Crude oil's reign as the dominant source of energy for road transport is slowly coming to an end. Today's global, mobile society is facing major challenges in light of rising energy consumption, dwindling resources and increasing levels of harmful emissions. In order to meet the 80-percent CO2 reduction target set by the G8 in September 2009, emissions from the transport sector alone must fall 95 percent by 2050. This cannot be done with conventional methods and technologies. The focus must thus shift to new, zero-carbon energy sources and CO2-friendly mobility.
Renewable energies are readily available, but not always at the right time or place. Hydrogen is an energy carrier that can be used to efficiently store regenerative energy. Its reconversion in fuel cells is no problem because their efficiency is much greater than that of modern combustion engines. Hydrogen also fulfils a number of other requirements that prove it to be the most environmentally friendly fuel there has ever been. When it is used, its only emission is steam.
The environmentally friendly fuel
Hydrogen has been deployed as an industrial gas for over one hundred years and large volumes are used across the widest range of applications every day. Hydrogen is also set to play a defining role in the much-publicised third, 'green' industrial revolution. It is the most commonly occurring element in nature and – unlike fossil fuels such as crude oil or natural gas – will never run out. Like electricity, hydrogen is an energy carrier – not a source of energy. It must therefore be produced. Yet hydrogen offers several key benefits that increase its potential to replace fossil fuels. Stored hydrogen, for example, can be used directly as a fuel or to generate electricity.
Hydrogen will enable regenerative, sustainable mobility choices in our everyday lives. Such vehicles have a long-distance range and can be rapidly fuelled. Decades of research, development and testing have shown that hydrogen technology is a workable, economically viable alternative suited to mass deployment. There is still a long way to go before broadscale commercialisation. Nevertheless, today’s conventional method of using steam reforming to generate hydrogen from natural gas already reduces carbon dioxide emissions along the entire value chain, from well to wheel. Hydrogen-powered vehicles emit up to thirty percent less CO2 than modern diesel cars.
Green hydrogen from regenerative sources
In terms of environmental and climate protection, hydrogen-powered transportation makes most sense when hydrogen is produced using regenerative energy sources. Linde has therefore set itself the long-term goal of producing green hydrogen from regenerative energy sources such as sun and wind as well as from renewable raw materials and biological waste. The list of possible production chains is long and includes, for example, sourcing hydrogen from glycerine, a by-product of biodiesel production. Since 2011, we have delivered this low-carbon-footprint hydrogen to fuelling station customers.
Strong partner for a hydrogen network
The automobile industry, for example, has pledged that the first series-produced fuel-cell cars will be on German roads by 2015. And drivers of these vehicles will be able to refuel at an established network of hydrogen fuelling stations. More and more stations will be added to the network as the number of hydrogen-powered cars increases. There are currently around 200 hydrogen fuelling stations across the globe. Germany alone already has almost thirty stations, some of which are open to the public, making Germany the hydrogen pioneer in Europe. In September 2009, Linde joined forces with Daimler, EnBW, OMV, Shell, Total, Vattenfall and the National Organisation for Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technology (NOW) to found "H2 Mobility". Supported by Germany's Ministry of Transportation, 50 additional public fuelling stations will be built. Proportional to the increasing number of hydrogen-powered vehicles, the density of the fuelling station will gradually increase.
These initiatives and the commitments from car manufacturers are significant breakthroughs. Public hydrogen fuelling stations can only be economically viable if there is a sufficient number of hydrogen-powered cars to use them. By aligning series production of fuel-cell vehicles with the gradual expansion of the enabling hydrogen infrastructure, industry can finally resolve the 'chicken or egg' dilemma that currently dogs the advancement of hydrogen-powered mobility. After all, economical fuelling station operation will only become possible when there is an adequate number of hydrogen-driven vehicles.
Hydrogen proves its technical maturity
Hydrogen cars from Mercedes Benz have proven the robust technical maturity of fuel-cell powered electric cars during a unique endurance tour known as the F-Cell World Drive. Throughout the tour, Linde was the exclusive supply partner for H2.
Hydrogen's value as an eco-friendly energy carrier extends far beyond public and private transportation. It can also reduce the carbon footprint of in-house logistics processes for large industrial enterprises. In the US, for example, The Linde Group equipped the forklift fleet at BMW's Spartanburg plant in South Carolina with hydrogen drivetrain technology. This part of BMW's internal logistics operations now runs on zero emissions.
High-tech fuelling technology
With the goal of systematically lowering investment and deployment costs along the entire value chain of hydrogen fuelling, Linde is developing innovative fuelling technology, among other things. High-pressure cryogenic pumps and ionic compressors enable a previously unachieved efficiency in the compression of cryogenically cooled liquid hydrogen. These Linde technologies ensure rapid, safe and energy-saving fuelling of fuel-cell vehicles. They also make fuelling stations easier to maintain and help further reduce the cost of building and running stations.