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  • Hydrogen has been hailed as a fuel of the future...

  • ...that could help end the world's dependence on fossil fuels...

  • ....and aid the transition to net-zero emissions

  • But for this hydrogen revolution to take place...

  • ...some big obstacles need to be overcome

  • So is the hype about hydrogen justified?

  • Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe

  • It's essential for life

  • ...the sun is mostly made of it

  • And it's present in almost all living things

  • But on Earth pure hydrogen is very scarce

  • Instead, it mainly exists combined with oxygen in the form of water

  • So how does this abundant element...

  • ...get turned into a fuel that could help save the planet?

  • First hydrogen needs to be obtained

  • This is done by splitting molecules

  • Hydrogen is an energy carrier unlike, let's say, petroleum...

  • ...which is a primary energy source

  • You have to make hydrogen from something

  • To do this requires an input of energy

  • You can use methane through a process called steam reforming

  • Or a source of electricity through electrolysis

  • Once you have some hydrogen you can either burn it directly...

  • ...or mix it with oxygen in a fuel cell, which is rather like a battery

  • The reaction in the fuel cell produces electricity and heat...

  • And the only waste...

  • ...is water

  • One of the benefits of hydrogen...

  • ...in a hydrogen vehicle, let's say...

  • ...the only emission that comes out of the tailpipe is pure, drinkable water

  • In contrast, of course, to the internal-combustion engine...

  • ...which puts out loads of nasty chemicals and carcinogens

  • This means that, as long as the energy used to produce it is sustainable...

  • ...hydrogen can be a truly green fuel

  • NASA started using hydrogen fuel cells...

  • ...to generate electricity in its space capsules in the 1960s

  • Today it's not just being considered as a rocket fuel in space...

  • ...but also for planes, trains and automobiles

  • As well as the industrial sector

  • The most likely early applications are going to be in heavy industry...

  • ...for example, steel- and cement-making

  • These are heavy, heavy greenhouse-gas polluters...

  • ...and they consume lots of energy, a lot of coal in particular

  • And it's very hard to replace that with electricity...

  • ...which is probably how most of the decarbonisation...

  • ...of the global economy will happen

  • This isn't the first time hydrogen has been hailed as a fuel of the future

  • So why has it never taken off?

  • Until renewables existed at scale...

  • ...making hydrogen required vast amounts of fossil fuel, or nuclear energy...

  • ...which made hydrogen both more expensive...

  • ...and less efficient than other ways of storing and delivering energy...

  • ...until climate change moved up the political agenda...

  • ...hydrogen simply wasn't worth it

  • The existing fossil-fuel infrastructure has been in place for decades...

  • It's trillions of dollars of invested legacy equipment...

  • ...and the companies that built it defend their assets

  • And so it makes it very difficult...

  • ...for governments to force that legacy equipment to be pushed aside...

  • ...in favour of radically new rival equipment...

  • ...like hydrogen infrastructure or for that matter, renewable energy

  • The passengers look down to see the east coast of America...

  • ...gliding by beneath them

  • There has also been a battle against public perception of hydrogen's safety...

  • ...sparked by the Hindenburg disaster in 1937

  • Within seconds there was a terrific explosion...

  • ...and brilliant orange flames formed the backdrop...

  • ...for a tableau of death

  • Hydrogen gas is very flammable, and does need to be stored in a specific way

  • But fears about its safety are overblown

  • The Hindenburg did not explode because of the hydrogen it's been shown

  • That's a misperception

  • And what's more, industry has shown that hydrogen vehicles...

  • ...can be safer than internal-combustion vehicle cars that use gasoline...

  • ...which, of course, is an explosive product

  • Across the world, hydrogen every day is used by industry perfectly safely

  • One advantage hydrogen has over batteries...

  • ...is that it's much more energy dense...

  • ...which means that with a very high-pressure storage system...

  • ...it takes much less space in order to make a vehicle go any distance

  • If you have a hydrogen tank on board a vehicle...

  • ...you can refuel quickly compared to batteries and electric cars

  • But we do have issues of cost

  • We have issues of refuelling stations and fuelling infrastructure...

  • ...that have to be built out

  • So that's another obstacle that stands in the way of hydrogen

  • There's also a question over how sustainable hydrogen really is

  • Despite some advances in the technology to generate it...

  • ...it still requires energy-intensive processes...

  • ...that are fuelled largely by fossil fuels or lots of electricity

  • The only way to make truly green hydrogen...

  • ...is to produce it using sustainable energy

  • At the moment, a lot of the hydrogen that's used in the world...

  • ...is made from natural gas...

  • ...but that does produce some greenhouse-gas emissions

  • Some people see this as terrible. And other people say this could be a bridge

  • It can help build a market until there's enough renewable energy...

  • ...and electrolysers become more efficient and more cost effective

  • But even if renewable energy is used in the electrolysis process...

  • ...the energy content that comes out is less than what goes in

  • Which leads some to argue that hydrogen is just a waste of renewable energy

  • They have a point

  • There are a lot of applications...

  • ...in which electricity is simply the best thing to use and more efficient

  • But there are other applications in heavy industry particularly...

  • ...or long-distance transport, for example...

  • ...where hydrogen could find a niche and quite a big niche

  • Unlike earlier waves of enthusiasm...

  • ...hydrogen fuel could be here to stay this time

  • Technological advances are making hydrogen production more efficient and cheaper

  • And this, along with governments' commitment to decarbonise...

  • ...is helping drive a new hydrogen economy

  • We see huge improvements in the vehicles...

  • ...or the processes that use hydrogen...

  • ...and we see much more sophistication among the companies that are using it

  • According to a study by McKinsey...

  • ...there are more than 350 large-scale global projects under way right now

  • The projected total investment in the hydrogen sector...

  • ...amounts to an estimated $500bn

  • We're seeing much more interest from venture capitalists...

  • ...entrepreneurial activity, scientific advances, moving from the laboratories...

  • ...to pilot plants and ultimately getting towards a marketplace...

  • ...because they know a market that will pay for low-carbon approaches...

  • ...or green hydrogen is coming

  • Germany has announced a €7bn programme

  • And the Chinese government wants to have 1m...

  • ...fuel-cell-powered vehicles on its roads by 2030

  • When we think about the tools...

  • ...that are needed to get to a net-zero carbon world

  • There's no doubt that hydrogen will play a role

  • In the short term, electrification is going to lead the decarbonisation charge...

  • ...but longer term, I think there is a great potential for a real hydrogen revolution...

  • ...that would play a big role in a decarbonised society

  • I'm Vijay Vaitheeswaran...

  • ...The Economist's global energy and climate innovation editor

  • To keep up to date with all our climate-change coverage...

  • ...please click on the link

  • Thanks for watching and don't forget to subscribe

Hydrogen has been hailed as a fuel of the future...

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Hydrogen: fuel of the future? | The Economist

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    joey joey に公開 2021 年 09 月 18 日
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