Friday, February 24, 2012

Renewable Hydrogen-Future source of clean energy

I use the word ‘renewable Hydrogen’ for the Hydrogen derived from water using renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, geothermal, wave energy, ocean thermal energy conversion systems and biological processes. Hydrogen is clearly the energy source of the future because it has got the highest energy content, compared to any other fossil fuels such a diesel, gasoline, or Butane. The energy content is more than three times that of natural gas, which is currently considered as the cleanest commercial fuel available in the market. The heating value of Hydrogen is 61,100Btu/lb compared to 23,879 Btu/lb of natural gas. Moreover, only Hydrogen can guarantee a complete reduction of Carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The problem with renewable Hydrogen is the cost, at current situation. The DOE (department of energy, USA) has targeted a cost for Hydrogen production at $10to $15 per mmBtu, which is comparable with current Natural gas cost. Currently bulk of the Hydrogen is commercially produced by steam reforming natural gas. However; this process will emit carbon dioxide at the rate of 11,888gms per Kg of Hydrogen produced. Though the cost of Hydrogen by this route is cheaper, mitigation of carbon dioxide is clearly an environmental issue. However it is an important route during the transition process from fossil fuel to a full- fledged Hydrogen economy of the future. Natural gas is increasingly in demand and the price of natural gas keeps increasing as the supply demand gap widens. Large natural gas liquefaction plants are already in operation in many parts of the world and number of new plants are under implementation or under planning stages. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan are three largest importers of LNG (liquefied natural gas) from Australia in Pacific region. There are many coal seam methane gas facilities already in operation in Australia and many are under planning. Due to the disaster at Fukashima nuclear plant, Japan has stepped up its import of LNG. India and China, which have been traditionally using coal as a major fuel, have started importing LNG for their power plants. This has pushed the prices of LNG in the international market significantly. Though LNG is relatively a cleaner fuel, it is very expensive to build import terminals. Moreover countries like India and China do not have a good distribution network by pipelines.The economy of scale also favor only large capacity LNG plants and terminals. However it is not a sustainable solution in the long run considering the fact that supply of natural gas also keeps dwindling steadily. Despite all these obstacles, Governments around the world are looking only for short term solutions like LNG, simply because it is an easy fix. Biogas can be generated from organic waste and waste waters by anaerobic digestion. Many sewage treatment plants around the world have started generating biogas to generate power and use captively and to export the surplus power to the grid. Similarly municipalities are also implementing projects to convert ‘waste garbage’ to ‘energy’. However, the scale of operation favors only large capacity plants in larger cities. However these biogas plants will still emit carbon dioxide because biogas will be combusted using conventional engines, micro turbines and Fuelcells.This is once again a temporary solution only. We need to look beyond all these technologies to really reduce the greenhouse emissions. The only option is by Renewable Hydrogen and we need to take steps to make it a commercial reality. Biohydrogen is another potential technology. However the technology is still in a nascent stage but it is promising. Renewable Hydrogen using renewable energy sources are our best bet. Countries have already started investing in renewable energy infrastructures such as solar and wind. They can as well plan for renewable Hydrogen so that they can be certain about three things. One, they can generate and use uninterrupted power supply without importing oil or gas. Secondly they can be certain that greenhouse emissions can be reduced to pre-industrialization level. Thirdly they can be certain about the final cost of energy and its stability in the long run. These are three important factors every citizen of a country is looking for. It requires political will, determination and swift action on the part of individual Governments.