Hydrogen energy is an alternative fuel, despite its overall availability. There are numerous ways that hydrogen energy can be produced. Even our current energy grid can help us to produce this form of energy. Once it is created, the energy can be stored within a fuel cell that can run continuously with the presence of fuel and oxygen.
The interest in hydrogen energy is growing as the desire to be environmentally responsible with energy consumption grows. Burning fossil fuels creates emissions that may be destructive to the atmosphere. Renewable energy resources are not always affordable or available in certain geographic locations. That makes this energy option a viable resource that could benefit many.
Here are the pros and cons of hydrogen energy to consider when evaluating it as a potential fuel for the future.
List of the Pros of Hydrogen Energy
1. There are fewer exposure risks with hydrogen energy.
When using energy from fossil fuel resources, there are multiple dangers to consider. There are 150+ chemicals in gasoline, for example, and high levels of exposure to some of them may have a carcinogenic effect on the body. The use of nuclear energy creates the risk of a large-scale incident should a meltdown occur. These risks disappear with hydrogen energy. Freeze burns and flammability concerns are the primary issues to address with this energy resource.
2. There are fewer emissions to worry about.
Using hydrogen energy reduces the number of emissions that are produced from personal energy consumption. A hydrogen fuel cell produces zero harmful emissions when it is being used. Only water vapor is produced as a result of consuming hydrogen energy. If one vehicle were converted from a standard combustion engine to one powered by hydrogen, it would eliminate almost 5 metric tons of carbon dioxide being introduced to the atmosphere.
3. There are better energy outputs with hydrogen.
Hydrogen energy is more effective as a fuel. If used in vehicles, a driver can achieve a 100% better fuel economy with hydrogen when compared to gasoline. More than 10 million tons of hydrogen are created each year for industrial use because of the energy output that it offers. It can even be used as an energy resource to help refine petroleum. As an added benefit, the vapor from hydrogen energy can even be condensed into water that is safe to drink.
4. There are no toxicity issues associated with hydrogen energy.
There are multiple ways to generate hydrogen energy without the same dangers of exposure or harvesting that are associated with fossil fuels. In 2012, there were 138 workers killed in the oil industry in the United States. The rate of casualties within the oil industry is 8 times higher than the rates found in all industries combined. Many of these issues disappear with the creation of hydrogen energy.
5. There are fewer costs to transport hydrogen energy.
Even with all the expected losses to consider with hydrogen energy, the cost to transport it is much higher than any other type of energy. The cheapest installation of hydrogen transportation networks to-date has been over $210,000 per mile. When the first hydrogen pipelines were installed, it came at a cost of $2 million per mile. In 2014, estimated pipeline costs for crude oil in the United States were much higher, averaging $6.5 million per installed mile. In Massachusetts, installed crude oil pipelines in 2014 were installed at a cost of $17 million per mile.
6. There are no degradation issues with hydrogen energy.
Once the energy is created from hydrogen, the reliability of that energy remains constant. Other energy resources struggle to maintain transmission levels. The most efficient energy resources come from natural gas, and even then, the fuel is only about 45% efficient. For coal, oil, and nuclear energy, about 65% of the energy produced at the plant is lost in transmission. Hydrogen energy has an efficiency rate of 60% or greater when transmitting energy to a new location.
7. There are fewer installation issues.
Hydrogen energy, when incorporated into a fuel cell, can be used at virtually any geographic location. It is a flexible energy resource that can be used in a wide variety of ways. As long as the items being used have a compatible receptor to accept the energy, the fuel cells can even work with other power resources to supplement available power. They also require less maintenance than other fuel sources and there is less of an energy drop-off that occurs as the fuel cell reaches the end of its life cycle.
8. There are fewer spatial issues.
Hydrogen energy can be stored in fuel cells that are extremely small. Think about the size of the average laptop battery and you’ve got a fuel cell that could power almost anything. This sizing advantage allows a fuel cell to be installed almost anywhere, assuming that the energy can be transmitted in some way. There are fewer worries about placing it next to a wall or storing it in a specific environment. The only exception here is that hydrogen energy cannot be stored in extremely hot environments.
9. There are opportunities to limit foreign energy dependence.
Countries that are able to take the lead on hydrogen energy production will be the first to alleviate their dependence on foreign energy resources. Much of the world’s oil is produced in about 20 countries. The nations without oil access rely heavily on imports to meet their domestic needs. By developing hydrogen energy, these countries can stop putting money towards energy. They can put that money toward building up their own infrastructure instead.
