Economies around the world use fossil fuels (oil, gas, coal) as a mainstay for their industrial growth. At this rate, fossil fuel may run out as early as the 21st century, with oil running out by 2052, gas by 2060, and coal by 2090 (source). But with rising pollution and global warming, hydrogen energy can prove to be a better sustainable option for the next generation.
The use of hydrogen as a fuel offers a plethora of opportunities for the future. Many countries, including Australia, Canada, and Norway, have started using hydrogen to run their commercial vehicles that are powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
Hydrogen energy and its capabilities
Using traditional fossil fuel adds carbon dioxide to the environment, which causes pollution, heat, and significant climate change globally. The hydrogen economy concept represents a shift in this overall strategy, relying on hydrogen to fuel economies.
When burnt with oxygen, hydrogen results in water and energy. This energy can power vehicles, engines, and other industrial devices with no or rare impact on the environment.
2H2 (g) + O2 (g) → 2H2O (g) + energy
Hydrogen energy is a greener, more efficient form of energy, and can deliver better performance compared to fossil fuels being used currently. As there are no carbon emissions in the byproduct, hydrogen fuel is also considered a clean fuel.
Main obstacles in moving to hydrogen fuel
Even though hydrogen fuel is an efficient option, there are many obstacles in the way to achieve this decarbonization. Firstly, shifts in energy infrastructures will have a tremendous impact on economies. The European Union (EU) has aimed to lower carbon emissions by around 90 million tons per year from 2030 (source). Its plan for a 30-year shift to hydrogen energy could cost anywhere between $203 to $530 billion.
There is also an enormous lack of awareness and motivation around moving to hydrogen energy. Oil and gas companies are reluctant to move on to more green energy. Discarding assets is not an option as hydrogen production still depends on traditional fossil fuels.
A major problem lies in sourcing hydrogen fuel with black hydrogen and green hydrogen. Black hydrogen relies on fossil fuels for its generation; therefore, it poses problems. Green hydrogen represents a more environmentally friendly method; it can be generated by passing electricity via water through electrolysis. Nevertheless, it relies on electricity, which is, at least for now, generated from the large-scale burning of fossil fuels. Solar and wind-powered electricity is possible but may take some time to materialize.
Another issue is that there are myths and misconceptions about hydrogen being more flammable posing storage dangers. However, experts point out that hydrogen is probably safer than petrol (source). Also, newer ways could be found to manage hydrogen securely.
How will the world benefit from this move to hydrogen fuel?
Hydrogen energy can be built using renewables so it can help countries become self-reliant. Fossil fuel market prices often create market fluctuations around the world. But with hydrogen energy depending on local renewables, it can be more reliable using a decentralized model for the future.
Hydrogen energy can add more power to the efficiency and performance of devices. Fuel cells offer customization to work with current infrastructure and generate higher energy compared to fossil fuels.
To limit the continuous use of fossil fuels and degrading global health levels, the world needs to switch to hydrogen energy that may help create a more natural balance for the future. Though the concept of hydrogen fuel dates back quite some time, its widespread adoption faces some significant hurdles. These hurdles will need to be overcome to offer future generations better prospects. Countries around the world need stricter policies, rules, and regulations to enable transfer to this greener fuel.
Fossil fuels are expected to diminish from 2050 onward. It is crucial to plan the shift to hydrogen energy today so that we can be prepared for the next decade. China, Japan, the EU, and the USA have already made strides in progress towards hydrogen energy. Nevertheless, hydrogen energy needs more research, planning, and better support to bring this change that can deliver the next stage of industrial growth.