27 Feb 19

Why hydrogen could drive your fleet

Hydrogen has a lot going for it, not only as a fuel for transport, but also as an energy carrier. It can be made by superfluous wind and solar energy – and even directly from water vapour in the air.

H2 can contribute to 20 percent of CO2 emission reduction targets by 2050. At the same time, the transition towards hydrogen has the potential to create €2.2 trillion worth of business and 30 million jobs. That is what McKinsey calculated in the Hydrogen Council’s study entitled Hydrogen, Scaling up.

The Hydrogen Council was founded in 2017 at the World Economic Forum and comprises leading companies that invest along the hydrogen value chain, including transportation, industry, and energy production and distribution. Air Liquide, Alstom, Anglo American, Audi, BMW, Daimler, Engie, GM, Honda, Hyundai, Royal Dutch Shell, Equinor (Statoil), Total and Toyota: they all signed up.

More than just transport

They believe that hydrogen is the central pillar of the energy transformation we need to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius. That involves reducing our CO2 emissions by 60% by 2050. Hydrogen can play a major role in several areas: renewable power generation and integration, energy distribution across regions and sectors, and decarbonising both industrial energy use and transportation.

Hydrogen enables the deployment of renewables (wind and solar) by converting and storing more than 500 TWh of otherwise curtailed electricity, the Council reckons. It allows international energy distribution, linking renewable-abundant regions with those requiring energy imports. It can also be used as a buffer and strategic reserve for power.

Straight from the air

Last week, we reported that researchers of Eindhoven University (Netherlands) had succeeded in making hydrogen from water contained in the air. Water molecules are split into hydrogen and oxygen using solar energy.

Yesterday, the University of Leuven (Belgium) announced it has developed a revolutionary system to produce hydrogen sustainably, equally using solar power. There is a substantial difference, though. A conventional solar panel can convert up to 20% of solar energy into electricity. Using this electricity to split water into hydrogen and oxygen is not energy-efficient. The solar panel developed in Leuven solves this by splitting water vapour directly.

The University’s Centre for Surface Chemistry and Catalysis has spent ten years developing this special solar panel, which can produce up to 250 litres of hydrogen per day – a world record. Twenty solar panels could provide energy and heat for an average family for an entire year.    

Global problem, global solution

To make hydrogen-based transport work, you need filling stations. Germany has promised to install up to 400 of them by 2023. The UK believes it can build up to 1,150 stations by 2030. In any case, international multilateral cooperation is needed for a hydrogen economy to materialise.

That is also what Benoît Poitier from Air Liquide and Euisun Chung of Hyundai Motor Group explained at the World Economic Forum in Davos last January. “No one country or company can do it alone. Global problems need global solutions. Working together, we look forward to seeing hydrogen play an integral role in a cleaner future.”


Authored by: Dieter Quartier