As part of assessing the best energy sources for the future, we are looking at the pros and cons of these different energy sources.
This is our guide on the Pros & Cons Of Hydrogen Energy.
Summary – Hydrogen Energy Pros & Cons
- Zero emissions while in use
- More effective and efficient than gasoline
- Good energy output
- Hydrogen fuel infrastructure can be cheaper than crude oil pipes and infrastructure
- Local production usually means no degradation or transmission issues
- Fewer installation, maintenance and drop off issues
- Fewer spatial issues
- Opportunities to reduce external or foreign dependence on an energy source for some countries
- Has other benefits other than being used just as energy
- Low toxicity exposure risks
- Not a completely clean/green energy source
- Is a costly way to actually make energy
- Has some uncertainties and unknowns
- Non locally made hydrogen can have energy loss issues
- Current infrastructure we have in many cities around the world is not compatible with hydrogen fuel
- Hydrogen doesn’t perform well in certain temperatures and conditions
- Limited availability and access issues
- Can have negative environmental impacts
- Needs a constant fuel source
- Not yet good for long distance travel
Hydrogen energy has it’s specific uses at the moment. However, most of the way it is created at the moment involves fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions – which is not desirable to minimise the effects of global warming, and also means it’s a finite fuel source. Only when technologies allow for hydrogen energy to be generated from other sources will it become a true green option that is clean burning and renewable. It also has it’s other limitations that impact how effective it can be and to what extent it can be scaled for a wider range of applications. Until further developments and advancements are made with hydrogen, it doesn’t seem to have the long term potential of other energy sources like solar, wind and water.
*Note – the above pros and cons are broad generalisations. Obviously there are different variables to each specific energy project that impact the final pros and cons (like new technology that reduces emissions for coal power plants just as one of many examples). Each energy project and situation (in different countries and cities) should be analysed individually. Having said that, some broad principles and patterns about the pros and cons of different energy sources tend to stay consistent too.
What Is Hydrogen Energy
- Hydrogen fuel is a zero-emission fuel when burned with oxygen.
- It can be used in electrochemical cells or internal combustion engines to power vehicles or electric devices.
- It has been used in commercial fuel cell vehicles such as passenger cars recently, and has been used in fuel cell buses for many years.
- It is also used as a fuel for the propulsion of spacecrafts.
Hydrogen Energy Pros
- Zero Emissions While In Use – a clean burning fuel. Once produced, hydrogen gas cells emit only water vapor and warm air when in use. If one vehicle were converted from a standard combustion engine to one powered by hydrogen, it would eliminate almost 5 metric tons of carbon dioxide being introduced to the atmosphere.
- More Effective As A Fuel & Good Energy Output– Hydrogen energy is more effective as a fuel. If used in vehicles, a driver can achieve a 100% better fuel economy with hydrogen when compared to gasoline. More than 10 million tons of hydrogen are created each year for industrial use because of the energy output that it offers. It can even be used as an energy resource to help refine petroleum.
- Cheaper Transport & Infrastructure Costs – The cheapest installation of hydrogen transportation networks to-date has been over $210,000 per mile. When the first hydrogen pipelines were installed, it came at a cost of $2 million per mile. In 2014, estimated pipeline costs for crude oil in the United States were much higher, averaging $6.5 million per installed mile. In Massachusetts, installed crude oil pipelines in 2014 were installed at a cost of $17 million per mile.
- No Degradation Or Transmission Issues When Produced Locally – Once the energy is created from hydrogen, the reliability of that energy remains constant. Other energy resources struggle to maintain transmission levels. The most efficient energy resources come from natural gas, and even then, the fuel is only about 45% efficient. For coal, oil, and nuclear energy, about 65% of the energy produced at the plant is lost in transmission. Hydrogen energy has an efficiency rate of 60% or greater when transmitting energy to a new location. *The exception to this is in transported, stored or non locally generated hydrogen – read more below in the cons
- Fewer Installation, Maintenance & Drop Off Issues – Hydrogen energy, when incorporated into a fuel cell, can be used at virtually any geographic location. It is a flexible energy resource that can be used in a wide variety of ways. As long as the items being used have a compatible receptor to accept the energy, the fuel cells can even work with other power resources to supplement available power. They also require less maintenance than other fuel sources and there is less of an energy drop-off that occurs as the fuel cell reaches the end of its life cycle.
- Fewer Spatial Issues – Hydrogen energy can be stored in fuel cells that are extremely small. Think about the size of the average laptop battery and you’ve got a fuel cell that could power almost anything. This sizing advantage allows a fuel cell to be installed almost anywhere, assuming that the energy can be transmitted in some way. There are fewer worries about placing it next to a wall or storing it in a specific environment. The only exception here is that hydrogen energy cannot be stored in extremely hot environments.
