In the longer term, producing hydrogen from fossil fuel is not seen as sustainable. This type of hydrogen is known as grey hydrogen. When CCS is used to eliminate the carbon footprint, the resulting product is called blue hydrogen.
Hydrogen produced with nuclear power is frequently seen as an intermediate step – this is known as pink hydrogen. But the ultimate goal is green hydrogen, where hydrogen is produced with renewable sources, such as wind, solar and hydroelectric power. Excess energy that cannot be received by the grid can then be used to produce hydrogen.
The development towards a hydrogen society is coming a little bit closer each year. Hydrogen is for instance produced from natural gas at the Humberside Hub in the UK, close to salt mines where CO2 can be deposited. The gas grid in the UK is being upgraded to receive a gas mix with 20% hydrogen. In the Netherlands, the state-owned gas utility company has announced plans to build a national network that will link up hydrogen supply with demand. The United States has also announced plans to develop regional hydrogen hubs.
One of the most promising applications for hydrogen is for use as an energy storage medium to help smooth out the peaks and troughs of renewable power production. When the sun shines and the wind blows, surplus electricity can be used to produce hydrogen for later use. When renewable energy is scarce, the hydrogen gas can be used as fuel in power stations, or in fuel cells that produce electricity.
For instance, on the North Sea coast of Germany, in the state of Schleswig-Holstein, plans are underway to harness wind energy to produce green hydrogen. In southern France, in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, solar farms with a total capacity of more than 100 MW will power a 40 MW electrolyzer capable of producing 5 tons of green hydrogen per day to meet the needs of a biofuel production process.
Over the coming years, a number of challenges need to be tackled to make an energy system based on hydrogen a viable proposition. In all stages of handling the hydrogen, leak detection will be needed to help ensure this is managed safely. INFICON is ready to do its part to help make the hydrogen society become a reality.
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