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Today there are three main types of manufactured hydrogen.
Once hydrogen is produced it can be transported as hydrogen gas or as a chemical, such as ammonia. In a further measure of its flexibility, hydrogen can be generated on site next to the energy supplier, such as a nuclear power station, offshore wind farm or solar plant. Alternatively, it can be generated at each service station for transport, or in a catchment area with a cluster of hydrogen fuelling stations for lorries, trucks and trains.
Another key development is the potential production of green liquid fuels from hydrogen. This requires green hydrogen being reacted with carbon dioxide captured from biomass plants or through direct air capture to extract the carbon dioxide.
The technology already exists for the production, transport and storage of hydrogen as well as the production of liquid fuels, and the industry is almost ready to go. Some refinement work is needed to scale up production from electrolysis and to re-purpose the existing gas transmission and distribution networks.
The main obstacle is now a lack of policies and regulations. In the UK the Health and Safety Executive and other regulatory bodies need to publish regulations and standards for all aspects of hydrogen value chain. A suite of national policies and directives is also required that set out government guidelines on taxation, carbon and hydrogen pricing, climate change levies, funding models, subsidies, government risk taking, and phasing out natural gas boilers and fossil fuel-based transport. Furthermore, a global understanding of hydrogen pricing is needed for nations to remain competitive.
Until such polies and regulations are in place, development work on projects cannot progress much further. Many energy-related organisations are spending their own funds on development so as to be project ready and to safeguard their future operations. However, investment is limited in the current uncertain regulatory environment.
Some governments have provided funds to kick-start demonstration projects while they finalise their hydrogen strategies, policies and regulations. These include Germany, the Netherlands and the UK. More governments are likely to follow in the near future.
The shift to hydrogen must be soon. If not, the global 2040−2050 net zero targets for carbon dioxide emissions could be just be more hot air.
Watch President-elect Rachel Skinner's inaugural address as she shares her thoughts on the theme of net-zero for her year in office here.
*This article is based on the authors’ briefing article in the latest issue (173 CE4) of the ICE Civil Engineering journal.
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