Hydrogen: where is low-carbon fuel most useful for decarbonisation?

(The Conversation, 9 Nov 2020) Is hydrogen the lifeblood of a low-carbon future, or an overhyped distraction from real solutions? One thing is certain – the coal, oil and natural gas which currently power much of daily life must be phased out within coming decades.

From the cars we drive to the energy that heats our homes, these fossil fuels are deeply embedded in society and the global economy. But is the best solution in all cases to swap them with hydrogen – a fuel which only produces water vapour, and not CO₂, when burned?

Answering that question are six experts in engineering, physics and chemistry.

Road and rail

Hu Li, Associate Professor of Energy Engineering, University of Leeds

Transport became the UK’s largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in 2016, contributing about 28% of the country’s total.

Replacing the internal combustion engines of passenger cars and light-duty vehicles with batteries could accelerate the process of decarbonising road transport, but electrification isn’t such a good option for heavy-duty vehicles such as lorries and buses. Compared to gasoline and diesel fuels, the energy density (measured in megajoules per kilogram) of a battery is just 1%. For a 40-tonne truck, just over four tonnes of lithium-ion battery cells are needed for a range of 800 kilometres, compared to just 220 kilograms of diesel.

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The Conversation, 9 Nov 2020: Hydrogen: where is low-carbon fuel most useful for decarbonisation?