“We propose that a 2-month, 10-man study of artificial intelligence be carried out during the summer of 1956 at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire.” That was the opening paragraph of the landmark Proposal for the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence in 1956, which many AI scientists credit as giving birth to the field. The excitement around thinking machines that the Dartmouth conference created lasted just over a decade. In 1974, after meaningful progress failed to materialize, the U.S. Congress cut off research to the nascent field, and public interest faded. It was a false start that created many AI skeptics over the decades that followed. However, fast forward to today, and AI is suddenly here, without most people even noticing that it was coming.
Welcome to the AI society. Breakthrough technologies often arrive slowly before accelerating.
Hydrogen energy, like Artificial Intelligence, has quietly arrived without most people taking notice. And like AI, hydrogen has experienced its share of hype and false starts since the term “Hydrogen Economy” was coined by John Bockris in the early 1970s. For decades, the concept of no-compromise energy from the universe’s most abundant element has spurred interest and innovation. Incremental progress happened at a steady speed but, as is often the case with breakthrough technologies (including AI), the speed of innovation and adoption were not fast enough for some in government and industry. As a result, the field gained its share of skeptics. In 2002, Jeremy Rifkin wrote the seminal book, The Hydrogen Economy: The Creation of the Worldwide Energy Web and the Redistribution of Power on Earth, which spurred interest in the field again. However, the pace continued to be moderate until it shifted into high gear just a few years ago with the arrival of hydrogen cars like the Toyota Mirai, Honda Clarity, and Hyundai FCEV. Technological innovation around hydrogen production and storage were once again met with the commitment and investment of both government and industry.
Welcome to the Hydrogen Society
Unveiled less than three years ago at the Los Angeles Auto Show, the hydrogen-powered Toyota Mirai is now commonly seen roaming the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Most people may not notice because it looks and sounds like the Toyota Prius. Furthermore, hydrogen-powered public bus fleets run in cities across the U.S., Canada, Europe, and Asia. Again, most people don’t notice because they look and sound like electric buses. A steady decline in the cost of hydrogen gas to recharge the fuel cells that power these vehicles is making them more attractive to consumers and city administrations.
It is not only local authorities who run cities or companies like Toyota who have found hydrogen to be an effective and sustainable way to grow. Japan, the third-largest economy in the world, aims to lead the world in the use of hydrogen energy. Two weeks ago, The Daily Mail published an insightful article on what this means. The genesis for Japan’s hydrogen focus was the 2011 tsunami crisis as the article points out, “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is pushing his vision of vehicles, houses and power stations using hydrogen to end Japan’s energy crisis since the 2011 Fukushima disaster, which led to a dramatic drop in electricity production from its nuclear plants.”
The fact that Japan aims to “become the first nation significantly fuelled by the super-clean energy source,” is in itself nothing new. Other economies, like Iceland, have also stated their hydrogen energy focused plans. The interesting news in the case of Japan is that Norway and Australia are competing head-to-head to supply hydrogen to Japan so that it can fulfill its “hydrogen society” goal. Both countries use different methods to produce the hydrogen that Japan needs.
In Australia, Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) is “developing a supply chain to back Abe’s initiative, which will be showcased when Tokyo hosts the 2020 Olympic games.” They are exploring using brown coal from the Australian state of Victoria, where supplies are plentiful. This, however, makes hydrogen energy available but not very sustainable, as the coal from which the hydrogen would be extracted is a carbon-emitting source of energy. Norway, on the other hand, is looking to produce hydrogen using liquefaction powered by hydroelectric dams and wind farms. The Daily Mail reports that “the project aims to demonstrate that liquefied hydrogen (LH2) can be produced using renewables and delivered to Japan on tankers.”
Another big economy, Germany, is covering its increasing demand for hydrogen energy through liquefaction. There, industrial giant Linde has “erected an industrial-scale hydrogen supply and liquefaction plant at Ingolstadt near Munich. It is located at a refinery site, where it utilizes hydrogen-rich waste gas.”
What to Call the Coming of Age of Hydrogen?
Calling the resurgence in hydrogen progress the “Hydrogen Economy” as it was known in the 1970s may be too much. Nobody wants to go back to a world dominated by a singular energy source—we know where that leads. A more realistic way to look at this encouraging state of progress is simply that hydrogen finally seems to be a worthy participant in the world’s energy mix. What our society and our planet need are to use all the energy sources we have available in concert. This way, we can achieve growth in a sustainable manner that makes sense for the ever more energy-hungry world we now live in.
Almost a year ago, we published an article titled, “Follow the Market Forces: A Better Path to a Hydrogen Economy.” In it, we stated that the huge economic potential of adding affordable hydrogen to the world’s energy mix could be materialized by solving for “relative market value.” This simply means making hydrogen energy economically viable relative to other energy options available, such as hydrocarbons, wind, and solar. This article was written in the context of Hydrogen 2.0, which is designed to provide the localized, on-demand production of clean hydrogen energy from water in terms that make it “economically viable” and competitive to other fuels.
Clean, Affordable Hydrogen is Here to Stay
Rational companies, cities, and countries only make bold moves when they make sense. The fact that so many are now incorporating hydrogen into their core energy options is driven by the technology breakthroughs in the way it is produced, stored and transported, making it easily available at affordable prices to consumers. Like Artificial Intelligence, hydrogen promises only began to materialize when innovative technology caught up to the enormous potential that visionaries saw in it. It seems only a matter of keeping up the ingenuity and the focused efforts to make them not only available (which they already are) but an integral part of our society’s march towards a better world.
As the Hydrogen 2.0 ecosystem gains momentum, we’ll be sharing our views and insights on the new Hydrogen 2.0 Economy. We also update our blog every week with insightful and current knowledge in this growing energy field.