Transport: new hydrogen storage could be a game-changer

Today in France: 31% of greenhouse gas emissions are due to the transport sector. If hydrogen emerges as a seriously considered option in the decarbonization of transport, a new form of hydrogen storage would have a considerable role to play.

Tribune by Pierre-Emmanuel Guilhemsans-Vendé, R&D Consultant at TNP Consultants.

This article was originally published in Environment Magazine

In order to hope to limit global warming to +2°C by 2050, it is becoming urgent to identify low-carbon alternative solutions to fossil fuels, on which the world economy today depends for more than 80%. Transport is particularly concerned since 31% of greenhouse gas emissions in France are due to this sector alone.

  • In terms of transport, the transition to hydrogen is underway with clearly stated objectives:
  • Running 250 hydrogen trains by 2035 on the SNCF side
  • Market the first hydrogen-powered airliners at Airbus within the same time frame
  • Partnering with the 1st hydrogen vessel in the world Energy Observer for CMA-CGM.

However, hydrogen provides an answer to the decarbonization of transport only if it is produced from renewable energies, mainly through the electrolysis of water.

Currently in France, 96% of production comes from fossil fuels. We speak of “grey hydrogen” whose environmental gain is marginal. With the electrolysis of water from renewable energies or French nuclear power, the so-called low carbon hydrogen emission factor can represent 80% less greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on all its life cycle compared to gray hydrogen.

For now, low-carbon hydrogen remains an expensive solution, although McKinsey expects its price to fall by 60% by 2030 to just €4/kg.

  • The thorny issue of hydrogen storage

The current high price of low-carbon hydrogen is mainly due to its production and storage costs.

Regarding its production, various solutions such as reducing the cost of building electrolysers or the cost of electricity were considered by IRENA in a 2020 report.

For storage, its high cost is explained by the nature of hydrogen, which has an energy density 3 times higher than gasoline or diesel but a very low volume density.

To store hydrogen in a reasonable volume, the pressure and/or temperature must be modified. Hydrogen can be stored in 3 forms: gaseous, liquid or solid. The gaseous form is the only form marketed for the general public. It now powers taxis, trains, trucks, bicycles and buses.

  • Promising advances in a new form of hydrogen storage

A new form of hydrogen storage, called HydroSil, proposed by Hysilabs, which took it over from the University of Aix Marseille, could however reshuffle the cards of the hydrogen market.

This hydrogen storage solution could first be used in fixed installations and then, eventually, be used for transport. Unlike the other 3 forms (gaseous, liquid and solid) there would be no need for special infrastructures to transport and store hydrogen: the existing conventional infrastructures for petroleum products would suffice. The transport of this type of hydrogen would have greenhouse gas emissions up to 40% lower and a cost reduced by 30% compared to conventional solutions.

According to P-E Casanova and Chloé Avetand of HysiLabs, HydroSil is infinitely recyclable, non-toxic, non-flammable, stable, liquid, without any loss of hydrogen, economically competitive and could use current conventional infrastructures. It therefore has, on paper, all the advantages to become the main hydrogen storage technology. However, by 2030, Hysilabs projects a capacity of its hydrogen charging and release facilities well below the estimates of what the hydrogen consumption would be in 2030.

According to these estimates, Hysilabs would only absorb 18 to 30% of the hydrogen market in France, if the company meets its growth objectives. The other forms of hydrogen (gaseous, liquid, solid, ammonia) will therefore always have a role to play in the coming years.