Hydrogen Energy: History, Applications, and Future Developments

A Brief History Of The Discovery Of Hydrogen 

The release of combustible gas during the interaction of metals and acids was observed as early as the 16th century. That is, during the formation of chemistry as a science. The famous English scientist Henry Cavendish had studied the substance since 1766, and gave it the name “combustible air”. When burned, this gas produced water. Unfortunately, the scientist’s adherence to the theory of phlogiston (the theory that suggested the existence of a fire-type element in materials) prevented him from coming to the correct conclusions.

Henry Cavendish (1731 – 1810)
Henry Cavendish (1731 – 1810) Source: https://www.butterflyfields.com/henry-cavendish-contributions-in-science/

In 1783 the French chemist and naturalist A. Lavoisier, together with the engineer J. Meunier, and with the help of special gas meters carried out the synthesis of water, and then its analysis by means of decomposition of water vapor with hot iron. Thus, scientists were able to come to the correct conclusions, and dismantle the phlogiston theory. They found that “combustible air” is not only a part of water but can also be obtained from it. In 1787, Lavoisier put forward the assumption that the gas under study is a simple substance and, accordingly, belongs to the number of primary chemical elements. He named it hydrogene (from the Greek words hydor – water + gennao – I give birth), that is, “giving birth to water”.

Antoine-Laurent
Antoine-Laurent
de Lavoisier (1743 – 1794). Source: https://educalingo.com/en/dic-en/lavoisier

A Little About The Properties Of Hydrogen 

In a free state and under normal conditions, hydrogen is a gas, and is colorless, odorless and tasteless. Hydrogen has almost 14.5 times mass less than air. It usually exists in combination with other elements, such as oxygen in water, carbon in methane, and organic compounds. Because hydrogen is chemically extremely active, it is rarely present as an unbound element.

Hydrogen cooled to a liquid state occupies 1/700 of the volume of the gaseous state. Hydrogen, when combined with oxygen, has the highest energy content per unit mass: 120.7 GJ / t.

In a 2:1 ratio with oxygen, it forms an explosive detonating gas. The combustion temperature of hydrogen is extremely high: 2800◦C. Hydrogen is an excellent reducing agent, which is why liquid hydrogen is used as a fuel for rockets and power supply of spacecraft, for which low molecular weight and high specific energy content of hydrogen are of paramount importance.

The Main Methods Of Obtaining And Using Hydrogen.

The reserves of hydrogen bound in organic matter and in water are practically inexhaustible. As a result, hydrogen can be obtained from a wide range of sources. Breaking these bonds allows hydrogen to be produced and then used as fuel.

Methods of obtaining hydrogen
Methods of obtaining hydrogen. Source:  https://www.hydrogeneurope.eu/hydrogen-production-0 

One of the traditional consumers of hydrogen is the chemical industry, where hydrogen is used for the production of ammonia and methanol, as well as the petrochemical industry. In oil refining, hydrogen is used in hydrocracking and hydrotreating processes, during which heavy hydrocarbon molecules are broken down into smaller ones; unsaturated hydrocarbons are saturated with hydrogen and the feedstock is purified from sulfur-nitrogen-containing compounds.

Numerous processes have been developed to decompose water into its constituent elements. Large-scale processes use hydrogen produced by various chemical methods – steam reforming of natural gas, reforming of higher hydrocarbons, and coal gasification.

Currently, a relatively large part of industrially produced hydrogen is obtained in the process of steam methane reforming. In this process, high temperature steam (1300°F to 1800°F) at a pressure of 3–25 bar (1 bar = 14.5 psi) reacts with methane in the presence of a catalyst to form hydrogen, carbon monoxide and relatively small amounts of carbon dioxide.

When heated above 2500°C, water decomposes into hydrogen and oxygen (direct thermolysis). Such high temperatures can be obtained, for example, using solar energy concentrators. The challenge here is preventing hydrogen and oxygen from recombining.

The share of hydrogen produced by the electrolysis of water, according to various estimates, is only 5 to 10% of the world’s total hydrogen production. Despite the higher cost of electrolytic hydrogen in comparison to hydrogen obtained from natural gas, the electrolysis of water method has a number of significant advantages (especially from an ecological point of view) that help make the case for its use in different industries.

