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Hydrogen produced from water using renewable energy could be key to a carbon-free future, but its production has long been thought too expensive for industrial-scale application.
Now, researchers from the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and the Harvard China Project have found that using wind power to produce hydrogen could provide a cost-competitive alternative to coal-dominated hydrogen manufacturing systems in China.
The research was published recently in the journal Renewable Energy.
“This study provides evidence for both the sustainability and affordability of green hydrogen production,” said Michael B. McElroy, the Gilbert Butler Professor of Environmental Studies, and senior author of the study. “Our findings could serve as a reference for the necessity for adjustments in the subsidies for renewable energy. Policymakers could lend support specifically for hydrogen investments to accelerate large-scale development and to lower the financial risks associated with renewable power investment.”
To calculate the real costs of green hydrogen in China, the researchers developed an integrated power-hydrogen-emission framework and completed the analysis based on real-world data from China’s Western Inner Mongolia region. The framework combined a high-resolution wind resource analysis with hourly simulation for the operation of power systems and hydrogen production. The research team studied the economic and technological feasibility of green hydrogen production taking into account actual power demand, assimilated wind speed data, power system operations and the different electrolysis methods used to extract hydrogen.
The researchers found that in a 50-gigawatt wind investment scenario, with a curtailment rate of 8.1%, all of the industrial demand for hydrogen in Western Inner Mongolia could be met by production from power generated from wind at a cost of 1.52 $/kg.
“Because of this research, we know that using wind power to produce hydrogen could provide a cost-competitive alternative to the region’s current coal-dominated hydrogen manufacturing system, contributing at the same time to important reductions in wind curtailment and CO2 emissions,” said Haiyang Lin, a Visiting Fellow at the Harvard-China Project and first author of the study.
“The analytical methods and lessons developed here for China should be applicable to other countries, to Australia and Denmark for example, where green hydrogen is currently benefiting from strong public support,” said McElroy.
The paper was co-authored by Qiuwei Wu, Xinyu Chen, Xi Yang, Xinyang Guo, Jiajun Lv, Tianguang Lu, and Shaojie Song.
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