Within this technology space, companies and organisations around the world have been racing to create more efficient and effective electrolyser systems to enable low-cost generation of green hydrogen to create a richer market for the clean energy carrier.

In the US, various government programmes are helping tackle roadblocks in strengthening hydrogen production and, to find out more about one of these projects, H2 View spoke with Andrew Park, R&D Principal Engineer with the Chemours Company, and Dr. Bryan Pivovar, Senior Research Fellow with NREL.

Andrew Park told H2 View that Chemours continues to support the creation of more efficient electrolysis systems primarily through proton exchange membrane technologies.

“In the middle of the 20th century, the launch of a new class of polymers called fluoropolymers gave a lot of exciting and necessary properties to various industries. Amongst the fluoropolymers that were invented in the 50s and 60s is a polymer called Nafion™, which is a proton exchange polymer,” Andrew Park exclusively told H2 View.

“We call them Ionomers – an ion exchange polymer. And that was a fundamentally new class of fluoropolymer and through its discovery, a lot of novel devices were able to be popularised, such as the hydrogen fuel cell and the proton exchange membrane (PEM) water electrolyser.

“Chemours now has inherited the legacy and manufacturing of, amongst other fluoropolymers, the Nafion™ brand of ionomers. Chemours supplies the polymer and value-added products such as membranes to upstream manufacturers to create components that go into these electrochemical devices.”

Dr. Bryan Pivovar revealed how the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) continues to explore hydrogen technologies as a means to contribute to the US decarbonised society.

“I work for the National Renewable Energy Lab, so we’re part of the US Department of Energy’s National Lab System. We’re the only EERE lab, which is the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy part of the Department of Energy, and within that structure, we have a large hydrogen programme.

“We’ve been pursuing how hydrogen fits into the evolving energy system. There’s a new Department of Energy vision that’s called Hydrogen at Scale (H2@Scale) that basically has hydrogen as a key central component to enabling an economic, clean, and sustainable energy system of the future.

“In a lot of ways, what makes hydrogen special is that it can take things like renewable energy and transition it into industrial and transportation applications, particularly in applications where straight electrical energy or batteries struggle.”

Both organisations are currently involved in a Department of Energy initiative that is aiming to develop more efficient electrolyser systems primarily through the use of innovative materials for the proton exchange membrane electrolyser system. Pivovar explains to H2 View on the project, “There’s a specific project, which is somewhat unique currently in that it focuses on the improved membrane properties for electrolysis, which is not an area that has had as much work but is growing in importance.”

Park added, “What this project deals with is kind of a next generation vision for hydrogen generation via water electrolysis. Water electrolysis has been a niche market for a long time – there’s been demonstrations of the technology and it’s been in commercial devices for a while.”

“Now with the need for green hydrogen at scale, the exponential increase in demand is really close to us. The membrane technology that serviced some of the incumbent market has not been optimised for high efficiency, which is necessary to make the technology able to be scaled up very quickly.

“We needed to accelerate materials research to develop things like the membrane. While R&D needs are not limited to the membrane, it needs a lot of optimisations in a very short period.”

Clearly creating hydrogen from electrolysis can have a positive impact to generate green hydrogen. But the same can be said for blue hydrogen. Although many in the industry may prefer to go straight to green hydrogen, both Park and Pivovar believe blue hydrogen is key for initiating the hydrogen energy transition.

“While green hydrogen may be an ideal final target,” said Pivovar “grey and blue hydrogen aren’t the enemy here at all. They are important transition states with improving value propositions. There’s a question where some people may look towards a 100% green 2050 and think, can we ever get there?

“Then there’s this switch between grey, blue and green, and there’s going to be aspects of all three that keep going for some time. The main thing for me is the reason that hydrogen at scale is called hydrogen at scale in that one of the biggest challenges is scale, it’s much more economic at large scale.

“The ability for grey hydrogen to build up infrastructure to allow cheaper hydrogen storage use and transportation has already taken place and can be further advanced by blue and eventually green hydrogen.”

Park added, “Yeah I agree and Chemours agrees completely. We can’t wait to get pieces of the value chain in place and to the extent that currently supplying hydrogen, whether that’s grey or that transitions to blue, then transitions to green in the future – that helps us get to scale faster. That’s a good thing. Anything that gets us to the envisioned green hydrogen economy is great.”


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