The International Energy Agency (IEA) released a report last Friday that Hydrogen fuel, the most basic element in the universe and the fuel of our Sun, is an important part of our future--if we're ever going to have a clean and sustainable one.
This is despite two separate hydrogen fuel-related fires occurred in California and Norway. These potentially reputation-scarring incidents might set the move to renewable energy sources back a bit. However, hydrogen is far from the only fuel that's capable of catching fire--oil and natural gas can too.
These two alone not only spark multiple fires and explosions every year: they're also politically volatile resources. But since their economic benefit outweighs the hazards, we're willing to pay the price.
Hydrogen Fuel is a Reasonable Step to a Low-carbon Future
Organisations like the IEA aren't willing to turn their back on hydrogen just like that. They sternly believe that it's an incredible opportunity for us to move almost completely away from our dependence on fossil fuels.
Perhaps the best characteristic that hydrogen has is it can be the missing link that will ease the transition of mankind to renewables.
For one, it helps tackle various critical energy challenges--like storing energy more efficiently from other renewable sources like solar and wind to better match demand. It also offers ways to decarbonise a range of sectors, especially those that leave a massive carbon footprint: long-haul transport, chemicals, also iron and steel – where it is proving difficult to meaningfully reduce emissions. It can also help to improve air quality and strengthen energy security.
A wide variety of fuels are able to produce hydrogen, including renewables, nuclear, natural gas, coal and oil. Hydrogen can be transported as a gas by pipelines or in liquid form by ships, much like liquefied natural gas (LNG). It can also be transformed into electricity and methane to power homes and feed industry, and into fuels for cars, trucks, ships and planes.
And since fundamentally, hydrogen the most basic element in the universe, it's also the most abundant.
The Time to Strike is Now
“The world should not miss this unique chance to make hydrogen an important part of our clean and secure energy future. Hydrogen is today enjoying unprecedented momentum, driven by governments that both import and export energy, as well as the renewables industry, electricity and gas utilities, automakers, oil and gas companies, major technology firms and big cities,” - Dr. Birol, IEA
The agency made policy recommendations for world leaders hoping to increase the use of hydrogen. The recommendations include citing clean hydrogen manufacturing facilities at existing industrial ports, making use of existing natural gas infrastructure and pipelines, and "launching the hydrogen trade’s first international shipping routes."
However, it is not to say that hydrogen doesn't face its own significant challenges. Industrial-scale hydrogen is still being sourced from fossil fuels such as natural gas and coal. Producing hydrogen from low-carbon energy is still costly at the moment and the development of hydrogen infrastructure is slow--holding back widespread adoption. Policymakers need to create or reconsider regulations to encourage the development of a clean hydrogen industry.
It's important to keep building the momentum of using hydrogen to fully-replace fossil fuels if we want to see a better tomorrow.