Will Blue Hydrogen Fuel Cells Replace Electric Power in Canadian Homes?
Will Blue Hydrogen Fuel Cells Replace Traditional Electric Power in Canadian Homes?
The use of fuel cells to provide electricity sounds innovative, but the first fuel cell was called a “gas battery,” and was created in 1839 by Sir William Grove. The first commercial use of fuel cells was made by NASA in the 1950s. Currently, Canadian hydrogen fuel cell technology powers thousands of buses and heavy trucks around the world.
Today, fuel cells are used to provide primary and backup generated power to homes, schools, hotels, emergency shelters, boats, RVs, and even military bases. Fuel cells are remarkably versatile: they can power anything from factories, to cars, to smartphones. And their cost has plummeted by as much as 95% in the last several years, making them an option for powering consumer products.
How do Hydrogen Fuel Cells produce electricity?
While a typical lithium ion-battery has a fixed supply of energy, hydrogen fuel cells continuously generate electricity as long as fuel is supplied. A fuel cell uses the chemical energy stored in hydrogen made from fuels—like natural gas—and converts it into usable electricity. When the hydrogen-rich fuel enters the fuel cell stack, it reacts electrochemically with oxygen to produce electric current, heat and water. The only byproducts of this process are water and heat, which means that fuel cells are a true zero-emissions energy source of power.
As the most abundant element in our universe, and the simplest element – with only one proton and one electron – hydrogen has no harmful carbon atoms and offers 2-3 times more energy than any fuel in use today.
Why is Natural Gas a key ingredient to the production of Hydrogen?
Compared with other fossil fuels, natural gas is a cost-effective feed for making hydrogen, in part because it is widely available, is easy to handle, and has a high hydrogen-to-carbon ratio, which minimizes the formation of by-product carbon dioxide (CO2).
What is the difference between Blue and Grey Hydrogen and why is Blue Hydrogen called Low Carbon Hydrogen?
Almost all of the hydrogen currently produced worldwide is so-called ‘grey hydrogen’. Production currently takes place via Steam Methane Reforming (SMR) where high pressure steam (H2O) reacts with natural gas (CH4) resulting in hydrogen (H2) and the greenhouse gas CO2.
The term ‘Blue Hydrogen’ or ‘Low Carbon Hydrogen’ is used when the CO2 released in the production of grey hydrogen is captured and stored. This is called CCS: Carbon Capture & Storage.
What will it look like when Blue Hydrogen Fuel Cells power our homes:
Currently we have to “plug-in” to access energy. With Blue Hydrogen Fuel Cells, the energy supply is continuous, as long as there is access to the fuel source. The benefits of Blue Hydrogen Fuel Cells are tremendous:
- Gone will be above ground wires, and we will no longer be not reliant on “the grid”. Blue Hydrogen Fuel Cells will continue to produce and store energy as long as they are connected to a natural gas fuel source.
- Gone will be power outages. Blue Hydrogen Fuel Cell power will provide a critical, continuous power supply for buildings like hospitals that rely on multiple forms of backup power to ensure safe, steady operation.
- By connecting a Blue Hydrogen Fuel Cell in your home, all of your electricity can be produced on-site, significantly reducing your emissions.
- Blue Hydrogen Fuel Cell cells use no combustion, and the only main byproducts are water and heat.
- Natural gas is cheap and abundant. Instead of paying for electricity generated from a power plant, we will be able to use a resource that is already being delivered to our homes to create the energy we need.
- Typically, electricity must travel through power lines to get to your home, and a considerable amount of that electricity is lost along the way. But Blue Hydrogen Fuel Cells produce electricity on-site, therefore no loss of energy in transmission.
What does this mean for Alberta?
With the European Commission signalling that it intends to invest billions of euros in hydrogen technology and infrastructure as part of its economic recovery strategy, along with countries like Canada that are moving quickly in Blue Hydrogen Fuel Cell technology, the stakes are high for Alberta. Globally, Canada is the fourth largest producer and sixth largest exporter of natural gas. Which bodes well for Alberta as it produces almost 70% of the marketable natural gas in Canada, with that 98% of all natural gas is produced in the western-provinces.
The opportunity for the large-scale production of Blue Hydrogen to fuel our homes is particularly relevant to Albertans, given the dramatic collapse of the province’s energy sector. Recent pilot projects have demonstrated that carbon capture and storage facilities linked to natural gas reforming processes can yield energy-grade, emission-free hydrogen equivalent to half the wholesale cost of diesel, and a third the cost of hydrogen produced using electrolysis (Green Hydrogen). Realistically, once a hydrogen pipeline infrastructure is in place, we will be one step closer to having a viable low-carbon energy source to fuel our homes.
What is a realistic time frame for Blue Hydrogen Fuel Cells to replace traditional power electricity in Canadian homes?
In addition to recent progress in the transportation sector, Canadian companies have also begun to explore the stationary power potential of blue hydrogen and fuel cells. The flexibility of blue hydrogen to power not only cars, trucks, or buses, but homes and businesses is exciting to ponder. Already the supply of hydrogen to industrial users is now a major business around the world.
In July 2018, Hydrogenics, a developer and manufacturer of hydrogen generation and fuel cell products, expanded Canada’s stationary use of hydrogen after opening the first multi-megawatt power-to-gas facility using renewably-sourced hydrogen in Ontario. The facility, owned and operated by Hydrogenics and Enbridge, Canada’s largest natural gas distributor, is the first high capacity energy storage facility using hydrogen in North America.
Producing Blue Hydrogen as a low-carbon energy is costly at the moment. IEA (the International Energy Agency) finds that the cost of production could fall by 30% by 2030. All things considered, 10 years is seen as a realistic time frame for Blue Hydrogen Fuel Cells to be adopted as an alternative power supply by many Canadian homeowners.
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