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Hydrogen: The Fuel of the Future.

Due to the drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the fight against climate change, hydrogen is emerging as a promising alternative fuel for transport. What are its advantages and disadvantages? What challenges does its use present?

Called the “fuel of the future” and a suitable energy carrier, hydrogen has numerous advantages over conventional fossil fuels. Burning 1 kg of the element releases 142 MJ of energy with no CO2, NOx or SOx emissions. This is a crucial differentiator for hydrogen compared to traditional fossil fuels. As an abundant element, hydrogen has the potential to revolutionise the energy landscape and significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the global economy. In the following article, Piotr Długosz – Endego’s Innovation Specialist, will introduce us to hydrogen as the key to a greener world. We will learn about its properties and methods of production and explore the range of its applications.

Properties of hydrogen

Hydrogen is the lightest and one of the most abundant elements in the universe. In its pure form, hydrogen as a gas is colourless, odourless and non-toxic. The distinguishing feature of the element is its ability to produce energy by reacting with oxygen. This is what happens in fuel cells. This results in electricity generation, and the only by-product is water vapour, making hydrogen a clean and environmentally friendly fuel. The energy obtained from hydrogen can be virtually inexhaustible, like renewables or nuclear power.

Hydrogen production

There are several methods of producing hydrogen, the most popular being steam methane reforming, electrolysis, and biomass gasification. Most hydrogen is produced from fossil fuels, raising concerns about excessive carbon emissions. However, advances in renewable energy technologies have paved the way for greener approaches to hydrogen production, such as using surplus electricity from solar, wind or hydroelectric sources to power electrolysis, in which water is split into hydrogen and oxygen.

Hydrogen use cases

Transport: One of the most promising applications for hydrogen is in the transport sector. Hydrogen fuel cells can power electric vehicles, providing a clean alternative to internal combustion engines. Such vehicles offer a longer range and shorter refuelling times than battery-electric vehicles, making them a viable option for long-distance transport.

Industrial processes: Hydrogen has the potential to replace traditional fossil fuels in a variety of industrial processes such as refining, chemical production, and steelmaking. Hydrogen in these sectors can significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions, contributing to the fight against climate change.

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Advantages of hydrogen in transport:

Zero emissions: One of the main advantages of hydrogen-powered transport is zero emissions. When hydrogen is used in fuel cells to generate electricity, the only by-product is water vapour, making it a clean and environmentally friendly solution. This can significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution associated with conventional fossil fuel vehicles.

Quick refuelling and increased range: Hydrogen vehicles can be refuelled in minutes, just like traditional petrol cars, providing an advantage over battery-electric vehicles, which often require longer charging times. In addition, hydrogen vehicles offer a more extended range, making them suitable for long journeys without the need for frequent refuelling.

Versatility and energy storage: Hydrogen can be produced from various sources, including renewable energy (via electrolysis), natural gas, and biomass. This versatility allows for a diverse energy mix and can serve as a large-scale energy storage solution for surplus renewable energy.

Lightness: Hydrogen is a lightweight gas that can help reduce the weight of vehicles, improving overall energy efficiency and performance. This characteristic is essential in aerospace, where weight savings result in greater fuel efficiency.

Challenges and prospects

Despite the many advantages of hydrogen, some challenges need to be addressed to realise its full potential as the fuel of the future. Some of these challenges include high production costs, limited hydrogen infrastructure, and the need for efficient storage and distribution systems. 

Costs and infrastructure: One of the most significant obstacles to the widespread use of hydrogen in transport is the high cost of its production, distribution and refuelling infrastructure. Setting up a hydrogen refuelling network requires significant investment, and the limited number of stations presents a challenge for consumers to access the fuel.

Energy-intensive production: Currently, the dominant method of hydrogen production is steam methane reforming, which relies on natural gas and produces carbon dioxide emissions. While there are renewable methods, such as electrolysis, these are still relatively energy-intensive and expensive.

Storage challenges: Hydrogen has a low volumetric energy density, which requires extensive and high-pressure tanks to store enough fuel. This can affect the design and space utilisation of hydrogen vehicles.

Safety issues: Hydrogen is highly flammable and can form explosive mixtures with air under certain conditions. Ensuring that hydrogen is stored, handled and transported safely is critical to reducing potential hazards. Crash tests, however, have shown that in a crash or accident, a hydrogen car is no more dangerous than one running on oil or LPG. If structural regimes are maintained, and regular maintenance is carried out, there is no greater risk than with cars running on traditional fuels.

Limited vehicle availability: At the time of writing, the availability of hydrogen vehicle models is severely limited compared to conventional petrol or electric vehicles. Hydrogen-powered vehicles currently available for sale include the Toyota Mirai, the Honda Clarity or the Mercedes-Benz GLC F-CELL.

Ongoing research and development, government support, and private investment are rapidly advancing hydrogen technology. As more and more countries commit to carbon neutrality and aim to meet their climate goals, hydrogen has the opportunity to play a vital role in this transition.

Take the challenge with Endego!

As a leading innovator in engineering and technology solutions, Endego can help companies take up the challenge of fighting for clean energy. With expertise in a wide range of fields, from automotive, off-highway, and aviation to the design of industrial production lines and state-of-the-art locomotives, Endego is paving the way for a cleaner and greener future for transport.

Engineering services

One of the critical factors hindering the widespread adoption of hydrogen vehicles is concern about refuelling safety. Recognising this challenge, Endego offers the services of our experienced staff. By combining advanced engineering techniques and innovative technologies, we can support companies in developing robust and safe systems that minimise the risks associated with hydrogen refuelling. We are open to new experiences in the use of hydrogen in the automotive industry and exploring ways to overcome the barriers associated with its storage. We believe that with the solutions co-developed by Endego, hydrogen-powered transport can become more accessible and attractive to a broader audience, accelerating the transition to greener mobility.

Currently, fuel cell technology dominates the field of hydrogen vehicles. With many years of experience in the automotive industry, Endego can offer the support of experienced engineers to companies that want to develop a new type of engine based on the internal combustion of hydrogen. This innovation has the potential to create more affordable and practical hydrogen-powered options.

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Simulation

Understanding the behaviour of hydrogen tanks and their impact on vehicle safety is critical to hydrogen car development. Endego’s expertise lies in simulating all sorts of processes. Through extensive testing and analysis, we can optimise the structural integrity of hydrogen storage systems, ensuring maximum safety during accidents or crashes.

Summary

Hydrogen represents a ray of hope in the move towards a sustainable future. Its versatility, availability and clean combustion make it an ideal candidate to replace conventional fossil fuels and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We can envision a future where pure energy powers our lives, our vehicles, and all industries. By harnessing the power of hydrogen, we can pave the way to a greener and more sustainable world for future generations.

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