Green Hydrogen — Where Is It Useful? Where Is It Not?


January 31st, 2021 by  

In this episode of our CleanTech Talk podcast interview series, Zach Shahan sits down with Mark Z. Jacobson, professor at Stanford University and co-founder of The Solutions Project, to discuss green hydrogen. You can listen to the full conversation in the embedded player below. Below that embedded SoundCloud player is a brief summarization of the topics covered, but tune into the podcast to follow the full discussion.

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Zach’s focus for this episode of CleanTech Talk is everything green hydrogen from the perspective of Mark, one of the world’s top renewable energy scientists. As a hot topic in clean energy circles, Zach was concerned green hydrogen technology might not deserve the hype it’s been getting as a significant sustainable energy solution. They also dabble in the topic of carbon capture and storage (CCS).

Zach and Mark start their discussion on green hydrogen by exploring where it is particularly useful today and where it might be useful in the future. Hydrogen, as Mark explains, is mainly beneficial when talking about long-distance, heavy transport. And, he emphasizes, it is typically only a good solution if it is created by clean renewable energy in the first place. Why long-distance, heavy transport? According to Mark, it is much easier, more energy efficient, and more cost efficient to use conventional batteries in personal electric vehicles. However, there is a crossover point at which carrying around too many batteries means a loss of efficiency due to how heavy they are, indicating the point at which green hydrogen fuel cells become a more sustainable option.

Both Zach and Mark explore a number of specific examples related to where hydrogen can have an impact in the equation of combating climate change, including long-distance air travel and steel production.

While there are some exciting applications for hydrogen, Mark does caution against narratives that hydrogen should be used for electricity production or grid storage. His takeaway is that it is much more nuanced than many hydrogen enthusiasts give it credit for. Using hydrogen for grid electricity results in significant energy loss, for example, and using hydrogen that is generated by natural gas electricity defeats the point of it being a sustainable energy source. Mark worries that with all of these tangential applications popping up for hydrogen, fossil fuel companies will make the excuse that they should be producing hydrogen with fossil fuels. There are many applications of hydrogen that are beneficial, he says, and many that are damaging. This is why, he explains, education will be key. In fact, Mark’s most recent book, 100% Clean, Renewable Energy Storage for Everything, talks in more detail about his nuanced opinions of hydrogen and its applications.

Zach and Mark also talked about a number of articles relevant to this conversation:

The two briefly touch on battery storage and transitioning to renewable energy in the United States. Mark has been particularly interested in California, which experiences peak electricity demand in summer due to air conditioning use. He explains that if we simply invested in more solar to meet daytime demands and more offshore wind to meet evening demands, we could avoid the need for long-term storage. This is one example of many situations, Mark notes, where the best solution is simply an expansion of renewable energy capacity, not more expensive energy storage.

Zach and Mark wrap up this episode by talking about CleanTechnica’s focus on hydrogen moving forward. As Mark says, hydrogen has to be produced by clean renewable energy, with one exception being producing it using captured methane from landfills. And most of the application of hydrogen will be in long-distance, heavy transport (ships, large planes, and perhaps long-distance semi trucks). Further, Mark believes that the future of clean energy and decarbonization in the US should focus on maxing out renewable energy for grid electricity before moving onto hydrogen. The two dive into a summary of how to transition the world to renewable energy and storage.

To hear more on these topics, as well as Mark’s plan for a clean energy transition, listen to the show!

Listen to more CleanTech Talk episodes here


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About the Author

Winter Wilson is a Cutler Scholar and undergraduate student double majoring in Environmental Studies and Journalism at Ohio University’s Honors Tutorial College, with a minor in French. Her academic interests include environmental communication, technology and social innovation, especially as they relate to international climate change mitigation and adaptation. Though Winter attends school in her hometown of Athens, Ohio, she takes advantage of her breaks to explore the world beyond. She spent her most recent break undertaking self-driven research on climate change and environmental justice in Southeast Asia. This year, she will be completing her dual thesis and supplementary documentary series on climate change communication. Winter is excited to contribute to and work with the team at CleanTechnica as a Summer Editorial Intern.

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