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Hydrogen: our great hope or just over-hyped?

Image credit: E&T/Stock57/Shutterstock

Welcome to our digital-only hydrogen power special. We look at the case for against funding fossil fuel firms' conversion to hydrogen, its promise for transport and much more.

Whether you’re reading this on our website or in our app, welcome to the first of our regular digital-only issues of E&T. We’ve done editions beyond print before but as this year we’re producing nine issues in print, we’re promising to deliver 12 digital issues in 2021. So there won’t be an April, August or December issue in print but they will be in app and online.

Hydrogen is the theme for this digital issue. National governments and their science bases around the world are in a race to grab the market potential for this emerging technology. Caroline Hayes assesses the strategies in Japan, China, the US, the European Union, UK and Germany. It could even, as Chris Edwards examines, change the global balance of power, as solar and wind power in places like Chile could become the next great energy resource in a hydrogen-powered world. 

On the surface, hydrogen power sounds like the stuff of science fiction. Rather like the DeLorean in 'Back to the Future II' that’s powered by a couple of cans and a few crisp packets, the popular image of the post-electric car of the future is you just pop in your hydrogen gas and out comes power, water and….that’s it. If only it were so simple and always so clean. 

E&T dives under the bonnet to discover the problems with hydrogen and examine some solutions. Chris Edwards looks at how most hydrogen is used today in industry. Our four-part transport special looks at the future for hydrogen on road, rail, sea and air. We take a look at the role of oil and gas companies in the fledgling hydrogen industry. Elaine Maslin looks at how the companies believe their blue hydrogen operations using natural gas and carbon capture can help to kickstart the hydrogen market, with the view of making it greener in time. While Ben Heubl investigates the concerns about the EU’s growing dependence on this ‘fossil hydrogen’ and the powerful industry lobbying that is promoting it. Is hydrogen, at least for now, really all that it is cracked up to be? Green hydrogen promises to make the most of renewable energy but, Chris Edwards finds, its importance may lie further in the future of a zero-carbon world. 

Also in this digital issue, Ben Heubl investigates how terrorists are adapting off-the-shelf commercial drones to carry bombs and turning them into deadly weapons. Is there a drone technology that can stop them? On the cheerier side, drones have become a must-have element of any big outdoor event, replacing fireworks in London’s New Year celebrations. James O’Malley finds how the big displays work. 

As summer approaches and the restrictions start to lift, we lift our eyes to the great outdoors. Helena Pozniak catches up with catamaran technology going around the world in 80 days for the Jules Verne Trophy. Fish face no less a great ordeal crossing our dams as they migrate the waterways but they now have some help. Louise Murray sees the pressurised tubes that shoot them over before they know it. 

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