Government Support, Partnerships Advancing Clean Hydrogen Tech Deployment
Clean hydrogen is a versatile, flexible energy alternative with an emerging role in achieving global decarbonization goals.
Clean hydrogen (also called “green” or renewable hydrogen) is produced with low- or zero-carbon methods, minimizing greenhouse gas emissions. Its multi-sector versatility is quickly making it a valuable tool in decarbonization the economy and achieving climate change mitigation goals.
Smoke stacks. Image used courtesy of Pexels
As researchers work to lower the production costs of creating clean hydrogen, many governments have launched roadmaps to help expand the production and use of clean hydrogen globally.
Clean Hydrogen’s Economic Feasibility
In recent years, clean hydrogen has grown as a means to achieve a decarbonized economy as it reduces or eliminates the carbon dioxide emissions generally associated with hydrogen production.
Unfortunately, the economic viability of green hydrogen has been challenged by the high costs associated with water electrolysis devices used in its production. Some of the materials used in constructing water electrolysis devices, such as platinum and iridium, commonly used as catalysts, can be expensive due to their limited availability and high demand.
Researchers from the Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Research Center at the Korea Insitute of Science and Technology (KIST) have announced a breakthrough in technology that substantially reduces the usage of platinum and iridium in polymer electrolyte membrane water electrolysis devices. This advancement paves the way for lowering production costs and improving the economic feasibility of clean hydrogen.
In a conventional electrolysis device, two parts make hydrogen and oxygen.
For the part that makes oxygen, which runs in a harsh environment, a layer of gold or platinum is placed on the surface of the part to provide protection and ensure efficiency. About 1 milligram of gold or platinum is used for every square centimeter of the surface. On top of that, a layer of iridium catalyst is added by about 1-2 milligrams for every square centimeter.
The problem is that these precious metals used in electrolysis devices are not easily available, and there isn't much production. This shortage of precious metals is one of the main reasons why it's difficult to make a lot of green hydrogen production devices.
Previous research aimed at reducing the production costs of electrolysis devices focused on minimizing the use of the iridium catalyst while retaining a structure reliant on substantial amounts of platinum and gold for the electrode protection layer. The scientists from KIST took a different approach.
They substituted the precious metal in the protective layer with cost-effective iron nitride (Fe2N), which possesses a large surface area, then uniformly applied a small quantity of iridium catalyst on top of the iron nitride. This approach significantly reduced the production cost of the electrolysis device.
To do this, the KIST researchers developed a compound process to coat the electrode with iron oxide ‒ a material with poor conductivity ‒ then transform the iron oxide into iron nitride to increase the conductivity.
The transformation of iron oxide to iron nitride increases the conductivity of the electrolysis device. Image used courtesy of Science Direct
The team also developed a method to evenly apply a very thin layer of iridium catalyst, only about 25 nanometers thick, on top of the iron nitride protective layer. This reduced the amount of iridium catalyst used to less than 0.1 milligrams for every square centimeter, creating an electrode that efficiently produces hydrogen and is very durable.
This new electrode replaces the need for expensive gold or platinum used in the protective layer of the oxygen-generating electrode. Instead, the less-expensive, non-previous metal nitride work just as well.
The team also managed to reduce the amount of iridium catalyst needed by 90 percent. The new electrolysis device was tested for over 100 hours and remained stable.
The substitution of cost-effective iron nitride for platinum is significant in enabling the widespread and economically feasible adoption of water electrolysis devices for clean hydrogen production. After further testing, the KIST team will soon incorporate this new method into commercial devices.
Government Support for Clean Hydrogen
Clean hydrogen is expected to have a crucial role in the future, as it will help reduce emissions in energy-intensive sectors such as industry, chemical processes, and heavy-duty transportation. It can also contribute to the growth of renewable power by enabling long-duration energy storage, offering flexibility, and creating various revenue streams for clean power generation, including renewables, advanced nuclear, and other innovative technologies.
In June, the Biden Administration released the U.S. National Clean Hydrogen Strategy and Roadmap, which aims to accelerate the production, processing, delivery, storage, and use of clean hydrogen in the United States. The deployment of hydrogen at a commercial scale is expected to support the development of a robust clean energy economy and facilitate long-term decarbonization goals.
The growing hydrogen economy in the United States can potentially create around 100,000 new jobs, directly and indirectly, by 2030.
The Strategy and Roadmap outlines three key strategies to support the effective development and adoption of clean hydrogen: targeting strategic and high-impact applications, reducing the cost of clean hydrogen, and building regional networks for clean hydrogen.
These strategies support directing clean hydrogen towards sectors where a renewable alternative will have the most impact ‒ such as heavy-duty transportation and long-duration energy storage ‒ while also making clean hydrogen production more economically viable and maximizing the potential for scalability.
In April, Canada introduced a budget of 17.7 billion CAD for funding the new Clean Hydrogen Investment Tax Credit (ITC) until 2035.
The ITC will be accessible to hydrogen projects regardless of whether they also generate carbon dioxide (as long as it is captured and stored or utilized) or produce and sell surplus electricity. Initially, eligible projects include facilities that produce hydrogen through electrolysis or natural gas with carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS). However, the government will continue to evaluate other forms of production in the future. The credits will be refundable and can be claimed once the eligible equipment is ready for use.
The ITC will cover the expenses of acquiring and installing the necessary equipment for hydrogen production through electrolysis or natural gas combined with CCUS.
The European Union’s hydrogen strategy, adopted in 2020, outline policy recommendations in five areas: investment support, production, and demand, establishing a hydrogen market and infrastructure, research and cooperating, and international cooperation.
By the first quarter of 2022, all 20 key actions listed in the strategy were successfully implemented.
Since 2021, some legislative proposals have been announced that set targets for increasing the use of clean hydrogen in industry and transport by 2030. This includes a ‘hydrogen accelerator’ proposal to rapidly increase the adoption of clean hydrogen, thereby expediting the energy transition and the decarbonization of the EU's energy system. The goal is to achieve a production capacity of 10 million tonnes and import an additional 10 million tonnes of renewable hydrogen within the EU by 2030.
As part of the hydrogen accelerator initiatives, the Commission has put forward a proposal to establish a European hydrogen facility on a global scale. This facility aims to enhance investment certainty and foster business prospects for renewable hydrogen production in Europe and worldwide.
The European Hydrogen Bank and the green hydrogen partnerships work together to create a framework that promotes fair competition between hydrogen production within the EU and imports from third countries. They aim to ensure a balanced playing field for all stakeholders, including EU countries and the industry.
Clean Hydrogen Future
Investment in clean hydrogen and reducing production costs are key drivers in transitioning toward a sustainable and decarbonized energy system. Collaboration between governments, researchers, and industry stakeholders is crucial to further develop and scale clean hydrogen technologies, unlocking its full potential in achieving a cleaner and more sustainable future.
With the many global support initiatives and researchers working to reduce production costs, clean hydrogen will soon be among the more popular renewable energy options.