Hopeful hydrogen

The lightest element should form the foundation of the new energy system. (Image: style-photography / iStock)

It is supposed to guarantee an ecologically sustainable energy supply: The federal government has declared hydrogen to be a core element of the energy transition. In the September issue, bild der Wissenschaft presents an overview of how “green” hydrogen could be generated, distributed and used on a large scale in the future. The possibilities look very promising – now a committed implementation of the strategies is required, so the conclusion.

Hydrogen, oxygen plus a spark and then it goes “boom”: The famous oxyhydrogen reaction makes it clear that the lightest of all elements can provide a powerful release of energy. The potential of hydrogen as an energy carrier has been known for a long time, but the implementation of such concepts has so far been hesitant because there have been more convenient alternatives. However, these have increasingly turned out to be problematic and so hydrogen has come back into focus. The German government now wants to consistently establish hydrogen as the energy carrier of the future. In June 2020 it presented its National Hydrogen Strategy (NWS): Investments in the billions are intended to get the technology out of its niche so that it can move ahead with climate protection.

The first article in the two-part title topic “Future of Hydrogen” illustrates what the fundamentals and perspectives look like. In it, the bdw author Güven Purtul first presents the techniques available for use. It becomes clear how “green” hydrogen can in principle be obtained quite easily by means of electricity from wind or sunlight through the electrolytic splitting of water. Concepts for storing and transporting the gas are also available and there are also diverse applications. The energy source can be used in traffic, for heating or cooling buildings and in industry. There is also a special possibility of use, the potential of which the author shows: through fuel cells in which hydrogen and oxygen gently combine with one another and release electrical energy and heat.

An eye on opportunities and challenges

In principle, hydrogen can also be used to produce any fuel in a climate-neutral way, the author reports. The main challenge now is to provide technologies and infrastructures to skillfully combine the individual elements of hydrogen technology. The goal must be to create a solid economic concept. As part of the sub-article “The hydrogen takes off”, Purtul explains how this can be achieved.

In the second part of the title topic, the author then specifically addresses the question of how the enormously growing demand for “green” hydrogen could be met. So far, gas has been regarded as the expensive “champagne among the forms of energy”. It is clear: in order to make hydrogen the carrier of the energy transition, it has to become affordable. The focus is on the sunniest regions on earth, reports Purtul. The planned concept: In the North African desert belt, for example, huge solar power plants produce electricity that is sent to the coast. There, the electrical energy is then used to desalinate seawater and convert it into green hydrogen by electrolysis. It could then be liquefied under high pressure and transported by sea. But production is also expected to increase in Germany: the first systems are in test operation, producing so-called wind gas. Electricity from wind energy is used for the electrolytic production of hydrogen. However, their profitability depends heavily on the political framework, says the author.

You will find the cover topic “Future Hydrogen” in the September issue of Bild der Wissenschaft, which will be available in stores from August 18th.

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