Briefing Note | March 2021

Hydrogen

Key Points

There is increased interest in development of hydrogen and hydrogen derived products as both fuel sources and storage for intermittent renewable electricity.
Green hydrogen and derived products like ammonia have the potential to be used to store energy, to power peaking or firming electricity generators, to power transport vehicles and as a partial or total zero emissions replacement for some existing fossil fuels like methane (natural gas).
Green hydrogen gas can be produced using renewable electricity to electrolyse water. There are a range of proven electrolysing technologies.
These electrolysing processes are able to operate intermittently, absorbing periods of renewable electricity over-supply. The capital costs of the electrolysing technologies are expensive and so intermittent use increases the cost of the hydrogen, even if the electricity is cheap or even free.
There are further technical challenges beyond the electrolysis stage in the storing, transporting and use of hydrogen as an energy source.
Hydrogen is the lightest and smallest element in the periodic table. Its small molecules escape more easily through conventional containers (tanks, pipelines). It is also highly corrosive.
Hydrogen can be transported via pipelines, with one key area of research being the development of new pipeline polymers that can manage its physical challenges. Green hydrogen can also be blended with natural gas in conventional gas (up to around 15 per cent) with minimal modification required.
To facilitate storage and transport, hydrogen fuel chain research is exploring its conversion into other more manageable compounds. These include ammonia and methylcyclohexane (MCH). Both materials are easier to store and transport but require large amounts of energy to eventually release the stored hydrogen.

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