Everything you want to know about hydrogen
and our work for the hydrogen sector.
Frequently asked questions about Hydrogen
Do you want to know more about hydrogen – for example how it is made or what it can be used for? Then take a look at the frequently asked questions about hydrogen below.
- What is hydrogen?
Hydrogen is the lightest, smallest, and simplest element. It consists of one proton and one electron.
Because it is so light, you can fill a balloon with it that will immediately rise. In 1766, scientist Henry Cavendish succeeded in identifying hydrogen. As a gas (H2), hydrogen is colourless, odourless, non-corrosive, non-oxidizing, non-radioactive and non-toxic.
Hydrogen in a usable form for energy does not occur in nature and must be made, by splitting off the hydrogen atoms from other molecules; for example, from natural gas (CH4) or from water (H2O). This requires energy. The result is the energy-rich molecule hydrogen. When heat is applied – a flame – hydrogen reacts with oxygen to form water again. This releases a considerable amount of energy: 125 MJ per kilogram of hydrogen: 3.5 times as much as a liter of gasoline. Because of the fierce reaction when ignited, hydrogen was also known as ‘bang gas.’
- Why hydrogen as an energy carrier?
Hydrogen does not occur naturally and must be made from natural gas, biomass or with electricity. This makes hydrogen an energy carrier, but is it efficient?
Energy carrier without CO2
There is a clear advantage to using hydrogen as an energy carrier instead of, for example, natural gas, gasoline, or diesel fuel. No CO2 or other emissions are released when hydrogen is burned or converted into electricity in a fuel cell.
Electricity versus hydrogen
Where electricity suffices as an energy carrier, there is obviously no reason to turn it into hydrogen first. For certain applications however, there are certainly good reasons to use electricity to produce hydrogen as an energy carrier.
Hydrogen from green electricity
Hydrogen made with green electricity has the advantage of no carbon dioxide emissions and infinite, renewable energy. Hydrogen made in this way, is of interest for numerous applications.
Energy carrier for…
For example, higher temperatures can be achieved with hydrogen. Trucks can drive further on hydrogen than with energy from a battery. That battery is also heavy, which limits the loading weight. For the same reason, hydrogen is a better option for aircrafts than batteries. They can make long-distance flights more easily with the light hydrogen. Fuel cells can convert hydrogen into power for the electric aircraft engines. (In more detail, see FAQ 7)
- How is hydrogen made? And is it sustainable?
Hydrogen is a clean, widely applicable energy carrier that can very well be produced sustainably. Hydrogen can be made in many ways, from various sources of energy.
Hydrogen clean alternative
When used, hydrogen does not cause any pollution: no greenhouse gas, no particulate matter, or any other pollutant. This makes it a clean alternative to fossil energy, for example for heating homes, for industrial processes or for driving cars or trains.
From gray hydrogen…
Hydrogen does not occur naturally and does have to be produced first from other forms of energy, for example from biomass or from natural gas. This production process creates CO2 in addition to hydrogen, in which case we speak of gray hydrogen.
…naar duurzaam waterstof
CO2 can be captured and stored. Then we speak of blue hydrogen (see below). When hydrogen is produced with electricity, it is logical to choose solar and wind power (green hydrogen). Then the sustainable hydrogen is made with infinitely available energy.
- Is hydrogen easily transportable?
Hydrogen is the smallest molecule with low energy density: three times less energy per M3 than natural gas.
Hydrogen can be transported perfectly well through gas pipelines and, with limited modifications, also through existing natural gas pipelines. This is not always an option. Storage or transport in a ship or by truck requires other solutions. Otherwise, a truck carrying hydrogen would transport a lot of gas with hardly any energy.
Transporting hydrogen under pressure
Hydrogen can be compressed with enormous pressure. Typical of gaseous storage are the typical composite high-pressure vessels (200, 350 or 700 bar). The disadvantage is that 6% energy is lost through compression by using a compressor.
Transport of liquid hydrogen
At a temperature of -252.87°C, hydrogen is liquid at atmospheric pressure. It is then eight hundred times less voluminous per unit weight. Hydrogen can then be stored in very well-insulated tanks, also called “dewars” (named after Sir James Dewar). Liquid hydrogen is interesting for storage and transport, but cooling obviously takes a lot of energy.
Transport of hydrogen by converting it into a different chemical compound
Another option is to convert hydrogen into another molecular compound, such as ammonia (NH3) or formic acid (CH2O2). These are heavier molecules with more hydrogen per volume. Then transport is easier. Mentioned compounds are liquid at atmospheric pressure. However, it takes energy to extract the hydrogen from the compounds.