Hydrogen Power Technologies

When hydrogen is burned in pure oxygen, the only products are high temperature heat and water. Thus, hydrogen combustion does not generate greenhouse gasses and does not even disrupt the water cycle in nature. When considering the climate crisis the globe is facing, and the depletion of our global fossil fuel supply, hydrogen suddenly becomes more appealing for transportation fuel, heating, and power generation.

Today, many countries are increasingly looking at hydrogen not only for its traditional uses, but also as the basis for the energy of tomorrow.

Hydrogen present and future
Hydrogen present and future. Source: Hydrogen energy technologies: Materials of the seminar of the laboratory of VET JIHT RAS: collection of articles. scientific. tr. / BEFORE. Dunikov. – M .: JIHT RAN, 2017. – Issue. 1. – 5-21s.

Throughout the first world, national and international programs have been adopted and are being implemented to develop elements of hydrogen energy, especially with the use of renewable energy sources. Propulsion systems using hydrogen are being installed on airplanes, cars, buses, ships, and trains. Homes are heated with hydrogen-fired heat sources.

Path to hydrogen competitiveness
Source: Path to hydrogen competitiveness. -88p. 20 January 2020 – https://hydrogencouncil.com 

Like we previously covered, the use of hydrogen as a fuel can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. For electricity production and heating, hydrogen can be used as a fuel for gas turbine plants or for power generation in fuel cells.

Gas turbines are currently used to drive an electric generator by themselves, or are used to supplement steam turbine power cycles, thereby increasing the efficiency of the power plant. Additionally, gas turbines and fuel cells can be installed in chemical or petrochemical plants where hydrogen is a by-product of production and it allows to get additional heat and electricity.

Heavy duty gas turbines in petrochemical plants
Heavy duty gas turbines in petrochemical plants:
Samsung’s Daesan plant (Korea) beats fuel flexibility
records with over 95% hydrogen in process gas
Source: Heavy duty gas turbines in petrochemical plants: Samsung’s Daesan plant (Korea) beats fuel flexibility records with over 95% hydrogen in process gas M. Molière M., R. Lallemand, GE Energy Products Europe M. K. Chun, H. K. Son, Samsung General Chemicals , Proceedings of the PowerGen Asia Conference Singapore, September 1999.
Zero Emissions Combined cycle
ENEL’s Fusina (Italy) zero emission combined cycle:
experiencing hydrogen combustion. Source:  ENEL’s Fusina zero emission combined cycle: experiencing hydrogen combustion Iarno Brunetti, Nicola Rossi, Stefano Sigali, Giuseppe Sonato, Stefano Cocchi, Roberto Modi.-POWER-GEN EUROPE 2010Track 2: Reducing the carbon footprint of fossil power generation Session 2: Hybrid power systems.-  ID NUMBER: 219
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Power Plant
Source: https://www.hanwha.com/en/news_and_media/press_release/hanwha-energy-celebrates-its-completion-of-the-worlds-first-and-largest-byproduct-hydrogen-fuel-cell-power-plant.html

Many turbine OEMs are pursuing new gas turbines and retrofitting existing machines for the full or partial use of hydrogen as a fuel. Among them are Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems (MHPS), General Electric, Siemens, Ansaldo Energia, Baker Hughes, MAN Energy Solutions, Solar Turbines and others. In particular, combustion chamber design in gas turbines is considering the use of hydrogen for fuel as opposed to traditional fossil-fuels.

Technologies using hydrogen fuel cells make it possible to create power plants of various capacities from small mobile plants of several kilowatts to large power plants of tens of megawatts.

Many turbine OEMs are pursuing new gas turbines and retrofitting existing machines for the full or partial use of hydrogen as a fuel. Among them are Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems (MHPS), General Electric, Siemens, Ansaldo Energia, Baker Hughes, MAN Energy Solutions, Solar Turbines and others. In particular, combustion chamber design in gas turbines is considering the use of hydrogen for fuel as opposed to traditional fossil-fuels.

