Solving for H: 4 challenges hydrogen experts are working to resolve
August 01, 2023
August 01, 2023
We’re helping to answer some of the biggest questions facing the hydrogen industry. Here’s how.
The energy and resources industry is front and center as the world races to reduce global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and combat the impacts of climate change. There are many ways the industry is decarbonizing, from electrification to renewables to alternative fuels. My biggest focus has been on hydrogen. It’s an alternative fuel that can power our communities while releasing no GHGs during combustion.
While there have been strides forward in hydrogen production, there are still many challenges facing the industry. Can we establish a strong market for it? How can we generate hydrogen at a larger scale? How can we make the process more efficient? Where can we store hydrogen, and how can we transport it most sustainably? These are all questions facing industry experts. We’re working tirelessly to discover the right solutions.
That’s why our Company has partnered with Avatar Innovations. Avatar is Canada’s first corporate venture studio focused on decarbonization. An innovator in the global energy transition, Avatar is building a new energy future through leadership, entrepreneurship, collaboration, and capital. The goal? To bring together experts and move industry-changing ideas from concept to reality.
We are partnering with Avatar to solve the hydrogen challenges. I and two others hosted a presentation for a group of aspiring engineers who were tasked with finding practical solutions for advancing the hydrogen industry. Let’s review some of the top challenges below.
As with any new technology, innovation is one of the top challenges for industry experts. While hydrogen production isn’t exactly new (it was first produced in the 16th century), many of the technologies and methods used today are. This is especially true as we work to cut even more emissions by adapting green hydrogen. Traditionally, we have used fossil fuels like coal, oil, or natural gas to produce hydrogen. This is known as grey hydrogen—or blue hydrogen if we apply carbon capture technologies. On the contrary, green hydrogen is produced solely from renewable energy like solar, wind, or hydropower. It emits no carbon in the process.
There is a huge appetite for green hydrogen as we navigate the energy transition and combat the impacts of climate change. However, there is still much work to do when it comes to evolving hydrogen production technologies. Are we using the most effective methods? Should we be exploring new pathways? How can we make the technology more efficient? How can we reduce the carbon footprint of a hydrogen production facility even more? These are all challenges that the hydrogen industry is working to solve when it comes to innovation.
While there have been strides forward in hydrogen production, there are still many challenges facing the industry.
Beyond production, transporting hydrogen is another challenge for the industry. How can we transport hydrogen most efficiently? How can we store it safely? What existing infrastructure can we adapt for hydrogen? These are all questions that we must answer before we can produce and use hydrogen on a grand scale.
Right now, most of the hydrogen produced is transported by truck. This is due to a lack of pipeline infrastructure able to transport hydrogen. To use trucks, we must highly compress the hydrogen or have it in very cold liquid form. Pipelines are increasingly transporting hydrogen, although there is still work to do to reduce costs, increase efficiency, and minimize leaks.
One of the most common ways to store hydrogen is in salt caverns. This is especially true for large amounts of hydrogen, where the underground environment can safely store hydrogen at high pressures. For smaller hydrogen production facilities, storing hydrogen in liquid form may still be the most effective and cost-friendly method.
Another challenge facing the hydrogen industry is delivering hydrogen to remote communities. If pipelines are not available—and they often aren’t—then truck transport is the only option. This can be quite inefficient and costly. It can also lead to added emissions due to transport. So, how can we deliver hydrogen to remote locations?
There are a few potential users of hydrogen in remote locations. Mining is one industry that comes to mind. The mining industry is incentivized to reduce their carbon footprint—they must lower their emissions by switching to renewables. Hydrogen could be a great option for mine operators. If they were able to develop storage capabilities—or even production—they could reduce their emissions for their operations by offsetting some of their energy usage with hydrogen.
But there is also a potential for hydrogen in rural, remote, and Indigenous communities. These communities are usually not connected to the grid (for obvious reasons). They must operate on their own microgrid. Microgrids are great solutions in remote areas because they can use distributed energy resources—pulling energy from multiple sources like solar power, generators, and battery storage. Hydrogen can be a great addition for microgrids in remote communities because it can supplement energy supply in times of need while emitting no carbon emissions.
One of the significant challenges facing hydrogen experts is developing a strong market and introducing it to new industries. Just about every industry needs energy. And most are looking to decarbonize. Hydrogen could provide a solution to both issues. So, what industries should be looking to hydrogen as an energy source?
One industry that is very carbon intensive is the steel industry. Traditionally, steel plants have operated off fossil fuels. But what if we could offset some of those emissions with hydrogen? The same goes for ammonia production, manufacturing, and food processing plants. If we want to develop a market for hydrogen, we should be encouraging these industries to adopt it.
Another industry that is ripe for hydrogen use is transportation. We can use hydrogen to fuel personal vehicles, commercial trucks, passenger buses, and even planes. The challenge lies in developing the right hydrogen fuel for each mode of transportation. We also must upgrade each mode of transportation’s engine to maximize the efficiency of the combustion process.
There are many prospects to use hydrogen in different markets and industries. The key is getting these industries to embrace hydrogen as a means to reduce their emissions.
It’s clear that there are still several challenges facing the hydrogen industry. But it’s inspiring to see the level of collaboration that is taking place to solve them. Rather than individual companies working alone to discover innovations, Avatar is bringing many experts together. This not only helps solve these issues faster but it can greatly reduce the cost of doing so.
That’s why I’m proud to be spearheading innovations surrounding hydrogen. I believe hydrogen will be a crucial piece to the energy transition puzzle. The faster we can evolve the industry, the better. I’m excited to see some of the future solutions discovered at Avatar. But I’m even more excited to see these solutions implemented on a grand scale to produce renewable energy while reducing emissions and combating the impacts of climate change.
Want to learn more about hydrogen? Reach out to me and my team.