- Where will all hydrogen come from?
Eventually, the intention is to make hydrogen only from renewable energy such as solar and wind, and no longer from natural gas.
The Dutch total annual energy demand is about 3,000 PJ. Policy is aimed at increasing sustainability by first capturing the CO2 released during production and by making hydrogen from green electricity. Total Dutch energy demand will decrease due to improved efficiency and will reach somewhere around 2500 PJ by 2050.
Origin of green hydrogen
Suppose we want to produce about 20% of the energy supply with green hydrogen in 2050, that would be 500 PJ, or 140 TWh. This would require 30 GW of offshore wind. Almost three times as much as is planned for 2030 from the Climate Agreement. That is a lot.
Import of hydrogen
So, it is likely that the Netherlands will also import a lot of hydrogen. That may come from sun-rich regions, where green hydrogen from solar power is cheaper to produce than in our region with fewer hours of sunshine and solar power.
- Is hydrogen dangerous?
Hydrogen, like natural gas or gasoline, contains a lot of energy. And like these fuels, use is subject to regulations to ensure safety.
Hydrogen no more dangerous than natural gas
Hydrogen is therefore no more dangerous than the use of natural gas. It does have different properties and its use therefore requires separate rules.
Hydrogen also called ‘bang gas.’
Combustion can be fierce, as hydrogen burns eight times faster than natural gas (hydrogen is also called bang gas!). So, it is a gas that we cannot just use in a gas appliance intended for normal natural gas.
Colorless hydrogen flame
Hydrogen also burns very differently from what we are used to. It has a colorless flame. It is a clean burn that produces only water vapour. The temperature of the flame is higher than with natural gas. At the same time, a liter of hydrogen gas has much less energy than a liter of natural gas.
Hydrogen in industry
Hydrogen has long been used in industry but is still a new phenomenon for many energy applications and much still needs to be worked out surrounding safety.
Hydrogen car dangerous?
With hydrogen cars, of course, safety is assured. Hydrogen tanks are extraordinarily strong and can withstand the impact of very severe crashes. The hydrogen tank is many times stronger than that of gasoline, as it also must withstand the high pressure (up to 700 bar) of hydrogen.
- For what is hydrogen used?
A lot of hydrogen is already used in the Netherlands: an amount with an energy value of up to 175 PJ (the total primary energy demand in our country is about 3,000 PJ). Current use is entirely for industrial production, such as refining petroleum or making fertilizer.
Cars can run on hydrogen, industry can use it as a form of energy, and even some homes can be heated with it. It could function as an alternative to coal in the metal industry, for example. Currently, these energy applications are still extremely limited. Fossil energy is still the norm.
Driving and heating on hydrogen
Only a few hundred vehicles are running on hydrogen and only a few pilot districts are being heated with it. But the expectation is that this will grow in the coming years.
Hydrogen as energy carrier is more expensive.
De productie van waterstof kost zelf energie en vereist een proces met kostbare installaties. Dat maakt dat per definitie waterstof duurder is dan de energiedrager waar het uit voortkomt: aardgas of (groene) elektriciteit. De elektriciteitsprijs ligt per eenheid energie fors boven die van aardgas; daarmee is ook waterstof uit elektriciteit nu nog een stuk duurder.
Afvangen van CO2 broeikasgas
The production of hydrogen itself costs energy and requires a process with costly installations. That makes hydrogen more expensive than the energy carrier from which it comes: natural gas or (green) electricity. The price of electricity per unit of energy is higher than that of natural gas; therefore, hydrogen from electricity is still more expensive.
Capture of CO2 greenhouse gas
With natural gas, it only makes sense to switch to hydrogen if the released greenhouse gas CO2 is captured and stored. That too has a price. In short, household energy bills would go up significantly if we started heating all homes on hydrogen now, and in many homes more than if we switched to heat pumps or sustainably produced district heat.
Hydrogen widely applicable
Still, hydrogen is the right solution for a substantial proportion of homes. In certain historic districts or rural areas, a heat grid is impossible to build or there is no sustainable heat source on site. Electric heat pumps have limited capacity and require a very well-insulated house. This is often not a realistic option in old homes. In that segment, hybrid heating with electric water pumps and hydrogen for chilly days offers the best solution. Then you use the more expensive hydrogen only for the peaks in demand, for example on those few very chilly winter days.