What are the key advantages of hydrogen technology?
- Hydrogen is the lightest chemical element and offers the best energy-to-weight ratio of any fuel.
- Hydrogen is colourless, odourless and its only by-product is water.
What is the future potential of hydrogen technology?
If pure hydrogen were used directly to power fuel cells this would give a number of environmental and engineering advantages. There would be no need to incorporate an on-board module, which would simplify the design of the fuel cell system and lead to greater energy efficiency locally. This would reduce harmful emissions during fuel generation.
What does it offer the EU specifically?
It offers cost-effective solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (in accordance with the Kyoto Protocol), improve air quality, diversify energy supply and reduce noise.
How does it contribute to the achievement of EU objectives?
- Hydrogen is the energy vector which could provide the bridge from the fossil energy economy to renewable energy sources.
- Hydrogen technology could help to diversify energy sources, reduce green house gas, and reduce noise pollution.
- There is a huge range of possible ways to produce hydrogen from different primary energy sources.
- Various studies show that the current cheapest method for hydrogen production is through re-forming natural gas, which could be nearly as cheap as energy produced using gasoline.
A look into the future
How can this technology be used in the short, medium and long term?
- In the short term, hydrogen could be used in urban vehicles which would reduce emissions in city centres;
- In the long term it could be used in combined heat/power generation, in industry and in every form of transport: in ships, trains and aeroplanes.
What are the research and technological requirements?
- Researchers are helping to develop technologies to tap into this natural resource and generate hydrogen in mass quantities at cheaper prices so that it can compete with traditional energy sources;
- There are three main systems that scientists are researching for inexpensive hydrogen generation, which all separate hydrogen from a 'feedstock', such as fossil fuel or water - but by very different means:
Reformers: Hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels by a process known as 'reforming'. This is extremely useful where stored hydrogen is not available but has to provide the power, for example, on a fuel cell-powered vehicle.
Enzymes: Cyanobacteria is an abundant single-celled organism which produces hydrogen metabolically. Since it works by synthesising water into hydrogen, the waste is emitted as water, which becomes food for the next metabolism.
Renewable Energy Sources:
- By harnessing the renewable energy of the sun and wind, researchers can generate hydrogen by using power from photovoltaics (PVs), solar cells, or wind turbines to electrolyse water into hydrogen and oxygen. In this way, hydrogen becomes an energy carrier - which transports the power from the generation site to another location to be used in a fuel cell. This is a zero-emissions way of producing hydrogen for a fuel cell.
- As well as the technological developments in reformers, enzymes and renewable energy sources, other fuel-cell developments in the last few years are beginning to show that hydrogen can generate electricity.
- In order to make this workable, production costs must be as low as those of conventional technologies.