Why is pure hydrogen killing you

Hydrogen is the beacon of hope when it comes to displacing fossil fuels. The technology behind it has long been known, and now the European Union and numerous companies are also investing in the sustainable energy source.

Pure water vapor

The great advantage of generating energy from hydrogen is that the only emission that occurs is pure water vapor. Compared to electric vehicles, hydrogen-powered vehicles can be refueled faster and cover longer distances. This means that they offer the same options as traditional fuels and can also be operated as a hybrid with a combined energy supply from electricity and hydrogen. Hydrogen-powered vehicles are a good complement to electric cars, especially for heavy and time-consuming transports.

Mercedes-Benz GenH2 is a truck that is refueled with liquid hydrogen and, according to the manufacturer, has a range of 100 miles. The truck is to be tested by 2023. Photo: Daimler Truck AG

How hydrogen is converted into electricity

Water (H2O) is divided into oxygen (O2) and hydrogen (H2) with the help of electricity, after which the hydrogen gas can be stored in gas tanks in the vehicle. A so-called fuel cell can then convert the hydrogen gas into electricity, which drives the vehicle's electric motor. The only emission that comes out of the exhaust system is pure water vapor. The process also generates heat that can be used to heat the vehicle cabin, for example.

Storage, transportation and security

The most common methods of storing and transporting hydrogen are either in compressed form at 200 to 700 bar or in liquid form at -253 degrees Celsius. When the gas is used in vehicles, it is compressed to 350 to 700 bar in the vehicle's hydrogen tanks.

Hydrogen is one of the most widely used industrial gases today. The gas itself is flammable, but thanks to tested safety systems, hydrogen vehicles are as safe as other vehicles.

Transportation, manufacturing and heating

The areas of application for hydrogen as an energy carrier go far beyond the transport sector. The production and heating of buildings are two other industries in which hydrogen is already being used more and more. The technology also makes it possible to better balance the power grids. Since electricity can be stored in the form of hydrogen, supply and demand can be better coordinated. This means that solar energy from the summer months can also be stored and used for heating in winter.

Three challenges with hydrogen

The production has to be sustainable

Just like with electric vehicles that need green electricity for their battery, this is also needed for the production of hydrogen gas. This is one of the greatest challenges. Today's hydrogen is largely produced with non-renewable natural gas, so-called blue hydrogen. This needs to be gradually replaced by renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power.

The costs must be reduced

Fossil fuels are still much cheaper than using renewable energy. What is currently driving up costs is the price of fuel cell vehicles and the cost of the metals required to make fuel cells. It is believed that the mass production of vehicles, as well as all of the research currently being carried out on fuel cells, will result in continued price reductions.

The distribution needs to be expanded

Another challenge is the distribution of hydrogen. For example, there are currently only five public hydrogen filling stations in all of Austria. Germany is currently best equipped with 90 filling stations in Europe.

The EU's hydrogen strategy

As part of the EU's environmental agreement, a hydrogen strategy was presented in summer 2020 that shows how to switch from fossil fuels to hydrogen and to environmentally friendly production. EU Climate Commissioner Frans Timmermans is enthusiastic and has described gas as the "rock star of the new energy".

Exciting future

In summary, there are many advantages that the use of hydrogen brings with it. If everything continues as planned, hydrogen is certainly an exciting alternative to conventional drives, the use of which guarantees an ecologically sustainable energy supply in both transport and industry.