Decarbonising energy: The developing international activity in hydrogen technologies and fuel cells
Hydrogen technologies and fuel cells offer an alternative and improved solution for a decarbonised energy future. Fuel cells are electrochemical converters; transforming hydrogen (or energy sources containing hydrogen) and oxygen directly into electricity. The hydrogen fuel cell, invented in 1839, permits the generation of electrical energy with high efficiency through a non-combustion, electrochemical process and, importantly, without the emission of CO2 at its point of use. Hitherto, despite numerous efforts to exploit the obvious attractions of hydrogen technologies and hydrogen fuel cells, various challenges have been encountered, some of which are reviewed here. Now, however, given the exigent need to urgently seek low-carbon paths for humankind's energy future, numerous countries are advancing the deployment of hydrogen technologies and hydrogen fuel cells not only for transport, but also as a means of the storage of excess renewable energy from, for example, wind and solar farms. Furthermore, hydrogen is also being blended into the natural gas supplies used in domestic heating and targeted in the decarbonisation of critical, large-scale industrial processes such as steel making. We briefly review specific examples in countries such as Japan, South Korea and the People's Republic of China, as well as selected examples from Europe and North America in the utilization of hydrogen technologies and hydrogen fuel cells.