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Hydrogen-Based Energy Systems: Current Technology Development Status, Opportunities and Challenges


The use of hydrogen as an energy carrier within the scope of the decarbonisation of the world’s energy production and utilisation is seen by many as an integral part of this endeavour. However, the discussion around hydrogen technologies often lacks some perspective on the currently available technologies, their Technology Readiness Level (TRL), scope of application, and important performance parameters, such as energy density or conversion efficiency. This makes it difficult for the policy makers and investors to evaluate the technologies that are most promising. The present study aims to provide help in this respect by assessing the available technologies in which hydrogen is used as an energy carrier, including its main challenges, needs and opportunities in a scenario in which fossil fuels still dominate global energy sources but in which renewables are expected to assume a progressively vital role in the future. The production of green hydrogen using water electrolysis technologies is described in detail. Various methods of hydrogen storage are referred, including underground storage, physical storage, and material-based storage. Hydrogen transportation technologies are examined, taking into account different storage methods, volume requirements, and transportation distances. Lastly, an assessment of well-known technologies for harnessing energy from hydrogen is undertaken, including gas turbines, reciprocating internal combustion engines, and fuel cells. It seems that the many of the technologies assessed have already achieved a satisfactory degree of development, such as several solutions for high-pressure hydrogen storage, while others still require some maturation, such as the still limited life and/or excessive cost of the various fuel cell technologies, or the suitable operation of gas turbines and reciprocating internal combustion engines operating with hydrogen. Costs below 200 USD/kWproduced, lives above 50 kh, and conversion efficiencies approaching 80% are being aimed at green hydrogen production or electricity production from hydrogen fuel cells. Nonetheless, notable advances have been achieved in these technologies in recent years. For instance, electrolysis with solid oxide cells may now sometimes reach up to 85% efficiency although with a life still in the range of 20 kh. Conversely, proton exchange membrane fuel cells (PEMFCs) working as electrolysers are able to sometimes achieve a life in the range of 80 kh with efficiencies up to 68%. Regarding electricity production from hydrogen, the maximum efficiencies are slightly lower (72% and 55%, respectively). The combination of the energy losses due to hydrogen production, compression, storage and electricity production yields overall efficiencies that could be as low as 25%, although smart applications, such as those that can use available process or waste heat, could substantially improve the overall energy efficiency figures. Despite the challenges, the foreseeable future seems to hold significant potential for hydrogen as a clean energy carrier, as the demand for hydrogen continues to grow, particularly in transportation, building heating, and power generation, new business prospects emerge. However, this should be done with careful regard to the fact that many of these technologies still need to increase their technological readiness level before they become viable options. For this, an emphasis needs to be put on research, innovation, and collaboration among industry, academia, and policymakers to unlock the full potential of hydrogen as an energy vector in the sustainable economy.

Funding source: This work was supported by the grant SFRH/BD/145124/2019 and the projects UIDB/00481/ 2020, UIDB/04077/2020 and UIDP/00481/2020-FCT-Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia; and CENTRO-01-0145-FEDER-022083—Centro Portugal Regional Operational Programme (Centro2020) and Norte2020, under the PORTUGAL 2020 Partnership Agreement, through the European Regional Development Fund.
Related subjects: Policy & Socio-Economics
Countries: Portugal

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