Hydrogen has drawn backing from big energy companies from Royal Dutch Shell Plc to Uniper SE in addition to carmakers BMW AG and Audi AG. They’re supporting research into how the element can be used to store energy for weeks or even months beyond what lithium-ion batteries can manage.
“The years 2020 to 2030 will be for hydrogen what the 1990s were for solar and wind,” said Pierre-Etienne Franc and vice president of advanced business and technologies at the French industrial gas maker Air Liquide SA and initiative secretary of the Hydrogen Council, a trade group promoting the work.
The technology to use hydrogen as energy storage is well known, although not yet demonstrated in a commercial setting. Hydrogen storage is attractive because it preserves energy for longer periods.
If hydrogen could be made to store energy cheaply enough, it would allow utilities to scale back on fossil fuel plants by making it easier for the grid to handle intermittent power flows from wind and solar farms.
She evaluated a theoretical 1 gigawatt solar farm feeding a unit that makes hydrogen and found that in the right circumstances a hydrogen storage unit could be profitable.
“You create hydrogen mainly by electrolyzing water, using electricity to split the hydrogen from oxygen and right off the bat, you lose a quarter of your energy to this.”