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Chart showing hydrogen fuel cell conversion compared to electricity charging batteries



The hydrogen economy is the use of hydrogen as a low carbon fuel, particularly for heating, hydrogen vehicles, seasonal energy storage and long distance transport of energy.

The hydrogen economy is proposed as part of the future low-carbon economy. In order to phase out fossil fuels and limit global warming, hydrogen is being considered as its combustion only releases clean water, and no CO2 to the atmosphere. As of 2019, however, hydrogen is mainly used as an industrial feedstock, primarily for the production of ammonia, methanol and petroleum refining. 

In the last decade, the hype around hydrogen was mostly concerned with its role in greenhouse gas emissions reduction from transport. This is still a factor, but related to this and rising in importance is the increasing deployment of renewable energy generation, its unpredictable and intermittent nature, and limited capacity of power distribution grids.

In a way hydrogen is more relevant than ever, because in the past hydrogen was very linked with transportation. But now with the huge uptake of renewables and the need for grid-scale energy storage to stabilize the energy system, hydrogen can have a role to play, and what’s interesting about that, in contrast to a pure battery scenario, is that there’s a number of things you can do with it. You can turn it back into electricity, you can put it into vehicles or you can do a power-to-gas arrangement where you pump it into the gas grid.







A study of the well-to-wheels efficiency of hydrogen vehicles compared to other vehicles in the Norwegian energy system indicates that hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles (FCV) tend to be about a third as efficient as EVs when electrolysis is used, with hydrogen Internal Combustion Engines (ICE) being barely a sixth as efficient. Even in the case where hydrogen fuel cells get their hydrogen from natural gas reformation rather than electrolysis, and EVs get their power from a natural gas power plant, the EVs still come out ahead 35% to 25% (and only 13% for a H2 ICE). This compares to 14% for a gasoline ICE, 27% for a gasoline ICE hybrid, and 17% for a diesel ICE, also on a well-to-wheels basis.

Hydrogen has been called one of the least efficient and most expensive possible replacements for gasoline (petrol) in terms of reducing greenhouse gases; other technologies may be less expensive and more quickly implemented. A comprehensive study of hydrogen in transportation applications has found that "there are major hurdles on the path to achieving the vision of the hydrogen economy; the path will not be simple or straightforward".



Zero carbon hydrogen fuel cell ferry


The hydrogen economy has positive and negative points, but ultimately is less efficient in terms of using renewable energy sustainably.





Hydrogen has one of the widest explosive/ignition mix range with air of all the gases with few exceptions such as acetylene, silane, and ethylene oxide. That means that whatever the mix proportion between air and hydrogen, a hydrogen leak will most likely lead to an explosion, not a mere flame, when a flame or spark ignites the mixture.


This makes the use of hydrogen particularly dangerous in enclosed areas such as tunnels or underground parking. Pure hydrogen-oxygen flames burn in the ultraviolet color range and are nearly invisible to the naked eye, so a flame detector is needed to detect if a hydrogen leak is burning. Hydrogen is odorless and leaks cannot be detected by smell.

Hydrogen codes and standards are codes and standards for hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, stationary fuel cell applications and portable fuel cell applications. There are codes and standards for the safe handling and storage of hydrogen, for example the standard for the installation of stationary fuel cell power systems from the National Fire Protection Association.

Codes and standards have repeatedly been identified as a major institutional barrier to deploying hydrogen technologies and developing a hydrogen economy. To enable the commercialization of hydrogen in consumer products, new model building codes and equipment and other technical standards are developed and recognized by federal, state, and local governments.

One of the measures on the roadmap is to implement higher safety standards like early leak detection with hydrogen sensors. The Canadian Hydrogen Safety Program concluded that hydrogen fueling is as safe as compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling. But compared to battery electrics, how safe it that? if a battery shorts out, it does not explode like a bomb as most gas leaks tend to. Worst case scenario for lithium shorts is a fire; not an explosion.


The European Commission has funded the first higher educational program in the world in hydrogen safety engineering at the University of Ulster. It could be that the general public will be able to use hydrogen technologies in everyday life with at least the same level of safety and comfort as with today's fossil fuels, but they said that about zeppelins and along came the Hindenburg. We should also remember the number of space craft that have exploded on take off.














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