2017: A Year of Solid Progress for Hydrogen Energy

By Vicky Harris, Vice President Marketing on January 09, 2018
Vicky Harris
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Before we leave 2017 too far behind, I would like to pause for a moment and reflect on the solid progress hydrogen energy made last year on several fronts. What the ever-increasing pace of innovation in hydrogen will bring is a true 24/7 availability of sustainable energy to power the staples of our modern lives, such as cities, data centers, and transportation. Progress in hydrogen also means availability of clean energy in remote areas of the world that rely on intermittent energy, if at all, from old diesel engines.

Last year witnessed strong traction in the use of hydrogen to store excess renewables like solar and wind to address the problem of their variability. We also saw continued innovation in the transportation industry as several major vehicle manufacturers showcased their hydrogen models. Even in the search for life across our solar system, last year was transformational as NASA scientists discovered the presence of molecular hydrogen on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, making it the most likely candidate within our solar system to have the ingredients for life outside of our planet.

Progress in hydrogen is bringing us closer to a society that can be powered 24/7 with a sustainable energy mix.

Industry and Government Get Serious About Hydrogen Energy

Hydrogen allows for the efficient storage of energy from renewables, making it a perfect complement to address one of the main issues with renewable energy from sources such as solar and wind: variability. On this front, 2017 marked a significant milestone. At the beginning of the year at the World Economic Forum, the Hydrogen Council was formed by “leading companies that invest along the hydrogen value chain, including transportation, industry, and energy exploration, production, and distribution.” Members of this group include Air Liquide, Alstom, Anglo American, Audi, Ballard, BMW GROUP, Daimler, ENGIE, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai Motor, Iwatani, Kawasaki, Mitsubishi, Plastic Omnium, Plug Power, Royal Dutch Shell, Statoil, The Linde Group, Toyota, and others.

The objective behind the creation of this influential council was to put some serious effort in ensuring hydrogen energy is solidly in the mix of solutions to control carbon emissions and to bring about a hydrogen economy that leverages the universe’s most abundant and energetic element to power our society.

At COP23 in November, the group issued what they described as the “first ever globally quantified vision of the role of hydrogen.” Developed with support from McKinsey & Company, the study underscores hydrogen’s contribution as a key pillar of the energy transition and offers a roadmap to make it happen. According to the study, “Deployed at scale, hydrogen could account for almost one-fifth of total final energy consumed by 2050. This would reduce annual CO2 emissions by roughly 6 gigatons compared to today’s levels.”

Hydrogen-Powered Cars Provide a Superior User Experience

2017 is believed to be the turning point between hydrogen cars in plans for the future and hydrogen cars actually on the roads or in production by major automakers. An article by Business Insider gives perspective as to the main reason companies like Honda and Toyota have launched hydrogen cars in the past couple of years and why most major automakers have revealed their models for the coming years. Specifically, Business Insider attributes the push for hydrogen cars, despite the ubiquity of electric cars, to the fact that “batteries are expensive, take a long time to charge, and have limitations when it comes to driving range. Hydrogen-powered vehicles, on the other hand, more closely resemble combustion engines when it comes to the user experience.”

A good example of hydrogen’s friendly ‘user-experience’ in transportation is the Honda Clarity, which has an EPA-estimated driving range of 366 miles (the longest of any zero-emissions vehicle) and a refueling time of three to five minutes according to the Business Insider article. General Motors, Audi, and BMW plan to launch their versions of hydrogen cars in the next couple of years. Critical mass, in terms of refueling stations and economies of scale will surely follow.

Discovery of Molecular Hydrogen Makes Enceladus a Prime Candidate for Life

Since its discovery in the 18th century as a curious version of ‘flammable’ water, hydrogen has continued to surprise scientists. 2017 proved to be no exception. What was supposed to have been just a fly-by mission to one of the many moons of Saturn by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft turned out to be a major discovery that puts Enceladus at the forefront of candidates to further probe for the elements of life.

As reported by Space.com, NASA’s probe helped scientists determine that “under the moon’s solid, icy surface lies a global, liquid water ocean, and on the floor of that subterranean sea, hot water vents could support ecosystems like those found at the bottom of the ocean on Earth.” Furthermore, they were able to identify “the presence of molecular hydrogen (two hydrogen molecules bound together), which can serve as an energy source for life. The molecular hydrogen could be forming through chemical reactions between hot water and rock, generating a veritable food supply for potential life.”

Last year brought us ever closer toward the realization of a hydrogen economy across the innovation, policy, and exploration fronts. Yet, there is still much work to be done. Continued progress in new technologies, like Hydrogen 2.0, which can potentially solve some of the practical issues with hydrogen energy, such as availability and affordability, will help us get even further down the road to clean and abundant energy from the number one element. We close 2017 and open 2018 with optimism for continued progress in hydrogen that is steady, solid, and real. This is good news for everybody.


Photography used under the Shutterstock license.
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