Has hydrogen’s time finally come?

News this week that California-based firm HyPoint is developing an innovative cryogenic fuel tank design that could significantly boost the range of hydrogen-powered aircraft, effectively quadrupling their range, made me think: has hydrogen’s time finally come or is this another false dawn.

The fact is that, since the term ‘hydrogen economy’ was first used in 1970 , there have been a number of these false dawns, with bold claims for the speed of transition to hydrogen. Yet to date, despite advances in technology and bold claims for the use and adaptability of hydrogen, it hasn’t really taken off.

Indeed, according to a recent report by the International Energy Agency, since 1975 global demand for hydrogen has only grown just over threefold, with 6% of global natural gas and 2% of global coal going to hydrogen production.

Don’t forgot that the making hydrogen using current methods is also a contributor to climate change: production of hydrogen is responsible for CO2 emissions of around 830 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to the CO2 emissions of the United Kingdom and Indonesia combined, the IEA suggests.

Does this mean that we shouldn’t become overly excited about the possibilities here? I’m not so sure. After all, a key point to bear in mind is the sheer versatility of hydrogen. Yes, in the past natural gas, coal and oil have been used to produce the gas, but the times they are ‘a changing.

Now we can add to this mix water, with ‘green’ hydrogen technologies using extraction from water by a process of electrolysis moving at pace.

And the potential applications of hydrogen, as some of the stories we have carried on this site in recent months will confirm, are enormous. It can be transported as a gas by pipelines or in liquid form by ships, much like liquefied natural gas; it can be transformed into electricity and methane to power homes and feed industry, and into fuels for cars, trucks, ships and, as we write this week, planes.

Sure, there is some way to go before ‘green’ hydrogen can compete economically with traditional methods of production. But I genuinely think the momentum is now there for industry to shift towards this exciting new form of energy – and for the risk markets to move with it.

Marcus Alcock

Editor, Emerging Risks

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