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Hydrogen: The Key Ingredient in the Future of Fuel

July 10, 2023

It isn’t surprising that hydrogen, the fuel responsible for powering the stars, may be the key to powering the earth. But it may be surprising to learn just how close we are to making this transition.

Hydrogen is the lightest element, with only one proton and one electron. Despite its size, it has a higher energy density by mass than any fossil fuel available today. Hydrogen is commonly found as a gas in bonded pairs of atoms, written H2. These molecules join with oxygen to form the water all around us. We are close to realizing a future where hydrogen can be cheaply extracted from water molecules to serve as an energy-dense fuel source while producing no carbon dioxide emissions nor any other greenhouse gas emissions.

Today, most hydrogen is used in the production of ammonia for agricultural purposes. Research is underway in labs and industries around the world to expand hydrogen’s use in the emerging carbon-free fuels sector. These uses include hydrogen fuel cells used in cars like the Toyota Mirai and even heavy machinery like First Mode’s 210 metric ton mining truck. These hydrogen fuel cells generate electricity by reacting hydrogen with atmospheric oxygen and then store this electricity in batteries to power the vehicle’s engine and other functions. Other active areas of research include the use of hydrogen to manufacture synthetic fuels using renewable energy. These green fuels include not only ammonia, but also green versions of fossil fuels like gasoline, diesel, and aviation fuels. Creating these fuels using economical methods which do not emit any greenhouse gases will enable a quick transition to a carbon-free and carbon-neutral economy.

Hydrogen Production Overview 

Most hydrogen today is produced using either:

natural gas (through the steam methane reformation process) or coal (through the coal gasification process).

Both pathways produce tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, every metric ton of hydrogen produced using steam methane reformation produces more than 10 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions. Every metric ton of hydrogen produced using coal gasification produces more than 20 metric tons CO2e emissions. Eliminating fossil fuel feedstocks and instead creating green hydrogen will be a big step towards reaching net-zero emissions goals by 2050.

There are several ways to use renewable energy to produce hydrogen. The primary method is to use green electricity in a process called water electrolysis to split water into hydrogen and oxygen. Two types of electrolyzers that do this (proton exchange membrane, or PEM, and alkaline) are both mature technologies available at industrial-scale implementations. One challenge with electrolysis, however, is that it is notoriously energy intensive and inefficient: the electricity required to produce just one metric ton of hydrogen could power an average US household for more than five years! Research is underway to develop newer electrolysis methods (such as solid oxide electrolysis cells, or SOECs) which provide promising, energy efficient ways to split hydrogen from water, but these methods are not yet available at the scale needed to power our needed fuel transition.

EGXFuels’ Advantage

EGXFuels is developing patented technologies to incorporate both geothermal heat and waste heat from other processes directly into alkaline electrolysis and SOECs. By raising the electrolysis temperature beyond 200°C, EGXFuels’ technologies greatly improve the energy efficiency of the hydrogen production process and reduce the needed green electricity by 33%. Put another way, our technologies will enable each of our production sites to produce 50% more hydrogen, enabling EGXFuels to reach the production scale needed to meaningfully combat climate change at a competitive cost.

To stay up to date on our exciting green fuel research and development, follow us on LinkedIn at @EGXFuels.