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Hydrogen – A future clean energy that South Korea is betting on

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Did you know that, within the solutions being investigated to mitigate climate change due to greenhouse gases, hydrogen is one of the most promising alternatives? South Korea aspires in the future to become a leader in the development of hydrogen as alternative energy. Companies such as Hyundai Motors Group are expected to invest USD 6.7 billion to realize the FCEV Vision 2030 plan. (Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles) which aims to produce 700,000 fuel cell systems annually by 2030, including 500,000 units for FCEVs.

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This interesting fuel has the advantage that its emissions are water vapor and can be produced from renewable energies such as solar or wind energy (as an energy storage mechanism) using electrolyzers that separate the water molecule into H2 and O2 (a process known as electrolysis). The devices in which hydrogen is used are known as fuel cells and their operation is similar to an electrochemical galvanic cell.

Energy generation using hydrogen occurs in devices known as fuel cells. Like conventional batteries, these devices have an anode, which is the area of the cell where hydrogen is oxidized, and protons (H+) and electrons (e-) are released. On the other hand is the cathode, where protons and electrons combine and give rise to the formation of water. The reactions that occurred are presented below (it should be noted that these reactions occur in acidic media and require a platinum (Pt) catalyst-electrode to be carried out)

However, fuel cells are just devices to use hydrogen and generate energy in the form of mechanical work safety, because hydrogen gas can be so inflammable. Therefore, to evaluate how eco-friendly and clean the hydrogen fuel used in the cell is to the environment, it is necessary to know which are the production routes of the hydrogen used in the devices. Within the existing types of hydrogen, it is possible to classify them by colors according to the raw materials and the emissions that are produced during their extraction or manufacturing.

  1. Brown and gray hydrogen: It uses hydrocarbons for its manufacture, generates CO and CO2 emissions, and does not have technologies to capture the carbon emitted.
  2. Blue Hydrogen: It is made from natural gas and uses carbon capture technologies
  3. Green Hydrogen: Generated from renewable energies such as solar or wind using electrolyzers (water electrolysis). So far it is the cleanest production mechanism.
  4. White Hydrogen: Obtained in deposits naturally
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So far, South Korea finished building in 2021 the world’s largest gray hydrogen plant located in Incheon (The shin Incheon bit dream power plant) which has a production capacity of 78MW and has the capacity to supply 250,000 families annually. Additionally, this electricity production plant uses cogeneration systems, which take advantage of the residual heat from hydrogen production to supply hot water to 44,000 homes.

Given that natural gas deposits are finite and in order to improve air quality, South Korea has an ambitious plan underway whose objective is to reduce the production cost per kg of green hydrogen to 2 USD/kg for 2050 and introduce policies that encourage chemical and steel companies (such as the steel sector) to use H2 in their processes. 

Korea’s plan is to encourage the use of hydrogen in industry, the transport sector, and industrial heating systems. In order to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, Korea plans to generate 15GW of power, have about 2.9 million hydrogen-powered vehicles, and utilize its green hydrogen production capacity using offshore wind power, which would make it a world-class country. That can achieve self-sufficiency in energy matters with a view to meeting the goal of zero carbon proposed by the United Nations for 2050.

Written by: Felipe Puentes

Edited by: Angie Salavarria

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