Hydrogen is one of the most plentiful elements in the universe. It is highly combustible but has no colour, odour, or taste. It a very clean gas and is usually found bound to other elements such as oxygen and water. To create pure hydrogen, it must go through a process called electrolysis. This technique uses electric current to create a chemical reaction. Fuel cells powered by Hydrogen would only create heat and water as a by-product and could be used to replace combustion engines.
The UK currently produces about 700,000 tonnes of Grey Hydrogen a year. This is mostly used for removing sulphur from oil and fertiliser production.
Grey hydrogen uses fossil fuels in the manufacturing process which also generates greenhouse gases.
Blue Hydrogen is created by using a process called steam methane reforming. It also requires fossil fuels as part of its manufacturing process also creating carbon dioxide as a by-product required Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) making it more of a transitionary solution as we head towards more efficient use of renewables.
Green Hydrogen is created using renewable energy like wind or solar to power the electrolysis process on a larger scale but still currently expensive. As new technology and funding improves, electrolyser are becoming more powerful and cheaper to build on the scale required for mass use.
There are already specific areas of hydrogen development where new technologies are making real impact such as: Swedish Steel plant SSAB which has created the first fossil free steel in 2021 which could help to decarbonize the steel industry. As fuel cells improve heavy transport such as container ships could be converted to fuel cells and Air Bus are looking to deploy three new designs for aircraft by 2035 that will use hydrogen for short haul flights.
All of this would work to reduce emissions in very specific polluting areas. To support this the UK will also need to develop new storage facilities and supply networks. Current utility providers would also need to be integrated into this to create Carbon Capture, Utilisation, and Storage (CCUS) clusters. The UK Government has committed £1 billion to develop CCUS in the UK.
Scottish Government’s, Draft Energy Strategy and Just Transition Plan, 2023 states: “Hydrogen is an emerging sector perfectly placed to support a just transition for existing oil and gas workforces and we have set out plans to rapidly grow Scotland’s hydrogen economy.”
The long-term development of green hydrogen as a clean-burning fuel has huge potential for Scotland helping to decarbonise industrial processes in key sectors such as power generation, iron and steel production and long-distance transport.
This section provides examples of a research, teaching or innovation taking place at Robert Gordon University and/or The National Subsea Centre, Aberdeen related to this topic.
Professor Hossain and Professor Faisal from the School of Engineering are currently working to develop green hydrogen to aid the global effort to solve the climate crisis. They aim to create hydrogen using electrodes powered by wind turbines that can be mass produced. Computer simulations are currently being run to prove their concept for mass production. https://www.rgu.ac.uk/rgview/impactful-research/4925-engineering-hydrogen