Wall Street Journal: Energy Giants Investing for Hydrogen Economy

An article from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal focuses on the investments that many large energy companies are taking steps to prepare for large-scale use of hydrogen as a fuel of the future in the fight to reduce carbon emissions worldwide.

Title of the article: “Major Energy Companies Bet Big on Hydrogen”
Link: https://www.wsj.com/articles/major-energy-companies-bet-big-on-hydrogen-11603392160 (subscription required to read full article, buy you can listen to the full audio version at the link)

According to the article, European energy giants like Royal Dutch Shell, BP and Repsol are seeing opportunities in developing the production of hydrogen. These companies all have goals and programs to reduce carbon emissions, and when it comes to hydrogen these companies already have expertise and experience with fuel storage, compression and transportation and can use those to their advantage when dealing with hydrogen.

Hydrogen is used in fuel cells where it is combined with oxygen to generate electricity. It can also be be burned to power an internal combustion engine. There are no carbon emissions when hydrogen is burned, but hydrogen combustion engines do produce nitrogen oxides (NOx) which are toxic.

The WSJ article cites a study by BloombergNEF titled “Hydrogen Economy Outlook” published earlier this year which stated that by 2050, one third of greenhouse gas emissions could be reduced if governments implement necessary policies to support the development of the hydrogen economy.

Such policies could be higher taxes on carbon fuels which could make hydrogen more competitive, or subsidies to support hydrogen production. At the moment, hydrogen is produced in various ways some of which require fossil fuel emissions. Color codes are used to identify different methods of hydrogen production: Brown – uses coal, grey – uses natural gas, blue – uses natural gas with carbon capture and storage, green – uses renewable energy such as solar or wind. Green hydrogen is considered the most environmentally desirable, but at the moment is also the most expensive.

The hydrogen economy has been talked about for many years, but hydrogen still seems to be a somewhat marginal player in the overall goal to transition away from carbon producing energy. If nothing better comes along, maybe it will help play a bigger role in our energy future, but it does seem to require a great deal of investment and infrastructure to be widely adopted.