Technologies using hydrogen fuel cells make it possible to create power plants of various capacities from small mobile plants of several kilowatts to large power plants of tens of megawatts.

Toshiba Hydrogen Fuel Cell
Toshiba Hydrogen Fuel Cell. Source: New Energy Systems Utilizing Hydrogen Derived from Renewable Energy.- Junichi Sato.- Hydrogen Energy Business Div. – Toshiba Energy Systems & Solutions Corporation .- Jun 24, 2019

From a technical point of view, such a fuel cell can be defined in terms of an electrochemical device for energy conversion. It converts particles of hydrogen and oxygen into water, in the process producing electricity along the way, that is, direct current.

A fuel cell is similar to a battery in that it generates direct current through a chemical reaction. Again, like a battery, a fuel cell includes an anode, a cathode, and an electrolyte. However, unlike batteries, fuel cells cannot store electrical energy, do not discharge, and do not require electricity to recharge. Fuel cells can continuously generate electricity as long as they have a supply of fuel and air.

There are many types of fuel cells, some of its are already in use in transportation and energy, while others are undergoing research tests. Most of them use hydrogen and oxygen as the main chemical elements required for electricity generation.

Fuel cell compression system topologies
Fuel cell compression system topologies. M=Motor, T=Turbine or Expander, C=Compressor. Source: Air Management in PEM Fuel Cells: State-of-the-Art and Prospectives,- Benjamin BLUNIER Student Member, IEEE, Abdellatif MIRAOUI Universite de Technologie de Belfort-Montb ´ eliard (UTBM), Belfort CEDEX 90010, France

Hydrogen in Transportation

The internal combustion engine that uses hydrogen is not very different in design from a conventional ICE. All the same cylinders and pistons, combustion chamber and crank mechanisms are used to convert reciprocating motion into useful work.

The ideas to build a hydrogen-fueled motor first appeared in 1806. The founder was François Isaac de Rivaz, who obtained hydrogen from water by electrolysis.

François Isaac de Rivaz (1752-1828)
François Isaac de Rivaz (1752-1828). Source: https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fran%C3%A7ois_Isaac_de_Rivaz

A few decades later (in 1841) the first patent for such an engine was issued, in 1852 a unit appeared in Germany that ran on a mixture of air and hydrogen.

From the 1920s to the early 1940s, extensive studies of the reactions of hydrogen combustion in oxygen and in the air were carried out by scientists from Germany, England, the USA, Russia, and others. This made it possible by the beginning of World War II to lay the scientific and technical foundations for the use of hydrogen as a fuel.

During the Second World War, the Soviet Union used a mixture of hydrogen and air as fuel for an internal combustion engine. About 500 engines ran on hydrogen and were used to operate barrage balloon winches. After the war, fossil fuels were inexpensive, and hydrogen fuel R&D declined in popularity for about 30 years.

In the 1970s, the fuel crisis renewed interest in the hydrogen engine. Automakers began work in the field, and by the end of the 20th century, numerous prototypes, gave way to successfully produced hydrogen-fueled engines. After the fuel crisis ended, work on hydrogen internal combustion engines was phased out. Today, interest in alternative energy sources is growing again, now due to the ever-present climate crisis. Today, GM, BMW, Honda, Ford Motor Company and others are working on hydrogen internal combustion engines.

Compared to a hydrogen-fueled internal combustion engine, hydrogen fuel cells are more environmentally friendly.

The principle of operation for hydrogen fuel cells is similar to that of electric vehicles, but they radically differ in the way they create energy that drives the engine and the car. Like electric vehicles, fuel cell vehicles use electric motors to move. However, unlike electric cars, which use the electric grid to supply energy to the batteries, fuel cell cars use energy  generated in the process of physical and chemical reactions occurring in the fuel cell onboard the car.

To do this, the car is fueled with hydrogen, which, when contacted by a catalyst and oxygen, generates an electric current that supplies energy to the motor and the car’s batteries. Maintenance typically involves replacing fuel cells that have exhausted their usefulness, typically from the catalyst membrane that reacts to the hydrogen and oxygen and generates electricity.

