What it is
The fuel with the highest energy content.
Among the many elements that make up matter, hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant. Among conventional fuels, it has the highest energy content per unit of weight: three times greater than petrol.
Hydrogen is also the propellant that feeds the reactions in nuclear fusion, which is the process that makes stars shine. The renewable energy that reaches the Earth from the Sun each day originates from hydrogen. Furthermore, used in fuel cells, hydrogen combines with oxygen to produce electrical energy and water. Given all its characteristics, hydrogen can be decisive in the de-carbonisation of energy-intensive industries, such as the air and sea transport, steel, and chemical industries.
According to various studies, including the report, “Hydrogen Roadmap Europe: A sustainable pathway for the European Energy Transition”, hydrogen can become an essential element in accelerating energy transition and in generating significant socio-economic and environmental benefits, meeting 24% of final energy demand and creating 5.4 million jobs by 2050, in addition to contributing to a total reduction of 560 million tonnes of CO2.
The only 100% sustainable hydrogen is known as “green” and is obtained through the electrolysis of water in special electrochemical cells powered by electricity generated from renewable sources.
How it is produced
Electrolysis of water.
Hydrogen is obtained from electrolysers which, in order to be 100% sustainable, must be powered by renewable sources, such as wind farms or photovoltaic plants.
Electrolysers, or electrolytic cells, separate water into its component parts: hydrogen and oxygen.
An electrolytic cell placed near a renewable source plant produces electricity. The hydrogen produced performs the function of chemical “storage”, which can be used later, when needed, as a raw material in the steel production process or as a fuel to provide heat at high temperatures.
Clean, efficient, and does not produce emissions.
Burning hydrogen with air inside combustion engines or gas turbines results in a considerable reduction in emissions.
The direct conversion of fuel into energy through an electrochemical reaction allows a fuel cell to deliver, for the same fuel, greater power compared to traditional combustion.
A fuel cell can work with hydrogen coming from any fossil fuel (natural gas, methane, methanol).
A fuel cell works in a temperature range from 80°C to 1000°C. These values are significantly lower than the 2300°C which is reached inside a combustion engine.
The exothermic heat of an electrochemical reaction that takes place in a fuel cell can be re-used to heat water or to meet heating or cooling needs. This re-use of heat increases a fuel cell’s efficiency to up to 90%.
The operation of a fuel cell does not require any moving parts. This results in a simpler design, greater reliability, and quieter operation.
Hydrogen is the only fuel which, regardless of the type of use, in thermal engines or in fuel cells, does not produce polluting emissions but simply water.
The extremely low environmental impact, from the point of view of both gaseous and acoustic emissions, allows plants to be installed even in residential areas and requires few government permits. The hydrogen used in a fuel cell produced from renewable sources eliminates the environmental damage associated with the extraction of fossil fuels from oilfields.
Hydrogen fuel cells can be used in domestic co-generation plants, in which there is joint and simultaneous production of electrical energy and heat. These plants connect different sources of energy together in such a way as to guarantee energy availability throughout the day. One practical example of an application is to combine a photovoltaic panel system and wind turbines with a fuel cell.
In this way, the availability of electrical energy will always be possible under any atmospheric conditions, by exploiting the sun and the wind, when possible, and storing the surplus production in the form of hydrogen.
In addition, during the day, it will be possible to use solar energy for domestic heating and, combined with wind energy, to produce energy during the evening and night, when exploiting the energy produced by the sun is no longer possible.
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