Massive, Clean and Cheap hydrogen : 3 potential game-changers in H2 production (Repost)

Massive, Clean and Cheap hydrogen : 3 potential game-changers in H2 production (Repost)

Re-post d’un article Linkedin du 15 Mai 2020

Here we are! A new era of hydrogen is emerging on markets.

Things are changing and all industries from minerals, energy to transportation and manufacturing are investigating this new vector. Projects are starting, yet quite far from business sounds economics, but in some case, and with an appropriate and gentle stimulus, some business models may fly in a couple of years. This is encouraging..

Hydrogen is coming…. since several decades

Of course, hydrogen is widely used in Oil&Gas, ammonia production or steel industry for decades, using Coal Gasification or Steam Methane Reforming. As of today, it is not always clean (with a CO2 content in the range of 11 kgCO2/kgH2). And yes, the first industrial electrolyzers are approx. a century year old, so it is indeed a disruptive concept.

While we know how to make hydrogen with very low CO2 content, we are still struggling with the price : a large range of 5€/kg to 15 €/kg of H2 for clean hydrogen (whether it comes from renewable energy or with CCUS) is the current landscape. Although some projections aim for 3.5 €/kg (not delivered), green hydrogen in France. Within these values, there is low chance to de-carbonize widely the industry in Europe, Asia, or at least within a reasonable time.

To do this, we would need massive, clean and cheap Hydrogen, as cheap as 1 €/kg H2. Today this is not seen as reachable.

But there may be some game-changers. Here is my preferred list of them:

N°1 – Black carbon & hydrogen

Here is a simple equation : CH4 -> C(s) + 2H2. No carbon released.

Thermal decomposition of methane can provide solid carbon and hydrogen. The key point here is what to do with the carbon produced. Storing it in an old mine or sell it as a valuable products ?

black carbon plant in california - source = Monolith

Source : Monolithmaterial.com, REDWOOD CITY pilot plant, CA

Some companies such as Monolith in the USA are targeting the second options, and a few other are on the same track. Some also tried to do it decades ago, and then stop operation. This requires a very specific process such as a plasma torch to decompose properly the CH4.

But this is a pathway to clean, cheap and massive hydrogen.

N°2 – Solar to Hydrogen panels

Using solar panel (continuous current) to produce electricity after an inverter that feed a local grid and then an electrolyzer through an electrical transformer…. you have started to pile up cost and efficiency losses.

Why not doing everything in just 1 step?

This is a challenge that some like the start-up company Hypersolar in the USA, or the lab in KU Leuwen are targeting with a Solar to Hydrogen panels.

Aucun texte alternatif pour cette image

Source : Hypersolar, October 2019

More than 1 player, it can be industrialized as a simple panel, large improvement on efficiencies… does it not sound interesting to you ?

Still a long way to go from pilot to market, but it is definitively promising.

N°3 – ‘Natural’ Hydrogen

You know that hydrogen does not grow on tree, but what if we could just mine it ? You know, find a spot, make a well and pump it to the surface. How cheap hydrogen could be if it was possible ?

This is indeed a 2020 question. While it is known for many years that hydrogen is released in large but diffuse quantities at mid-ocean ridges, evidences are piling up for a natural, geological hydrogen in subterranean reservoirs. As of today, we know that there is hydrogen released continuously, with high purity and in many part of the world.

map of natural hydrogen sources - credits IFPEN

source : IFPEN

Still to be understood: How this hydrogen is formed (several modelling are being considered)? For how long a well can be productive ? for which flow ? How can we detect it ? Which business models will be implemented (that include long distance transportation)?

There are still (many) unresolved questions, but cheap, massive, local hydrogen might be indeed on its way.