hydrogen at home to refuel for free?
Right now the challenge facing the most advanced countries is to build plants that can produce green hydrogen, since this could be the fuel of the future. It is easy to transport, has enormous energy potential and, if invested in, will be cheap to extract.
But, at this point, it is worth asking: If I can charge an electric car for free at home with my solar panels… can I charge my hydrogen car if I produce it myself? It is difficult to answer, since the necessary technology is taking its first steps.
The German company HPS has developed a system called Picea that mixes photovoltaic energy from solar panels, with a circuit that is capable of producing green hydrogen with excess energy.
The problem is that this system is designed to support each other. That is to say, to function during the day based on the energy of the plates and, with the excess, to create hydrogen based on water. And at night, use the hydrogen to feed the batteries that no longer receive energy from the solar panels.
This means that unfortunately to be able to produce green hydrogen in sufficient quantities to refuel the car we will have to wait a few yearsas happened with solar energy, which has had to evolve and improve for a decade to be a viable option.
The future may be hydrogen, but for this it has to be green hydrogen. Otherwise we will have created a solution that is based on the same problem as always. Do you think we will see the electric car as another option in dealerships for the next decade?