Decade of ascendency: New hydrogen fuel cell capacity surpassed 1GW in 2019

More than 1GW of global hydrogen fuel capacity was added in 2019, marking the first time the sector has surpassed the gigawatt milestone, with experts claiming that this could be a decade of "ascendency" for the technology.


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Decade of ascendency: New hydrogen fuel cell capacity surpassed 1GW in 2019

Asia remains the largest market for fuel cells

According to a report from energy consultants E4tech, approximately 1.1GW of fuel cell capacity was shipped worldwide in 2019 – a 40% increase on 2018 levels.

The main interest in hydrogen continues to be for fuel cell vehicles, with car firms Toyota and Hyundai accounting for two-thirds of the 1.1GW capacity. The report adds that a “burgeoning” market for hydrogen buses, trucks and van saw vehicles account for more than 900MW in 2019.

E4tech’s director, fuel cells and hydrogen, Davis Hart said: “There is a real sense that the industry is on the cusp of something great. Fuel cells are proven from a technical perspective and blowing past the 1 GW mark is a vindication of that. Now, as we enter a new decade, the sector also enters a new stage, which will be characterised by rapid commercialisation and infrastructure build out.

“If the 2010s can be seen as the breakout decade for the battery, the 2020s will see the ascendancy of the fuel cell.”

The private sector’s use of hydrogen as a fuel is still in its infancy, but the early signs of a “hydrogen revolution” are brewing across the globe. In the transport sector, hydrogen vehicles have been supported by the likes of brewer AB InBev, oil and gas major Shell and waste management firm Veolia, while carmakers Daimler, Hyundai and Nikola Motor have all bolstered their funding for hydrogen technologies in recent times. More recently, Toyota unveiled plans to re-open its former vehicle production plant in Altona, Australia, as a hydrogen production and fuelling facility,

Asia remains the largest market for fuel cells, accounting for 680 MW, but plans are in place to make hydrogen a key building block of the low-carbon economy in the UK.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC), for example, has called for all UK corporates, politicians and members of the public to be educated about the benefits and limitations of hydrogen technology in the wake of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recent findings into the severe impacts of global warming.

Last year, the government awarded 20 projects a share of £7m to explore innovative ways of making and using low-carbon hydrogen.

More broadly, energy-from-waste firm Waste2Tricity has revealed plans to develop the UK’s first industrial-scale facility capable of converting waste plastics into hydrogen in Cheshire.

Matt Mace

© Faversham House Ltd 2022 edie news articles may be copied or forwarded for individual use only. No other reproduction or distribution is permitted without prior written consent.

Comments (1)

  1. Richard Phillips says:

    It is actually DAVID Hart.
    With regard to hydrogen:

    HYDROGEN

    Much speculation has been made recently upon the possible advent of an economy using hydrogen as a primary source of energy.

    Consideration has, however, to be made of the physical characteristics of the gas before speculation upon its place as a fuel for any purpose.

    Occurrence.

    Hydrogen gas does not occur in nature. All gaseous hydrogen has been long lost from the planet, due to fundamentally low level of the planet’s gravity. The most abundant source of hydrogen is as its oxide, water.

    The other principal source of combined hydrogen is in organic material. Organic chemistry has been described as the chemistry of carbon, but equally valid would be the title “The chemistry of Hydrogen”.

    It is of primary importance, in the commercial use of hydrogen that it does not occur in its elementary state. All hydrogen, for whatever purpose, must be manufactured. This involves energy, in inefficiencies, which is never recovered in its use, and may be as great as 30-40%. Fossil fuels, however, occur naturally with their potential energy as fuels, already in them. The extraction and presentation of fossil fuels at the point of use, requires only a small fraction of the amount of the energy obtained in their use. This is a huge advantage.

    [It may be observed in passing, that the “Thorium Reactor”, so often lauded in the Commons, suffers a similar disadvantage. Thorium is not a fissile element, but has to be irradiated with neutrons in a reactor to convert it into U233, a non-naturally occurring isotope of uranium. The fissile element of uranium used in all reactors as the fuel, is U235, when more is needed, it may be mined and separated. But there is much more thorium available that uranium. See also OKLO]

    Methods of isolation.

    All methods of isolation of hydrogen involve the expenditure of energy. The quantity of energy expended in any process will inevitably be greater than the energy recovered in its use. This use will almost uniquely be its oxidation to water.

    Electrolysis.

    The passage of a direct current through water containing an electrolyte, results, under controlled conditions, of about 80% of the electrical energy being used in the electrolytic, process. Gaseous hydrogen is evolved at cathode, and oxygen at the anode. Commercial units have been developed the using this process, producing hydrogen at high pressure. The high pressure is reflected in a higher consumption of power than would be required at normal pressure. There is no free lunch.

    The source of the electricity must, if decarbonisation of the fuel cycle is the intention. be from a non-carbonaceous source. Currently this is cited as a renewable generator, primarily wind. This has the disadvantage of wide variability. Any consequent production of hydrogen from a plant of given capacity is reflected as plant inefficiency. A demand lead source is thus to be preferred. The only candidate for this function is nuclear generation.

    Methane Reforming.

    This is a commercially widely used process to convert naturally occurring methane into carbon dioxide and hydrogen. This is achieved by reacting it with steam at a high temperature, followed by a lower temperature catalytic reaction. The CO2 is removed by pressure variable adsorption. Industrial quantities of hydrogen are produced by this process, but the disposal of the residual CO2 has to be addressed for these purposes.

    Again, it is an energy adsorbing process.

    Iodine/sulphur thermocycle

    This process involves the thermal decomposition of water into oxygen and hydrogen. The water is fed to a mixture of iodine and sulphur, which is successively heated and cooled between about 850oC and 450oC, water being added as it is decomposed. The cycle results in the evolution of oxygen at the lower temperature and hydrogen at the higher. In practice, the operation is complicated by the high temperatures demanding materials resistant to aggressive conditions. The potential benefit lies in the potential use of the high temperature reactor, as a pure heat source.

    Practical Considerations

    Its physical properties do not make hydrogen attractive as an energy source.

    When compared with natural gas, methane, volume for volume, it “contains” about only one third of the energy.

    As a consequence, a domestic central heating “boiler” would require three times the volume of gas. This would have to be reflected in either gas pipes to be replaced by larger diameters, or for pipe pressures to be increased, over the whole system. The latter would exacerbate both diffusive and simple leakage losses of an expensive fuel.

    The alternative is electrical central heating. Storage heaters may be used, or the more thermally efficient “heat pump”. The scale of electricity generation needed for a country-wide adaption would require nuclear energy, such a scale of renewables is not practical. (Over and above this need there is the total replacement of petrol and diesel fuel)

    To supply Heathrow with hydrogen aircraft fuel, it has been estimated, would require reactors about three nuclear power stations, some 3GW. Water supply would have to be substantial.

    Liquefaction of hydrogen is difficult, the processes required falling into the extreme end of cryogenic techniques. Liquid hydrogen has a specific gravity of only 0.07, a large volume is needed for its storage. It is also the reason for proponents of its use as an energy source only ever quoting its energy density in terms of weight.

    Richard Phillips

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