Now that solar power has become so ubiquitous and abundant that it’s almost free, energy companies are turning to the most efficient and harmless way of storing excess electricity for later use – hydrogen. It’s over 30 years since Jeremy Rifkin predicted the hydrogen economy, but it’s finally in full swing.
The beauty of hydrogen is that it’s easily manufactured from water if you have lots of spare power, can be stored and transported, burnt as ultra-clean fuel, or simply converted back into electricity by a fuel cell, on demand.
Batteries have come a long way in terms of energy density and charging speed, but they still lag far behind in conversion efficiency terms, and cost. Batteries are also heavy, making them impractical for long-range drones and hybrid planes. Hydrogen is pure and simple, the most basic element in the universe. In fact, it’s the fuel that powers our sun to deliver solar power to earth in the first place.
Not that hydrogen is without its problems. There’s a reason SpaceX chose liquid rocket fuel over liquified hydrogen for their Starship booster; it’s much easier to handle in risky environments. Hydrogen leaks easily and is extremely explosive, but modern chemical storage methods are secure and convenient.
With solar costing about US 1¢ per kilowatt hour, but only available in daylight hours, it makes sense to store all that ‘free’ electricity, at scale, to power the grid when the sun’s not shining; and to balance unreliable supply with equally variable demand.
Resource companies have long shifted their focus from coal, oil and natural gas to lithium, silicon and platinum as solar has taken over; now it’s time to join the exploding hydrogen economy. Specialized materials and services for storage and handling, and nanotech membranes and catalysts, are in high demand.
After all, in most countries, electricity has become a basic human right. And every company wants to combine profit with purpose!