The energy world seems entrenched in controversy. Rising fuel prices, potential shortages, and a drive to reduce the carbon footprint all affect the day-to-day operations of the oil and gas industry. As a result, alternative energy sources are sought to meet the expectations of a newly focused society that desires to preserve the planet.
While the debate continues regarding the longevity of the oil and gas lifestyle, others recognize the impending presence of multiple fuel sources. Whether it is to replace oil and gas or coexist in a world of options, the hydrogen market sees a bright and viable future in fuel substitution.
In the push for clean energy fueled by environmental purposes, hydrogen entered the stage as a clean fuel that produces only water when used in a fuel cell. Domestically, environmentally friendly gas can be made from natural gas, nuclear power, biomass and renewable power options like wind and solar. The two most popular methods occur in electrolysis and thermal processes.
Electrolysis is the process of separating water into oxygen and hydrogen into an electrolyzer. The process is the opposite from that of a fuel cell. While a fuel cell uses hydrogen to create energy, the hydrolyzer creates hydrogen by separating a water molecule.
The thermal process of generating hydrogen is gaining more ground and attention as it sees few limitations. Simply put, hydrogen’s thermal process involves converting a hydrocarbon fuel through steam reforming. Diesel, renewable liquid fuels, gasified coal and biomass are all hydrocarbon fuels that potentially can be converted to hydrogen. Still, natural gas has been targeted as the predominant option best for this purpose.
Substitution with Specific Purpose
When discussing the concept of fuel, the consensus zeroes in on vehicle power and the gas-burning engine. Utilizing hydrogen as a fuel substation source provides many larger scale solutions. The bigger picture offers more extensive opportunities with even more immense benefits to be seized.
According to Charles McConnell, MBA and energy transition expert, hydrogen can be used as a fuel substitute on a much larger scale than the typical automobile, and the growth opportunities prove enormous. Natural gas can be converted to hydrogen and fuel the production of ammonia and methane. Additionally, it can be proposed for cracking operations in refineries and create steam for process heating.
The Department of Energy (DOE) has publicly voiced support for hydrogen as an alternative fuel and is searching for opportunities. Not only has steel manufacturing been examined as a potential candidate for hydrogen fuel substitution, but marine, rail, datacenter and commercial transport can also benefit. McConnell supports these options and offers his opinions on where hydrogen will find purpose.
“I see hydrogen being used in the future as a fuel source for long haul trucking with the electrical vehicle market addressing the passenger vehicle,” says McConnell.
With hydrogen offering realistic solutions to energy source substitution, many companies embrace a hydrogen future as a method that makes sense and yields actual purpose. Using hydrogen power, Siemens Energy has committed its brand to lowering carbon dioxide emissions. Through developmental strategies and retooling processes, Siemens offers customers the ability to convert gas turbines into hydrogen power soured units. Through hydrogen integration, overall efficiency can be increased while emissions decrease, which assists customers in achieving decarbonization goals. McConnell indicated the decarbonization aspect is the driving force in the push to hydrogen conversion.
McConnell serves as the Energy Center officer of the Center for Carbon Management and Energy Sustainability at the University of Houston. Partnering this current work with his experience working in domestic and international markets, developing and advocating for climate change policies, McConnell recognizes the importance of hydrogen’s fuel substitution capabilities. He indicated that lowering emissions is essential to companies reducing their carbon footprint.
“This is all paced by the enthusiasm to reduce emissions profiles,” says McConnell. “The future of hydrogen is huge, and it is now exportable to an international market, but the challenge will be developing support infrastructure to utilize hydrogen on a grander scale.”
While developing new infrastructure for future use will not be easy, some existing components can be retooled. Natural gas can be converted to hydrogen and, as a result, that accounts for some reuse of existing equipment. McConnell believes natural gas conversion will help to drive hydrogen reuse.
“Eighty-five percent of hydrogen comes from natural gas,” McConnell points out.
Natural gas conversion and hydrogen fuel substitution come with a caveat, though. Decarbonization plays a part as capture will be the name of the game and not the release to the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide capture and storage will drive the hydrogen market as a clean energy source and aid in lowering the carbon footprint. With many options surfacing, like the vast amount of storage projects underway in the state of Texas alone, hydrogen use is expected to skyrocket.
According to Jeff Pollack, the chief strategy and sustainability officer for the Port of Corpus Christi, Texas encompasses the ability to store vast amounts of carbon dioxide storage. The Port itself has entered development projects offering prime acreage ripe with storage capabilities both onshore and offshore. With hydrogen use possibilities as monumental as they are, the Port is partaking in energy transition and embracing decarbonization strategies. As a result, it is capitalizing on all available areas in hydrogen commercialization.
Accelerating the practice of hydrogen substitution is underway with significant scale expansion and conversion projects, but integration into all aspects of everyday life will take commitment from everyone. A full-on retreat from the hydrocarbon industry is unlikely as it is rooted in more areas of life than just at the pump. One would be hard-pressed to name a product used by consumers that is not a derivative of hydrocarbons.
The future will carry new methodologies in using hydrocarbons like hydrogen conversion. The carbon capture aspect proves its sustainability and contribution to the planet. The complete package answer to clean energy involves multiple areas of assistance. Wind and solar will continue to develop their foothold in the energy-sourcing arena but cannot carry the load alone.
Multiple sources will pave the way to a clean energy transition, and hydrocarbons will be in the basket. Hydrogen use will assist in redefining how they are used in the future. Hydrogen can serve as a multipurpose path through emission control with a growing call to be environmentally responsible.
With that ability to reduce emissions, hydrogen prevails in energy conversion with an emissions reduction goal. Still, it will only persevere as far as society is willing to embrace its capabilities. Natural gas conversion and hydrogen substitution have proven to be an answer to a clean energy world, but it will take a significant investment in finances and acceptance.
“Energy transition does not come with financial benefits,” says McConnell. “It’s a decision we have to make as a society.”
When looking at where we stand on clean energy, we must venture further into explanation than just what we see and hear on television. The reality is that hydrocarbons are a cheap fuel source and domestic electric vehicle sales for 2021 accounted for approximately 4.8 percent. If numbers tell a story, these reveal where we are on clean energy acceptance, but hydrogen’s capabilities can certainly catalyze the transition.
Headline photo courtesy of Pixabay.