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New energies 10/06/2020

What’s new in H2? — Our Quarterly Global Tour Of Key Projects

Few doubt that hydrogen is a major source of fuel for the future — now it’s a question of how to produce it in even more efficient, adaptable and affordable ways. 

While we are still developing the advancements in hydrogen to reduce the cost of transportation and storage, there are many breakthroughs happening around the world in both technology and uses for hydrogen. One major focus of the international community has been embracing and improving “green hydrogen” technologies, which would drastically reduce the global CO2 emissions and limit global warming. “Green hydrogen” is typically produced from oxygen using renewable sources of energy, with its only waste product being water. This makes it a perfect alternative to fossil fuels for everything from powering vehicles to revolutionizing the steel industry.

Let’s take a quick tour to see the latest breakthroughs in hydrogen around the world:

United States I

Researchers at Rice University in Texas have created a device nicknamed “the artificial leaf” capable of splitting water molecules to produce hydrogen fuel at a low cost. Scientists use a combination of catalytic electrodes and perovskite solar cells that produce electricity when triggered by sunlight. Perovskites are crystals with unique cubelike lattices known for harvesting light well. The charge then flows to catalysts that break down water into hydrogen and oxygen with an impressive sunlight-to-hydrogen efficiency of around 6.7%.

  • While the catalyst design isn’t new, the researchers have found a way to package the perovskite layer and electrons into one small device that simply needs to be dropped into water and placed in sunlight to produce hydrogen.
  • To try and encourage commercial adoption of such devices, the researchers are also working on how to make these devices as cost-effective as possible. For example, by replacing more expensive components like platinum in perovskite solar cells with cheaper alternatives such as carbon.
  • By continually modifying the design, researchers also hope to create a self-sustaining loop. Jun Lou, the researcher who developed the device, explained: "Even when there's no sunlight, you can use stored energy in the form of chemical fuel. You can put the hydrogen and oxygen products in separate tanks and incorporate another module like a fuel cell to turn those fuels back into electricity."

United States II

A breakthrough in hydrogen technology at Northwestern University in Chicago could greatly reduce the cost of making hydrogen-powered vehicles by changing the way hydrogen fuel is stored. The technology, dubbed the “bath sponge,” is able to hold and release large amounts of hydrogen at a lower pressure with a cost that is similar to an actual sponge.

  • The new framework’s key ability is storing hydrogen and other gases like methane at much lower pressures without needing a large storage tank.
  • The product, officially known as NU-150, is built from organic molecules and metal ions that form highly crystalline, porous frameworks naturally.
  • Like straining a sponge, the technology uses pressure to store gas molecules within the pores of its metal-organic framework and then delivers them to the engine at a lower pressure than any existing technology.
  • The new material falls under the targets set by the U.S. Department of Energy for alternative fuel onboard storage and delivery systems.


Australian researchers from Griffith University have found a way to enhance clean hydrogen electrolysis using ‘nanobelts’ to break down water into hydrogen and oxygen. This breakthrough in technology uses two different processes to harness the nanobelts and push them to their limits during the oxidation of water.

  • Researchers specifically worked with CoSe2 ‘nanobelts,’ which are ultra thin sheets of cobalt (Co) and selenium (Se) stitched together to be used as a water-splitting electrocatalysts.
  • The nanobelts are tiny with a thickness of one nanometer, about 50,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, which actually increases the surface area and reactivity of the CoSe2 because of how many can fit.
  • The team then modified the nanobelt, replacing some of the cobalt with iron (Fe) and removing even more cobalt using a process known as “cobalt vacancy.” They found that these two modifications to the nanobelts dramatically improved their efficiency.
  • The breakthrough could have many more applications outside of just the nanobelts being used, with the possibility to unlock not just the catalytic power of CoSe2 nanobelts, but serve as catalysts for numerous other electrochemical reactions.


Two firms in Sweden are working together to try and make the steel industry a little bit more sustainable by using hydrogen to heat steel. According to the World Steel Association, about 1.85 metric tons of carbon dioxide are emitted for each metric ton of steel produced on average. Currently, the steel sector uses coal for 75% of their energy demand.

  • A demonstration led by Steel manufacturer Ovako and Linde Gas was the first of its kind to show that hydrogen can be used in an existing production environment to heat steel.
  • The experiment demonstrated that hydrogen could replace liquefied petroleum gas to generate heat. When hydrogen is used in the combustion process, the only emission produced was water.
  • The trial proves that hydrogen can be used to heat steel simply and flexibly, without impacting steel quality.

Germany I

German company Graforce is developing a technology that could produce green hydrogen and renewable energy from animal and human excrement. This unique technology, known as “plasmalysis,” is not only carbon dioxide free, but also much more affordable than any other process being used today.

  • Plasmalysis produces hydrogen from the nitrogen and carbon contained in plant and animal manure or biomass by splitting the individual atoms using a high-frequency field of tension, then recombining these atoms into hydrogen and nitrogen, with a “waste” product of purified water.
  • Not only can this process produce enormous amounts of green hydrogen, it does so at 50-60% of the cost of other conventional processes like electrolysis.
  • Agriculture is estimated to produce a worldwide cumulative of about 1.5 trillion cubic meters of biomass, or manure, each year. From this, Graforce could produce about 724 million tons of green hydrogen.
  • Their technology could save over 6.5 gigatonnes of CO2 caused by energy generation and consumption worldwide.

Germany II

Bioenergetics researchers at the University of Kiel, inspired by naturally-occurring photosynthesis, are looking into modifying the carbon cycle to produce and store green hydrogen in a way that preserves energy and reduces resulting CO2 emissions.

  • With photosynthesis in nature, energy is produced from sunlight and stored as carbon compounds, which result in CO2 emissions being released.
  • Rather than storing solar energy in carbon compounds, researchers want to convert it directly into hydrogen, which has proven to have high efficiency and does not release any CO2 at all.
  • To do so, researchers have been looking into the modification of a specific type of cyanobacterium that already uses photosynthesis to produce solar hydrogen.
  • The cyanobacterium being used contains a specific enzyme called “hydrogenase” which produces hydrogen from protons and electrons.
  • Researchers were able to combine this enzyme with photosynthesis to stimulate the metabolism of the bacterium into producing solar hydrogen for longer periods of time without consuming it.


It is estimated that by the end of 2024, around 960 tons of green hydrogen will be produced, reducing an estimated 8,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions. To keep up with this goal, ENGIE, in accordance with the European Horizon 2020 program, and the French Atomic and Alternative Energy Commission (CEA), will be joining together for the “Multiplhy” project. The goal of Multiplhy is to produce green hydrogen using high temperature electrolysis. The high temperature electrolyser is being built in the Neste biorefinery in Rotterdam and will have a nominal power of 2.6 MW with a hydrogen production capacity of 60 kg / h. The device is able to produce hydrogen from water in the form of vapor instead of liquid water with an efficiency of at least 20% higher than that of a low temperature electrolyser.

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