List of the Cons of Hydrogen Energy
1. It is based on fossil fuel technologies right now.
About 95% of the hydrogen energy that is produced right now comes from natural gas. It is created through steam methane reformation, which allows the hydrocarbons in the gas to be broken into hydrogen and carbon dioxide. That means carbon is released into the atmosphere when hydrogen is created, making it less of a renewable fuel source than many realize. Only when technologies allow for hydrogen energy to be generated from other sources will it become a true renewable option.
2. It is a costly way to generate energy.
The U.S. Department of Energy funded a 10-year, $950 million product to create hydrogen energy from a coal-fired power plant. The design of the plant would then remove the carbon created from the energy process by placing it underground. It is billed as being the first zero-emissions fossil fuel energy resource. It also creates unknowns, such as how the planet may react with the higher levels of carbon dioxide storage under the surface.
3. It has transportation issues to consider.
When transporting hydrogen, there is an expected 20% energy loss associated with its movement. Hydrogen energy loses an average of 1% of its viability for every day that it is kept in storage for transportation. There are also boil-off losses associated with hydrogen energy that can be as high as 50%. For this technology to be effective, it must be produced locally to minimize energy loss. Otherwise, the actual costs of production for this energy resource will always be higher than other energy types.
4. It is not always compatible with current infrastructure technology.
Our current energy structure is based off of what fossil fuel energies could produce. As renewables were developed, it was discovered that solar and wind energy could be converted into a resource that worked with the current infrastructure. Hydrogen energy is different. It requires the manufacture of fuel cells to store the energy. Although new resources could be developed simultaneously with these fuel cells, the current infrastructure would likely find the energy to be incompatible with what currently exists.
5. It does not perform well in certain conditions.
Hydrogen energy is difficult to use in certain temperatures and environments. With our current technology, this energy resource is ineffective at temperatures where water begins to boil. We currently use polymer exchange membranes to generate the hydrogen energy we use, and these membranes do not perform in high temperature environments. Because of this limitation, it becomes difficult to use hydrogen energy in multiple platforms, including vehicles, because of the heat present in that environment.
6. It has limited availability.
Hydrogen energy is not available with easy access. It may be produced on an industrial scale to meet specific needs right now, but it is not produced on a commercial scale, or a residential scale, much at all. In the United States, as of January 2018, there were 39 publicly available hydrogen fuel stations. 35 of those stations were located in California, with most in the Bay Area or the Los Angeles metroplex. The other four stations are located in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and South Carolina. That makes it difficult to use this energy for anything but local use.
7 of the stations with publicly available hydrogen energy require permission from the original equipment manufacturer to access the fuel, along with a pre-authorization from the fuel provider.
7. It could harm the environment.
Hydrogen is an abundant gas. It is also balanced with other gases in our atmosphere to create a specific result. When we produce hydrogen energy, we release more of this gas into our atmosphere. Too much hydrogen is known to interfere with the ozone that is present in our atmosphere. Without adequate ozone, we are subjected to more of the UVA and UVB transmitted by the sun, which could change our environment, endanger our health, and create other concerns of which we do not know of yet.
8. It requires a constant fuel source.
One of the primary benefits of hydrogen energy is that it can run continuously. The provision for this benefit is that a fuel source must be available to it for energy to be continually produced. Without that fuel source, the hydrogen fuel cell would run out, just like every other type of energy would. That means a fuel source must be provided at an extra cost or the hydrogen fuel cells must be continually replaced.
9. It does not provide long-distance transportation security.
With our current technologies, the average hydrogen fuel cell provides about 300 miles of energy support. Because of the limited availability of retail stations which sell this energy resource, someone using hydrogen fuel cells will find that their mobility is minimal. That issue is further influenced by its overall lack of durability, as contamination from the outside can limit its overall effectiveness to provide energy on-demand.
These hydrogen energy pros and cons suggest that we have an option for the future if we wish to take it. There are several applications where hydrogen fuel cells could be beneficial. There will also be applications where the cost of developing hydrogen energy does not make sense as there are already cheaper forms of clean, renewable energy available. In time, this could be a cheap source of almost unlimited energy. For the present, we must pick and choose how we use it with care.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.