It’s been more than a century since science-fiction writer Jules Verne mentioned breaking down water as a source of electricity in his novel “Mysterious Island.” He wasn’t talking about hydroelectric power but harnessing electricity from hydrogen itself. 

However, 125 years later and we’re still using non-renewable energy in the form of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal) to run (or is it “rundown”) the world.

Global Warming and Energy

Some establishments continue to burn these finite resources even though technology has found a way to harness the electricity from hydrogen in the form of green hydrogen systems. This has led to the climate crisis, which we now know as global warming.

Climate change and global warming have taken a turn for the worse. Rising sea levels, increase in surface sea temperature and global average air, rifts in the ice are all primarily caused by greenhouse gases. These are the effects of burning fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, and coal), land clearing and other activities that trap heat in the atmosphere.

Global warming and the effects of greenhouse gases are facts supported by years of scientific research. Many climate change effects pose risks to people through severe heat waves and other natural disasters that will affect our environment, homes and food sources.

However, with advancements in science and technology, the concept that a prolific science-fiction writer has thought about more than a century ago could be a plausible solution to curbing carbon emissions. 

So what is green hydrogen and how can it be the key to limiting the effects of global warming?

What is Green Hydrogen?

Green hydrogen represents reformed hydrogen that’s generated by renewable energy instead of fossil fuels.  Hydrogen is the simplest and most common element in the universe, but it rarely exists alone on earth. This is why a process to separate hydrogen from another element (like water) is needed. 

There’s also gray hydrogen and blue hydrogen. Gray hydrogen is when the reforming process to extract pure hydrogen involves fossil fuels instead of renewable energy. 

On the other hand, blue hydrogen is when hydrogen is split by Steam Methane Reforming (SMR), similar to that of gray hydrogen, but the carbon dioxide (CO2) is captured and stored, which lessens the greenhouse effect and environmental impact on the plant. 

Green hydrogen is different in terms of extraction as it uses a process called electrolysis. Separating the hydrogen from the original element without greenhouse gas pollution.

How does electrolysis work?

For green hydrogen systems to work, hydrogen must be split from oxygen in a process called electrolysis. This is where an electrical current is applied to the water, the hydrogen and oxygen are then separated as the hydrogen moves to the negative electrode while the oxygen moves to the positive direction where they both individually rise as gas. 

How does a Green Hydrogen System Work?

Many countries use green hydrogen. France, Japan, Australia, Norway, Canada and many European countries are among those actively pursuing green hydrogen strategies for the future. 

Many industries use this technology. It can power vehicles and vessels, like submarines. Not only is it more silent than gas-powered engines, but it’s cooler as it emits low amounts of heat.

So how does a green hydrogen system work?

The technology in action is simple. In hydrogen-powered vehicles, the engine is designed so that it’s possible to generate power by turning the chemical energy found in hydrogen into mechanical energy.

The engine uses oxygen from the outside air to interact with the hydrogen from the tank and flows into the fuel cell where the chemical reaction happens. This produces mechanical energy that turns into electricity to power the car. Only clean fuel is used and vapor (water) is then emitted by the vehicle.

If you look under the hood, you’ll see that the engine appears sleek and tidy. Companies like Toyota, BMW, Audi and Hyundai are just some car manufacturers who have already developed and released hydrogen car models

Advantages of using green hydrogen

Two men wearing black shirts
Australian project to produce green hydrogen by 2022; powered by Green Hydrogen Systems technology

Jules Verne wasn’t the only one hinting at hydrogen as the next probable source of renewable energy. In the ’80s, Ahmed Zaki Yamani, the Saudi Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources at that time said in an interview: “the oil age will end not because we have a lack of oil.” a statement that wasn’t directed at electric-powered vehicles but hydrogen gas.

There’s a reason why these historical figures see so much potential in using green hydrogen. It’s a very versatile element that has a lot of benefits.

  • It’s limitless

Since it’s produced from renewable energy, it’s practically limitless. We can still get water anywhere, and as technology advances, extracted hydrogen energy from all water sources will be more convenient, environmentally friendly and cost-efficient.

  • It stabilizes the electricity supply

Green hydrogen can be converted into electricity and be used for domestic purposes like powering up your stove or lights among others.

  • It’s versatile

Hydrogen can be used as a coolant or to generate heat and electricity, it can also be used as a raw material in the industry. 

  • Net-zero emissions

When a country or company announces that they want to achieve net-zero emissions, it means that they’re working towards reducing their carbon footprint to the lowest level possible. 

They will work to make sure that even those emissions that can’t be avoided are balanced out or taken out of the atmosphere.

Countries and companies are looking at green hydrogen because it’s one of the safest and most abundant sources of green energy needed to achieve net-zero emissions.

  • Engines run much smoother and quieter

The only by-product of the hydrogen fuel cell is steam or water, internal engine combustion tends to be much quieter thus, reducing noise pollution as well.

The Problem with Green Hydrogen

If the idea of using hydrogen has been around for more than half a century, why has it taken so long for humans to adapt it? If it’s more environmentally friendly, then why aren’t manufacturers jumping into it?

The answer to both of these questions is money.

Hydrogen is the most common element on earth. So it would be logical to think that it should be cheap and accessible, but that’s not the case. 

Hydrogen is common, but it can be found usually attached to another element, and the element that’s most accessible to everyone is water, H2O.

For green hydrogen systems to work, electrolysis needs to happen to split hydrogen from oxygen in an environmentally friendly way

For electrolysis to occur industrial plants need electricity, which means it still needs energy to process. Fortunately, we can harvest electricity from natural sources like solar, wind, or hydroelectric power, harnessing this energy can lead to zero green-gas emission. 

However, it can be quite expensive if we’re talking about applying the process on an industrial scale. Scientists all over the world are working on concepts involving cheaper alternatives like using light to extract hydrogen from sources.

Another problem is the transportation of hydrogen. However, humans have made almost everything possible, oil transportation also faced a similar problem 50 years ago, so it’s only a matter of time before scientists can figure out an easy way to transport hydrogen.

The Time for Change has Come

Wind turbines on snowy mountain
Photo by Jason Blackeye on Unsplash

Climate issues signify the need for change. The oil industry is a multibillion-dollar industry that has contributed a lot to the world, however, it comes at a steep price, and we’re not just talking about price hikes. It has contributed to the destruction and destabilization of the earth.

But with green hydrogen power and other renewable energy sources — concepts that have existed for more than a century — It’s now time to take the next step toward advancement. 

However, scientists and researchers won’t be able to do this alone. Worldwide leaders have to see the need for change and take drastic measures to accelerate the transition to renewable energy. 

All of us bear some responsibility for the climate issue we’re all facing today. The government, industries using fossil fuel, and individuals alike are contributors to the problem because fossil fuel, at one point or another, benefitted us. 

Climate change and other global issues are becoming more apparent and It’s now beyond personal and institutional gains but more on survival and sustainability.

At the bare minimum, fossil fuel industries and people who still use fossil fuels should actively support climate policies to reduce global warming emissions. 

Companies should fully disclose the physical risks of climate change to their operations and align their business model towards the move towards sustainable energy.

Fossil fuel has already served its purpose. Though we are grateful for it, it’s unsustainable. Mining this energy source takes a toll on the environment and its emissions wreak havoc on vulnerable populations.

Part of moving forward is letting go of old technology in place of new technologies. Developing these new technologies unlocks efficiency and sustainability which are vital for the prosperity of the world.

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