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[Report] Let’s talk hydrogen!

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Hydrogen often makes the headlines for the role it can play in the energy transition. However, use of this molecule is not new. In over 50 years, Air Liquide has developed unique know-how across the entire hydrogen chain (from production to storage and distribution). We are passionate about this subject and so are you. We have therefore decided this fall to prepare a three-part report for you on this topic. Step one, back to basics: What is hydrogen? How is it produced and what are its main applications?

You cannot see them but, all around us, about one hundred chemical elements make up the universe: us and our environment. One of these is hydrogen. This colorless, odorless and very light molecule is the most abundant chemical element.

Hydrogen, combined with other elements in several molecules, represents 10% of the human body’s mass1.

But what is hydrogen?

What can it be used for? Can it replace our fossil fuels and thus revolutionize the energy transition? These questions are the focus of the first episode of “La minute hydrogène” podcast. Click on the button below and tune in. [in French]

How is it produced?

There are several ways to produce hydrogen. The most common way, which is mainly used for industries and currently represents more than 90% of global production, is by reforming natural gas. However, to avoid the use of fossil fuels, Air Liquide is moving towards a low-carbon hydrogen production, in particular for energy usages.

A brief overview of three ways of achieving this:

  • By reforming methane, fossil-based, and capturing CO2 emissions 

     

    Methane reforming is currently the most widely-used method to produce hydrogen. To limit the impact of this production, Air Liquide has developed CryocapTM. This cryogenic process (involving low temperatures to separate gases) allows capturing the CO2 released during hydrogen production while also increasing the hydrogen production efficiency.

  • By reforming biomethane 

     

    It is also possible to produce hydrogen through reforming but using biomethane as a source. This makes it possible to switch from fossil fuel-based gases to a gas derived from the decomposition of organic waste and thus with a low-carbon footprint.

  • Through water electrolysis 

     

    This is an alternative method of producing low-carbon hydrogen by using water and electricity produced using renewable energies (solar, wind, etc.). The electrolyzer separates oxygen from hydrogen, which is then compressed and stored.

  • This is the estimated decrease in the cost of producing low-carbon hydrogen by 20302.

What are its usages?

Hydrogen is a reagent used in several industrial sectors, particularly to produce various materials. For example, it can be combined with nitrogen to produce ammoniac, a base for fertilizers. It is a reagent that enters into the composition of textile fibers such as nylon, polyurethane foam and a number of plastic materials. 

Hydrogen is also used by the oil and gas industry to reduce the sulfur content in fuels and thus reducing the emissions of sulfur oxides which are responsible for acid rain.

Today, its abilities as an energy carrier could make hydrogen a key player in clean mobility, in particular to power cars, buses, trucks, trains, boats, and even planes.

Hydrogen energy can also be used to heat our homes, fuel certain sectors such as heavy industry using clean energy sources, and meet the increasing energy needs of digital technologies, such as in data centers. 

Testimonial
Pierre-Etienne Franc

Air Liquide Vice President Hydrogen Energy

"Hydrogen will be the key driver for a successful energy transition."

How can a simple molecule achieve all of this?
To help you understand, we interviewed Pierre-Étienne Franc.

Read

The different applications of hydrogen to discover.

Want to find out more?

For many years, hydrogen has had multiple applications, both in industry and in environmental preservation. This dedicated article gives an overview of its applications, from the best known to the most surprising ones.

Read more

Over to you!

After having read and listened to this report, can you answer the following four questions regarding hydrogen?
 

What was the global hydrogen consumption in 2018?

Global hydrogen consumption is rising and increased from 69.1 million tons in 2017 to 74 million tons in 2018.

What does a hydrogen-powered vehicle emit?

Hydrogen-powered vehicles are electric vehicles equipped with a fuel cell which transforms hydrogen into electricity.

The result: zero CO2 emitted, zero particulate matter and zero noise; these vehicles only emit water.

What is hydrogen used for in the space industry?

Since the very start of the space industry, hydrogen has played a major role as rocket fuel. This is the fuel with the highest concentration of energy.

1 kg of hydrogen has three times more energy than 1 kg of gasoline.

A key criterion considering that a space launcher must be as light as possible.
Today, a blend of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen is still used to the launch the Ariane 5 European heavy-lift launcher. 

According to consulting firm McKinsey, what share of global energy demand will hydrogen represent in 2050?

A report published by consulting firm McKinsey estimates that in 2050 this gas should generate annual revenue of 2,500 billion US dollars.

It should represent around 18% of global energy demand, help avoid 6 gigatons of CO2 emissions and create 30 million jobs.

Sources:
1. p. 6 Reginald H. Garrett, Charles M. Grisham et B. Lubochinsky (trad. Bernard Lubochinsky), Biochimie, Paris, De Boeck Université, 2000, 1292 p. (ISBN 978-2-7445-0020-6, OCLC 44434958, notice BnF no FRBNF37106164)
2. McKinsey report for the Hydrogen Council - Path to hydrogen competitiveness, a cost perspective - 2020

Article published on October 01, 2020