What is Hydrogen? Why Do We Need Renewable Hydrogen?

What is Hydrogen? Why Do We Need Renewable Hydrogen?

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Andrew Cunningham

Managing Director

Andrew Cunningham

An understanding of hydrogen helps shed light on how we are using innovative systems to create renewable green energy for electric vehicles (EVs) and other renewable power applications.

In this article we’ll take a look at:

  • Hydrogen in nature
  • The different uses of hydrogen
  • Hydrogen 101 (video)
  • How GeoPura are using hydrogen as a renewable energy source
  • How you can get involved

Hydrogen in nature

In its pure form, at room temperature, hydrogen (H2) is a gas made up of two hydrogen atoms combined together.  Hydrogen atoms combine readily with other elements to form an enormous number of different molecules, many of which we rely on in our everyday lives. Hydrogen is actually the most common chemical element – it’s estimated that hydrogen atoms contribute 75% of the mass of the universe.  Hydrogen fuels the stars, including our sun, the ultimate source of the vast majority of our energy. Here on earth common commodities like water, plants, animals, food, clothes, and most fuels contain almost unimaginable numbers of hydrogen atoms.

Why use hydrogen?

Hydrogen has many uses as a pure gas, H2, and when combined with other substances to form the many compounds we rely on.  Hydrogen is used to produce products from margarine to rocket fuel, however more recently it’s gaining credibility as an environmentally compatible fuel.

A fuel is a chemical that can be ‘burnt’ to provide useful energy.  Burning normally means that chemical bonds between the elements in the fuel are broken and the elements chemically combine with oxygen (often from the air).  In other words, the fuel is oxidised. Most fuels contain a combination of carbon atoms (C) and hydrogen atoms (H), so that when they are oxidised (burnt) they produce heat, carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O).  For example, take the simple fuel molecule, methane, CH4.  Methane is the main constituent of ‘natural gas’ from oil and gas fields, as well as ‘shale gas’ from the process known as fracking.  When methane is burnt it chemically combines with oxygen (O2) according to the chemical formula:

CH4 + 3O2 > CO2 + 2H2O

Methane + Oxygen  react to give Carbon Dioxide + Water (Steam) and provides heat energy in the process.

Although coal, transport fuel, wood, and oil have more complicated chemical structures than methane, the reactions are similar with significant carbon dioxide being produced as a result of the reaction.  A large part of the useful energy being supplied by many fuels is produced by the hydrogen atoms combining with oxygen to form water. Reacting the carbon atoms in the fuel with oxygen to form CO2 produces a smaller proportion of the useful energy in most cases.  The carbon atoms in the fuel can almost be thought of as a convenient way of packaging the hydrogen atoms. Unfortunately, like a lot of packaging, we’ve discovered that the carbon in our commonly used fuels is creating a lot of problems. Carbon dioxide that results from burning these carbon fuels, is contributing to disastrously accelerating climate change.  The burning of the carbon based fuels often referred to as fossil fuels is actually destroying the environment we rely on.

More and more people now believe that we should drastically reduce our use of carbon based fuels, even if their carbon atom ‘packaging’ makes them convenient.  Instead we’ll just fuel our lives with pure hydrogen H2 directly, without carbon atoms.  When we burn pure hydrogen we get water. No environmentally damaging CO2 is released because the fuel didn’t contain any carbon.

2H2 + O2 > 2H2O  

The only outputs from this reaction are energy and water.

More and more people are becoming environmentally aware, understanding the need to protect the Earth and its natural resources.  Scientists, environmentalists and governments around the world, are fighting to find renewable energy alternatives such as green hydrogen, which would decrease the amount of fossil fuels and increase the amount of renewable energy we use on a day to day basis.  By doing so we can potentially make a huge difference to the future of life on our planet.

How GeoPura are using hydrogen as a renewable energy source

We have previously spoken about our commitment to finding electric vehicle charging solutions and the need for businesses and independent car park owners to make the switch to using our green hydrogen fuel cells to power their car parks to charge electric vehicles. We see the benefits of using hydrogen as a renewable source, so much so that we think it will be how we power our cars, and many other aspects of our lives.  How does this work in practice?

Well first of all some vehicles are being produced that can be directly filled with hydrogen from a pump/dispenser in a similar way as vehicles are filled with other fuels from a fuel station.  This form of renewable transport (sometimes referred to as FCEVs) is of considerable interest to those who have commercial or heavy good vehicles. GeoPura are happy to provide renewable hydrogen and dispensers for these customers.

However, many manufacturers are producing electric vehicles (EVs) that have batteries (sometimes referred to as BEVs) that need to be charged from a powerful electrical connection. The good news is that using our system hydrogen can easily be used to cleanly generate electricity that can then be used to charge BEVs. There are actually two main ways we can generate electricity from our renewable hydrogen:

  • The first method is to use hydrogen to fuel an internal combustion engine (just like fuelling the engine in a vehicle, or a gas turbine in a power station) which rotates rapidly driving an electrical generator.  The electrical generator works against a magnetic field to generate electricity as in most electricity supply systems.  This arrangement might often be referred to as a ‘Genset’  Of course the difference between using hydrogen and fossil fuels is that when you burn hydrogen, the ‘exhaust’ is clean water, not greenhouse gasses such as CO2 which you get from burning methane (shale or natural gas), coal, or oil based fuels!
  • The second way that electricity can be created from our hydrogen is to oxidise it in a fuel cell.  The oxidisation process in the fuel cell could be thought of as a more controlled form of burning but where most of the chemical energy is converted to electricity rather than heat.  In fact most chemical reactions involve a movement of electric charge between atoms, when this happens in a relatively random way we get heat, when it happens in a controlled manner we can directly generate electricity and a little less heat.   The advantage of the fuel cell in most cases is higher efficiency (as less heat is produced), the disadvantage is that fuel cells are still relatively expensive.

With the backing of large organisations such as Siemens, we’ve created business models that allow customers to benefit from renewable hydrogen right now by providing a service that insulates the end user from the cost of these components..  We’re positioning ourselves as market leaders in the renewable hydrogen supply chain to the benefit of our customers and the environment.

How can you get involved?

Our friendly team are on-hand. We want to show you the benefits of how switching to a fully renewable energy source, such as green hydrogen, can position you at the forefront of this movement (along with us) and help to protect the environment and longevity of the planet.

To learn how you can get involved as a car park owner and begin offering electric car charging in your car parks, simply get in touch today.

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