Green Hydrogen Technology Backed by Bill Gates

Green hydrogen is under the spotlight after Bill Gates backed a new production technology that could help the global push to net-zero emissions.   

Gates’ clean-tech fund Breakthrough Energy Ventures is among several investors 

committing $22 million to technology that developers H2Pro claim will create the world’s “lowest-cost green hydrogen.”   

H2Pro states that its revolutionary E-TAC (Electrochemical-Thermally Activated Chemical) method could produce green hydrogen that is 95% more efficient, safe, and cost-competitive than today’s fossil fuel-derived hydrogen.   

The company claims green hydrogen prices could fall from the present $5-6 per kilo (2.2 pounds) to around $1 per kilo (2.2 pounds). Industrial-scale adoption may also help solve surplus renewable energy storage issues as E-TAC sites could use excess renewable electricity to build green hydrogen energy stores for later use. Using hydrogen creates no direct emissions of pollutants or greenhouse gases.   

H2Pro CEO Talmon Marco said: “We’ve known how to split water with electricity for over 200 years via electrolysis. Drawing on that expertise, we’ve created a technology with 95% efficiency and lower CAPEX [capital expenditure] that can significantly accelerate the mainstream adoption of green hydrogen.” 

How Does E-TAC work? 

Electrolyzers create green hydrogen by splitting water into oxygen and hydrogen. This hydrogen is a clean energy source if renewable energy sources power the process.  

H2Pro claims its E-TAC system separates water into elements in a much more effective way than previous electrolysis methods, removing the use of a costly membrane, reducing power consumption, and simplifying the construction process. 

Benefits of Green Hydrogen 

Hydrogen is light, storable, energy-dense, and produces no direct emissions of pollutants or greenhouse gases. It’s used to power hydrogen cell vehicles and create electricity, plus it can be transformed into methane to power homes. Hydrogen can be blended into existing natural gas pipe networks, too.   

Excess energy produced by renewables during peak production times could be used to create green hydrogen. The hydrogen could be turned to liquid (like LPG) for storage and transportation to where it’s needed.   

Green hydrogen’s potential is already starting to show. In 2018, two hydrogen fuel cell trains became operational in Germany. Their successful trial means creators Alstom will put 14 more fuel cell trains into service in 2022.   

The GRHYD project in France began blending 6%-20% hydrogen into a small natural gas grid in 2018, reducing the carbon emissions of the previously 100% natural gas network. 

Different Types of Hydrogen Sources 

There are three main types of hydrogen used by industry — green, blue, and gray.   

Gray hydrogen derives from a process called steam reformation. Natural gas (methane) is subject to high-pressure steam to produce hydrogen and pollutants like carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Around 95% of all industrial-use hydrogen is gray hydrogen.   

Blue hydrogen follows the same process, but the carbon emissions are buried, captured, and stored underground. Brown or black hydrogen is the energy-intensive result of transforming coal into hydrogen.    

Green hydrogen currently accounts for just 0.1% of the international hydrogen market, and is currently two to three times more expensive to produce than blue hydrogen, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).

The Hydrogen Council’s report, “Path to Hydrogen Competitiveness: A Cost Perspective” predicts green hydrogen price will drops in the next 5-10 years from the current $6 per kilo (2.2 lb) to “about $1-$1.50 per kilo in optimal locations, and roughly $2-$3 per kilo under average conditions.” In comparison, gray hydrogen sells for around $1.50 per kilo (2.2lb).   

If the E-TAC project is successful, its cheaper production costs could help extrapolate a rapid drop in global green hydrogen prices. Increased use of green hydrogen instead of fossil fuels or gray hydrogen would decrease greenhouse gas emissions, too. 

Who Is Funding the Project? 

The $22 million funding will support E-TAC technological developments and help scale up H2Pro’s manufacturing capabilities.   

Funding came from Breakthrough Energy Ventures (BEV), Breakthrough Energy Ventures Europe (BEV-E), IN Venture, and Sumitomo Corporation CVC. Existing investors iAngels, TPY Capital, Contrarian Ventures, and Bazan and new investors Horizons Ventures, New Fortress Energy (NFE), and OurCrowd also participated.  

Green hydrogen is a versatile and productive clean energy. Its ability to work in conjunction with renewables — including solving the thorny issue of what to do with wasted excess renewable power — may make Bill Gates’ support for this project a vital marker in the global journey to net-zero emissions.

Opinion writer: Tom Shearman

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