In the near future, hydrogen could replace oil as a green energy source. The 2020’s are already being heralded as “the decade of hydrogen”, with the element primed to become a substitute for oil, gas and coal. Technological leaps, generous government policies and falling costs are the main causes of this shift.
The urgent need for clean energy is driving the market for hydrogen fuel cells to extraordinary heights. BCC Research predicts the global market for hydrogen fuel cells to reach 19.5 billion by 2027, with a CAGR of 21% between 2022-2027.
The need for clean energy
It goes without saying that climate change is the key driver in the increasing demand for clean energy. Hydrogen is emerging as a viable solution; by 2050, the World Economic Forum estimates that hydrogen could account for about 12% of global energy use.
Fossil fuels are the single biggest contributor to climate change, with the United Nations estimating they account for more than 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than 80% of global energy production and about 90% of all carbon dioxide emissions. Despite this, clean alternatives are gaining ground, with about 29% of electricity now coming from renewables.
Another factor driving the demand for clean energy is the need for energy independence. Many countries are looking to reduce their dependence on foreign sources of fossil fuels, which can be subject to price fluctuations and supply disruptions. By investing in clean energy sources, countries can reduce their dependence on foreign fossil fuel sources and increase their energy security.
Global energy policies are also creating favorable conditions for the growth of the hydrogen economy. The Paris Agreement created ambitious goals for a greener world, and countries have committed to increasing efforts towards renewable energy to meet these goals.
All these factors are leading to an increased demand for clean energy and an increased investment in renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, hydro, and biomass.
Government support and funding
Governments around the world are offering funding and support for the development of hydrogen technologies and infrastructure, which is helping to drive the market forward.
Over the last year, nine more governments across the world have adopted a hydrogen strategy. That means there are now twenty-six governments that have committed to adopting hydrogen as a clean energy vector in their energy system. Consequently, deployment of hydrogen production technologies targets are steadily growing.
The major hydrogen-producing countries include the United States, Russia, China, Canada, Japan, Germany, South Korea, France, Saudi Arabia, and Australia. These countries are known for their large-scale hydrogen production using methods such as natural gas reforming, coal gasification and electrolysis. However, there are other countries that are investing in hydrogen production as it is considered to be a clean energy source.
Advancements in technology
The production, storage, and distribution of hydrogen would not be where it is today without some important technological strides being made. These developments are helping make hydrogen a more viable energy source.
Some key advancements include:
- Alkaline electrolysis: A relatively simple and low-cost method that uses an alkaline solution as the electrolyte.
- Proton exchange membrane (PEM) electrolysis: A method that uses a proton-conducting membrane to separate the hydrogen and oxygen produced during electrolysis. PEM electrolysis is more efficient and can be used at higher temperatures and pressures, making it well suited for use with renewable energy sources.
- High-temperature electrolysis (HTE): A method that uses heat, in addition to electricity, to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. HTE is highly efficient, but it requires high-temperature heat sources, such as nuclear reactors or concentrated solar power.
In terms of storage, other advancements include:
- Metal hydrides: These are materials that can absorb and release hydrogen in a controlled manner. New metal hydrides with higher hydrogen storage capacities and faster absorption/desorption rates have been developed.
- Carbon nanotubes: These are tiny tubes made of carbon atoms that can store hydrogen at high densities. Research is ongoing to develop methods for mass-producing carbon nanotubes and for incorporating them into hydrogen storage systems.
- High-pressure tanks: Advances have been made in the design and manufacture of high-pressure hydrogen tanks. These tanks can store hydrogen at pressures up to 700 bar, which allows for the storage of larger amounts of hydrogen in a smaller volume.
In terms of distribution, some developments have been made:
- Hydrogen fueling stations: These are facilities that dispense hydrogen fuel for vehicles. There are different types of fueling stations, such as those that produce hydrogen on-site through electrolysis and those that receive hydrogen via truck or pipeline.
- Hydrogen transport: Hydrogen can be transported via pipelines or trucks, but development of hydrogen transport infrastructure is still limited. There have been some recent developments in the use of special containers that can transport liquid hydrogen by truck or ship; however, hydrogen transport via pipelines is still facing challenges.
Overall, these advancements are pushing hydrogen into wider availability, making it an increasingly viable alternative to fossil fuels.
Learn more about the hydrogen economy
BCC Research’s report Global Hydrogen Economy: Merchant Hydrogen and Hydrogen Purification Technologies dives into the technological makeup of the hydrogen industry. Providing market data and forecasts as well as in-depth analysis, the report acts as an invaluable guide for those with stakes in the sector.
Download your complimentary report overview here.
Alternatively, membership with the BCC Research library grants users access to the full scope of reports within our energy category. Get in touch today to find out more.