- Opportunities To Lessen Foreign Dependence On Energy Sources – Much of the world’s oil is produced in about 20 countries. The nations without oil access rely heavily on imports to meet their domestic needs. By developing hydrogen energy, these countries can stop putting money towards energy.
- Has Added Benefits – As an added benefit, the vapor from hydrogen energy can even be condensed into water that is safe to drink.
- Low Exposure To Toxicity Risks – there are 150+ chemicals in gasoline, and nuclear energy has it’s risks too obviously. Compared to other energy sources, freeze burns and flammability are really the only concerns.
– renewableresourcescoalition.org, vittana.org
Hydrogen Energy Cons
- Not Completely Clean Energy – Steam-methane reforming (from natural gas), the current leading technology for producing hydrogen in large quantities, extracts hydrogen from methane. However, this reaction releases fossil carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide into the atmosphere which are greenhouse gases (and air pollution), and thus contribute to global warming which is rapidly heating the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere. The process of electrolysis, which is essential for the splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen, makes this less of an issue. However, electrolysis still ranks below the previously mentioned method for obtaining hydrogen, though research continues to make it more efficient and cost-effective.
- It’s A Costly Way To Make Energy – The U.S. Department of Energy funded a 10-year, $950 million product to create hydrogen energy from a coal-fired power plant. The design of the plant would then remove the carbon created from the energy process by placing it underground. It is billed as being the first zero-emissions fossil fuel energy resource.
- Has Uncertainties & Unknowns – storing carbon underground from hydrogen energy also creates unknowns, such as how the planet may react with the higher levels of carbon dioxide storage under the surface.
- Non Locally Made Hydrogen Can Have Energy Loss Issues – When transporting hydrogen, there is an expected 20% energy loss associated with its movement. Hydrogen energy loses an average of 1% of its viability for every day that it is kept in storage for transportation. There are also boil-off losses associated with hydrogen energy that can be as high as 50%. For this technology to be effective, it must be produced locally to minimize energy loss. Otherwise, the actual costs of production for this energy resource will always be higher than other energy types.
- Current Infrastructure Is Not Compatible With Hydrogen – hydrogen requires the manufacture of fuel cells to store the energy. Although new resources could be developed simultaneously with these fuel cells, the current infrastructure would likely find the energy to be incompatible with what currently exists. Other sources of energy like wind and solar can use the current infrastructure and power grids.
- Doesn’t Perform Well In Certain Temperatures & Conditions – Hydrogen energy is difficult to use in certain temperatures and environments. With our current technology, this energy resource is ineffective at temperatures where water begins to boil. We currently use polymer exchange membranes to generate the hydrogen energy we use, and these membranes do not perform in high temperature environments. Because of this limitation, it becomes difficult to use hydrogen energy in multiple platforms, including vehicles, because of the heat present in that environment.
- Limited Availability & Access – Hydrogen energy is not available with easy access. It may be produced on an industrial scale to meet specific needs right now, but it is not produced on a commercial scale, or a residential scale, much at all. In the United States, as of January 2018, there were 39 publicly available hydrogen fuel stations. 35 of those stations were located in California, with most in the Bay Area or the Los Angeles metroplex. The other four stations are located in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and South Carolina. That makes it difficult to use this energy for anything but local use. 7 of the stations with publicly available hydrogen energy require permission from the original equipment manufacturer to access the fuel, along with a pre-authorization from the fuel provider.
- Can Have Environmental Impacts – Too much hydrogen is known to interfere with the ozone that is present in our atmosphere. Without adequate ozone, we are subjected to more of the UVA and UVB transmitted by the sun, which could change our environment, endanger our health, and create other concerns of which we do not know of yet.
- Needs A Constant Fuel Source – One of the primary benefits of hydrogen energy is that it can run continuously. The provision for this benefit is that a fuel source must be available to it for energy to be continually produced. Without that fuel source, the hydrogen fuel cell would run out, just like every other type of energy would. That means a fuel source must be provided at an extra cost or the hydrogen fuel cells must be continually replaced.
- Not Great For Long Distance Travel – With our current technologies, the average hydrogen fuel cell provides about 300 miles of energy support. Because of the limited availability of retail stations which sell this energy resource, someone using hydrogen fuel cells will find that their mobility is minimal. That issue is further influenced by its overall lack of durability, as contamination from the outside can limit its overall effectiveness to provide energy on-demand.
– wikipedia.org, renewableresourcescoalition.org, vittana.org