How hydrogen can make renewable energy a reality

Hydrogen is gaining recognition among policy makers, with the public and across industry as a source of zero-emission, ‘clean’ energy. This is particularly, but not exclusively, in the automotive sector.  Business is also catching on to the use of hydrogen as a fuel for mobile consumer electronics devices and stationary power, particularly in emerging markets such as India and Africa.

In addition, some of the world’s biggest companies are waking up to its further ability to make renewables, potentially a source of highly efficient but low-carbon energy, an enduring part of the global energy mix. They are realising that hydrogen can be used as a ‘buffer’ to mitigate the intermittent nature of renewable energies such as wind and solar.

Indian conglomerate Tata and German utility E.ON are among the corporations that have invested in start-up companies, or are trialling projects, with the long-term aim of commercialising technology that uses hydrogen to store renewable energy.

This is important because the electricity grid needs a steady source of energy to power our homes: renewable energy sources, such as solar or wind power, are intermittent in nature and often produce either too much power for the grid to take, or too little.

Oil giant Shell is the latest global energy company to back the transformative power of hydrogen. Its corporate venturing arm, Shell Technology Ventures, has announced it has a pot of several hundred million dollars to invest in emerging technologies, including hydrogen fuel and the energy storage systems needed to enhance the reliable supply or generation of energy from renewable sources.

By means of electrolysis using electricity generated from these renewable sources, water is split into its constituent parts, forming hydrogen (and oxygen). By capturing this hydrogen, renewable energy can be stored in large quantities for extended periods of time, overcoming one of the major barriers to the large scale uptake of renewable power. The stored hydrogen can subsequently be used in a fuel cell to provide electric power, as required, or added to the existing natural gas network. In this way, low-emission hydrogen produced from a renewable source helps to improve the carbon footprint of gas burning power stations

There are currently a number of active projects in this exciting area. In Germany, six projects are either underway or being planned to demonstrate the concept of using hydrogen as an energy store for wind power.

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