By Nancy Schurig
Getting from A to B without endlessly choking the planet on a deadly cocktail of toxic pollution is more feasible these days as electric mobility continues to gather pace.
E-mobility, the environmentally friendly method of travel which steers away from existing fossil fuels, uses energy from electrical power sources through charging instead of emitting carbon into the atmosphere.
An abundance of greener options are on offer when looking to make the switch to a more sustainable vehicle choice and advances in alternative fuels – such as hydrogen – have given e-mobility a boost.
But how long will it be before more people choose to step on the (colourless) gas?
The use of hydrogen to power vehicles reduces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which contributes towards meeting the targets set by the Paris Climate Agreement. Although these vehicles were first introduced in 2014, momentum is building more for them now as car owners become more serious about lowering their carbon footprint in the battle against climate change. It helps that green hydrogen (i.e. hydrogen obtained from renewable energy sources such as solar or wind) is touted as playing a vital role in the decarbonisation of the energy system.
A hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle (FCEV) is powered by pressurised hydrogen from a fuelling station.
Vehicles powered by hydrogen can be filled as quickly as their fossil fuel equivalent, but the benefit outweighs its polluting counterpart in that it produces only water and heat as a by-product. This means there is no tailpipe pollution in transit, resulting in zero carbon emissions.
Hydrogen powers vehicles through a conversion process from chemical energy to mechanical energy. This is achieved when oxygen reacts with hydrogen through a fuel cell, which then runs an electric motor.
Although energy is lost along the way, via the conversion process, hydrogen can decarbonise heavy transport (such as road freight) which would utilise a lot of fossil fuels otherwise, and we are fully aware of the damage caused by dirty fuel. It can also decarbonise the chemical, iron and steel industries as well as improve air quality.
While hydrogen fuel can be produced in a more eco-friendly method through the electrolysis of water, fossil fuels are still currently used in the production chain of hydrogen power. Therefore, the energy used for hydrogen fuel production must be produced using green technologies to ensure the cars are deemed a better option for the environment.
A car that emits no pollution into the atmosphere? It is certainly a conversation starter and sounds far more futuristic than it actually is. But the potential of the element shouldn’t be underestimated – hydrogen is extremely versatile and does more than power a car and reduce noxious emissions from entering the atmosphere.
Not only is hydrogen a success on the ground but in liquid form it is used as rocket fuel to propel a space shuttle’s main engine to heady heights.
NASA has used hydrogen gas to enter space for decades. As much as 500,000 gallons of cold liquid hydrogen is burnt for each shuttle flight in the rocket engines, with an additional 239,000 gallons used up by transfer operations and storage boil off.
Future plans include generating and recycling hydrogen in space (by recombining it with exhaled carbon dioxide for water renewal), which will reduce the requirement for supplies delivered from Earth.
Speaking of which, back down on Earth, hydrogen can be transformed into fuels for planes and ships, (here it can be transported in its liquid form) as well as for cars and trucks. It can be transported as a gas by pipelines and as electricity to power homes.
The opportunity is there for hydrogen-based fuels as shipping and aviation have limited options for low-carbon fuel.
Hydrogen can produce and store energy in a multitude of ways and is one of the prime options for storing energy from renewables, as well as delivering it.
On top of this, further investments in hydrogen will create new skilled jobs in the future and boost global economies.
Dan Lipinski, political scientist and American politician, said: “Hydrogen holds great promise to meet many of our future energy needs and it addresses national security and our environmental concerns.
“Hydrogen is the simplest, most abundant element in the universe.”
What usage of hydrogen has impressed you the most? I would love to hear from you on the subject, especially if you drive a hydrogen-powered vehicle. Please contact me at email@example.com.
Nancy Schurig is a Senior Consultant within Acre’s Corporate Responsibility and Sustainability team in Europe. She specialises in sales, operations and business development recruitment within the sustainable energy sector, including renewable energy and energy storage systems for the German market.
Image credit: Ralph Hutter/Unsplash
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