Fuel cell transport. Block diagram of a hydrogen car
Fuel cell transport. Block diagram of a hydrogen car. Source: https://www.eetimes.eu/ec-to-bet-on-hydrogen-fuel-cell-vehicles/

In aviation, as well as in power generation there are two main ways in which hydrogen is being used as an environmentally friendly fuel. The first is the combustion of hydrogen as a substitute for fossil fuel in gas turbine engines, and the second is the use of fuel cells to generate electricity, which supply electricity to an electric motor.

A future fuel for aviation
Source: Hydrogen | A future fuel for aviation? R. THOMSON, U. WEICHENHAIN, N. SACHDEVA, M. KAUFMANN. – PUBLISHER:ROLAND BERGER GMBH Sederanger 1 80538 Munich Germany. – p 28

Fuel cell-powered aircraft are expected to be used to transport cargo and passengers for small inter-regional flights. Small-sized aircraft with electric motors powered by fuel cells have been developed and tested.

Small-sized aircraft with electric motors
Small-sized aircraft with electric motors. Source: http://hy4.org/hy4-technology
Source: https://www.cnbc.com/2020/09/25/hydrogen-powered-passenger-plane-completes-maiden-flight.html

For long-distance flights, it is more practical to use aircraft with hydrogen-powered gas turbine engines. So Airbus unveiled three concepts for the world’s first zero-carbon commercial passenger aircraft, which could enter service by 2035.

Airbus
Source: https://www.airbus.com/newsroom/press-releases/en/2020/09/airbus-reveals-new-zeroemission-concept-aircraft.html

Transportation of Hydrogen Fuel

One of the problems with the widespread use of hydrogen as an environmentally friendly fuel alternative is the lack of developed infrastructure. Nowadays, hydrogen is mainly transported over long distances in a gaseous or liquefied state (in cryogenic tanks) over land or via sea transport. But transporting hydrogen this way can only cover the needs of only a small number of consumers (small industries, car filling stations, etc.). Therefore, options are being considered for using existing natural gas transportation systems, or creating new special systems for hydrogen transportation. To use the existing gas transmission system, an in-depth modernization project would have to be undertaken to account for hydrogen’s unique properties. At a gas station, for example, new turbomachinery and pumping equipment would be required in order to properly fuel hydrogen vehicles.

European Transnational Hydrogen Backbone
European Transnational Hydrogen Backbone – The natural gas infrastructure in Europe (blue and red lines) and an outline for a hydrogen backbone infrastructure (orange lines). The main part of the hydrogen backbone infrastructure consists of re-used natural gas transport pipelines with new compressors. A ‘’new’’ hydrogen transport pipeline must be created from Italy to Greece and from Greece to the Black Sea, and the southern coast of the Iberian peninsula would need a new hydrogen transportation line. Source: Green Hydrogen for a European Green Deal A 2×40 GW Initiative Prof. Dr. Ad van Wijk Jorgo Chatzimarkakis Hydrogen Europe Avenue de la Toison d’Or 56-60 BE-1060 Brussels +32 (0) 2 540 87 75 www.hydrogeneurope.eu

Most likely, all of the methods of hydrogen transportation discussed above will be used to varying degrees. Combinations of different transportation methods can be used depending on the methods of hydrogen production. Trailers with special pressurized containers can be used at the initial stage of the transition to a hydrogen economy, if the demand for hydrogen is relatively small. For medium-sized consumers, it seems more economical to deliver hydrogen in cryogenic tanks onboard trucks, which makes it possible to transport relatively large quantities of hydrogen to different territorial zones. Pipeline systems are most useful for transporting hydrogen to high-demand areas as more production facilities are connected to the grid.
The ideas to build a hydrogen-fueled motor first appeared in 1806. The founder was François Isaac de Rivaz, who obtained hydrogen from water by electrolysis

Are you working on an R&D project involving turbomachinery systems? Perhaps you are designing a new compressor or turbine which works with hydrogen? SoftInWay has you covered, and can help you forge a path to clean energy for the world. Reach out to us at info@softinway.com to learn more about our hydrogen-related capabilities.